I’ll happily admit it, I love to throw a good party. As a matter of fact, Green Girl Recycling’s roots can be traced to quite a few parties that may very well be etched indelibly in the history books.
But here’s the ugly truth: throwing a party generates waste. Whether it’s an adult summer BBQ by the pool or a child’s birthday at the park, every event has the potential to generate enormous amounts of waste. The good news? If you plan ahead, you can eliminate a great deal of it and you can use the opportunity to educate and inspire your guests. Here are just a few tips I’ve learned over the years to keep a party as close to zero waste as possible.
Think paper invitations add a nice touch by hand? Have you ever thought about the footprint? Thanks to a little tool called The Internet (I’m sure you’ve heard of it), you no longer have to drive to the store, purchase paper invitations (created by trees, heavy machinery, gasoline, chemicals, electricity, etc. and packed in unrecycled plastic before being shipped to the store by diesel truck) burn more gas on the drive home, fill out and stamp said invitations, and send them out to recipients using a fleet of trucks and airplanes. Plus, sending out an invitation through evite.com or some comparable site has the extra bonus of the “reminder” feature, as well as the ability to add an event directly to one’s digital calendar. Turns out a lot of people appreciate that.
Keep it simple. People love getting together with friends at the home or the park in the summertime. Pick a place that allows guests to be a part of nature. The added benefit of not having an event at a retail place is that you have control both over how the food is served and the waste is collected from an environmental perspective.
Buy local! Use delicious whole foods that are in season. One rule of thumb is to use food items that “remember what they used to be.” Potato chips, for example, actually look like a slice of potato. Super spicy cheese blasted corn tubes…not so much. If you can, visit the farmer’s market to save on the footprint from shipment—and don’t forget a reusable bag!
Whatever happened to the old tried and true pitcher? Sure, bottles of water are “convenient”, but they are also incredibly wasteful. Juice boxes, too, take a lot of energy to make. Try fresh squeezed lemonade in a pitcher, punch bowl or thermos instead. Add strawberry puree for some variety. It’s just novel enough these days that it will get a big “wow” from your guests.
Cutlery and Plates
Buying biodegradable and compostable plates, cups, cutlery and napkins these days is so much easier than it used to be. While they may be a little tricky to find at some of the chain retail stores, you can usually find them at the greener stores. And if you don’t know where to look, try online (The Internet, again!). They are not that much more expensive than plastic non-recyclable plates and cutlery, and are a far lighter toll on the landfill.
Two pieces of advice for keeping table decorations “green” is to go for either plant matter or reusable. Flowers or branches are far nicer than balloons, for example. An old sheet that has been decorated with fabric markers or a bolt of cloth from the fabric store make for a far lovelier table setting than a sheet of brightly colored plastic.
Wrap your gift in a reusable bag, basket or fabric to avoid wrapping paper. Also, who doesn’t love a handmade card? Reuse and decorate old paper, trash bags and gift bags — and even cut pictures from magazines to create a colorful collage. Get creative!
And last, but definitely not least…
Trash and Recycling
Separating the trash from the recycling is so much easier than most people think. All you need to do is have two (or three) bags: one for real trash, one for recyclables, and one for compost. Label them so partygoers know what is expected of them. If you’re away from home and are not sure how to put out your bags effectively, consider purchasing a reusable pop-up style bin (called a ‘fling bin’) to make the sorting easier. These parties are also fun because you get to educate people on composting. I’ve actually had people say, “OK…I know the plate and cup goes in the compost bin…but what do I do with my left over food?”
The hardest part about any party is remembering to just ‘educate’ your crowd. People aim to please especially when at a party so just telling them what your expectations are is more than half the battle. When there are no expectations, people always assume you are just tossing everything. I can’t wait for a day where people expect to recycle and compost and if there is just trash, they pack stuff home to properly take care of it.
And above all, with everything you buy for your party, ask yourself: do I need it? Can I reuse it? With a little planning, you can significantly cut down on the waste your next party generates. And that’s…something to celebrate.