I’ve done my share of party-planning: I’ve schemed birthday parties with themes ranging from baseball to princesses (and this, mind you, is just daughter #1), I’ve helped host baby showers for friends, and catered swanky cocktail parties for my most glamorous New York City friend. I’ve even planned events on a larger scale, organizing wine tastings for one client, and fundraising galas for various causes with which I’ve been involved.
And with every party I’ve thrown, I always wish that I could lessen the environmental impact a little more. As summertime entertainment gets into full swing (Weddings! Baby and bridal showers! Graduation parties! Pool parties!), here are some ideas I’ve gleaned, that can help you host a party that’s low impact without a lot of extra fuss or expense.
1. Use reusables. This is a no-brainer that tops the list of any collection of green party-planning tips, but it’s an important one. Paper plates, plastic forks and plastic cups are wasteful, and aren’t always recyclable. Plus, a party with “real” dinnerware and flatware just seems that much more sophisticated. Don’t have enough dishes? Ask close friends (particularly those who are also guests) if you can borrow some, or for a really big party consider renting china from a local party-rental company (it’s cheaper than you might think, and they usually don’t expect you to wash the stuff yourself). If you entertain frequently, it’s worth it to invest in a few dozen simple white buffet plates. Or, go for a cute mix-and-match look by amassing extra dishes at yard sales and thrift shops. If you simply must use disposables, seek out an eco-friendly version like bamboo plates, which are sustainably made and biodegradable, or compostable resin flatware.
2. Get smart with menu planning. Keep in mind that the food that you serve can also help you conserve tableware. Stick to bite-sized, handheld goodies: Empanadas or other pastries, mini sandwiches or wraps, individual tarts or quiches, anything that can be eaten neatly and with your fingers. For dessert, petit fours, cookies or cupcakes are a better choice than sheet cake or pie, especially if you hone down the individual wrapping. The types of foods you prepare can also be more environmentally responsible if you serve a mostly-vegetarian menu, keep it simple, natural and unprocessed, and serve foods that are raw or at room temperature so that you won’t need a lot of energy to keep it hot.
3. Plan it for the daytime. A daytime party, rather than one at night, can save energy since natural daylight, rather than electric lights, can keep things bright. And in those perfectly warm times of year, you will have the added benefit of not needing to crank up the heat or AC during the day.
4. Decorate sustainably. You don’t need a big “Happy Birthday” banner, florist-bought flowers (think “slow” flowers instead), streamers or any other décor that you’ll simply trash after the last guest goes home. Instead, pick wildflowers or branches from your property or a nearby empty lot or park. Fill bowls with fresh fruit or create centerpieces with collected stones, seashells or other things you might have around your house. Use cloth tablecloths instead of disposable paper or plastic ones. If you’ve got kids, put them in charge of the decorating — they’ve got a ton of creativity, and who wouldn’t appreciate the artistic effort of an 8-year-old?
5. Ditch the favors. Sure, everyone loves a goody bag or a party favor… until a day or two later when it’s forgotten and gathering dust somewhere. For a formal event like a wedding or anniversary party, where a favor is expected, consider making a donation to your favorite cause on behalf of your guests (and having a sign on display at your event, mentioning your contribution in their honor). For a kid’s birthday, you could organize a book swap or instead send them home with a sugar cookie baked in a shape that goes with your party’s theme.
What are your favorite eco-friendly party tips? Share your ideas in the comments below!
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When I'm not making lists, I'm taking care of my two daughters, volunteering in my community, and writing articles about food and cooking — I'm the author of three cookbooks: Ramen to the Rescue, Tortillas to the Rescue, and Quinoa Cuisine (co-written with Kelley Sparwasser), and my fourth, Homemade Condiments, will be available in Fall 2013.