Ask Eartha: Tips for a sustainable summer shindig
I’m throwing a few parties this summer and I would like to make them as green as possible. Do you have any ideas on how I can reduce my environmental impact while still throwing a great party?
Zach, Summit Cove
Thank you for your question, Zach! Summer is party season — the warmer weather lures us to linger outside with cold brews and grills. And even though it can be tempting to let convenience trump your green values, it’s really easy to throw a sustainable shindig. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you plan.
Let’s start with invitations. Go virtual. Create an event online using social media or send out invitations via email to save money and forego paper waste. It may be easier to keep up with RSVPs this way as well.
As far as decorations go, get creative with what you already have: flowers, greenery, candles, etc. You can always make your own decorations by repurposing cardboard, paper or cloth. Think about making banners out of newsprint or garlands out of cardboard. Check out Pinterest for more ideas. Mason jars are another handy item to keep around — you can use them for decorations, drinkware or storage for leftover food.
If you’re not a do-it-yourselfer and need to buy decorations, try to find ones that can be reused. If you don’t want to keep some decorations afterward, offer them for others to use on Craigslist or similar sites. Before you purchase disposable stuff, dig around local thrift stores to find decorations, tablecloths, napkins, etc. Chances are you’ll also be less heartbroken if these items get stained at the party.
When planning your menu, try to buy fresh and local. Making food yourself will cut down on wasteful packaging, like plastic veggie trays. Be sure to have a plan for the leftover food, like composting, freezing or sending it home with guests. Don’t forget to stock on up storage containers for keeping food or sending it home.
To serve the food, use durable tableware. If you don’t have enough, remember to check out local thrifts stores. Most of them have tableware sets on hand which you can keep for party occasions. The environmental impact of throwing disposable tableware away far outweighs that of washing some extra dishes.
What’s a party without beverages? Unfortunately, individual bottles and cans really add up to create a lot of waste. Moreover, the EPA estimates that more than 780,000 tons of plastic and Styrofoam cups are discarded each year. You should recycle at your party, but you can also take your sustainability efforts up a notch by avoiding single-use containers altogether. Make teas, lemonades and other beverages at home and keep them in pitchers or even vases. For beer, use a reusable growler to purchase local beer. Serve drinks in those ultra-useful mason jars mentioned above. If you want to use straws, use metal or paper instead of plastic.
Since you’re making the effort, why not encourage your guests to be green, too? Provide recycling and compost bins alongside garbage cans at the party. You may even inspire some guests to start recycling and composting themselves!
Don’t limit your green intentions to just throwing parties — keep the ethos in mind when attending parties, too! If you’re giving gifts, think about whether the recipient needs more “stuff.” Instead of material items, you could give the gift of an experience instead, such as tickets to a theater or concert, or a restaurant gift card. Perhaps they would really appreciate a donation made in their name to their favorite charity. If you do purchase an item and need to wrap it, there’s no shame in reusing wrapping paper. You’ll be doing your wallet and the environment a favor. Newspaper also is a great option for wrapping gifts. It can be used in place of tissue paper in gift bags, too.
I hope you take some of these ideas into consideration when planning your summer shindigs, Zach! With a little pre-planning, I’m confident you can plan a green party and even leave a lasting impression on your guests at the same time.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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