Outdoor entertaining can make summer parties a breeze to host. But parties do our carbon footprint no favors. Usually come cleanup time, a guilt-wracking amount of trash needs to be dealt with. But waste, and the accompanying guilt it produces, turns out to be optional. Throwing a waste-free summer party feels good and does good. It’s easier than it sounds, may be cheaper than you thought, and wins you kudos from the ground up.
Here are seven ways to throw a tasteful, memorable party that champions inconspicuous consumption.
Opt for a cloth tablecloth instead of plastic
Cloth tablecloths make any meal look more stylish. Express yourself through textiles—you’ll fall in love with the range of colors and patterns and never go back to plastic. Go one step further and buy tablecloths made with fair-trade cotton. When the party is over, simply wash and store till your next special event.
Just say no to paper towels and napkins
According to the paperless project, “if every household in the U.S. used just one less 70-sheet roll of paper towels, that would save 544,000 trees each year.” Paper napkins and paper towels are an unnecessary indulgence. Cloth napkins add a beautiful decorative accent to a party, and make short work of spills. Repurpose old fabric to make your own, or haunt your favor thrift store for some unique vintage napkins.
Serve drinks communally
Equal parts practical and elegant, a glass pitcher or beverage dispenser eliminates the need for a cooler full of single serve cans of drinks, juice boxes or plastic water bottles. Another savvy zero waste option: You can hit up your local brewery or winery for some beer or wine on-tap.
Ditch the disposables
Opt for reusable or compostable plates, cutlery, glasses. For small parties, reusable tableware is the most eco-friendly option but admittedly more inconvenient. If you don’t have enough dinnerware for a small party, consider purchasing tableware made from rice husk, palm leaf or bamboo. It’s stylish and surprisingly sturdy, so you can use it again and again. For bigger parties, compostable dinnerware, made from cornstarch, makes the most financial sense.
Organic food, mostly plants, no single serve disposables
If you can afford to, choosing vegetarian-centric organic food is right in line with your zero waste theme. Vegetarian food reduces our carbon footprint—livestock farming produces from 20 to 50 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, according to greeneatz.com. Pesticides and packaging just add to our environmental burden of toxins and landfill.
The best décor is local flowers and greenery already in your garden; candles or LED lights; and hand-crafted items such as fabric birthday banners. Skip the helium balloons, the store-bought flowers and the generic centerpieces in favor of more durable crafty arrangements that add a touch of creative whimsy.
Set up a recycle/compost station
For the coup de grace, set up a waste station, with recycling, trash, and compost bins. All three should be right next to each other, rather than freestanding, so that guests can always make the right decision about the item that they are disposing of.
Editor’s note: For more tips and tricks for avoiding single-use items and reducing food waste, check out our Zero Hunger, Zero Waste initiative.