Who doesn’t love a good get together with their closest friends and family? Good food, good times and great memories, but these parties can also come with a ton of waste! If you’re celebrating a birthday, think of all the single-use decorations and wrapping paper that gets thrown away the moment the party ends. Even BBQs can be incredibly wasteful if you make way too much food plus all the disposable cups, plates and cutlery. However, making some small changes can lead to a more sustainable and eco-friendly party that is still loads of fun! Here are some tips to make your summer party, whether a birthday or BBQ less wasteful.
Let people know. A good thing to do when throwing a sustainable or eco-friendly BBQ or party is to let your guest know about your intentions. Not everyone is aware or conscious about sustainability, therefore, some practices aren’t as intuitive to some. It’s good to give them guidance and help them understand some of the changes you’ll be making for the get-together.
Send non-traditional invitations. Paper invites may be easy, but their lifecycle is incredibly short and unnecessary. Social media, email and virtual invite apps provide us with endless opportunities to send paper-free invites and create event pages. These can be extremely helpful, since they are easy to access and they don’t create additional clutter in the house. Creating a Facebook event page allows for discussions between guests, which is beneficial if it is a potluck or you just need to figure out the day. If you have friends and family who don’t regularly access the internet, you can always try making invites from recycled materials or make your own seed paper invites, which can be planted in their gardens and serve as a reminder of the party you threw.
Ask people to carpool. Carpooling is a great way to lower emissions for your party and reduces the traffic in your neighbourhood (which neighbours will be grateful for). It is also beneficial in reducing the amount of people tempted to drive home after having one to many drinks. Keep your guests and the environment safe by encouraging and potentially offering an extra something to those who carpool.
Use what you have. A key part of sustainability is about buying less and using what you have. Before you go out and buy everything sustainably made, use up what you have first! Over the years there always seems to be an accumulation of random party supplies. We all have a box of wrapping paper, tissue paper and gift bags. It is more sustainable to keep using the balloons and gift wrap that you already have rather than throwing it out. Make a detailed list of what you have so that when one thing runs out, you know what will need replacing and then you can buy the sustainable option. Gift bags are a great option because they aren’t single-use, instead you can have one gift bag circulated through your family and friends, exchange it each birthday or christmas! Alternatively for wrapping paper think of using newspaper, since it is easily recyclable and usually at your disposal. Tissue paper, if treated gently, can be reused multiple times.
See what you can borrow. If you need something extra for your party, think about asking friends or family before you go and buy it new. If you do end up needing something that nobody can supply, think about renting it or buying second-hand.
Buy second hand dishware. After giving them a good and thorough cleaning, thrifted dishware can be very versatile. They can be good for BBQs, birthdays, picnics and other get-togethers. For children’s parties, there is a higher chance that real plates will be broken, therefore a more sustainable option is to use paper plates instead of plastic. Or, invest in a set of melamine dishes to reduce breakage.
Build a collection of reusable party supplies. Between you and your friends and family, if you host enough parties and get-togethers, think about building a reusable collection of party supplies, including decorations, cups, plates, utensils, and games. If you have a group of friends who frequently hosts parties you can designate a party bin, where you can store reusable party supplies together and circulate amongst your friend group. That way you don’t have to buy disposable supplies every time, saving everyone money and reducing the collective carbon footprint.
Opt for cloth instead of plastic and vinyl. Cloth and fabric materials are a great solution for paper napkins and disposable tablecloths since they can be washed and used again and again. They also look nicer than the cheap tablecloths that get ripped and torn over the course of the party. Cloth materials, such as scarves or towels, can also be used as an alternative to wrapping paper, similarly to a gift bag it can be exchanged and reused over time.
Cut back on the food. More often than not you will end up throwing away a large amount of food by the end of the night. Although it seems like it is better to have too much food rather than not enough, try to be conscious of how many people are going to be there and plan accordingly. If it is a BBQ you can cook the food via demand, reducing the amount of leftovers. Potlucks are also a good idea, with everyone bringing a small amount of something, that way everyone gets a taste and there is less waste. You can also ask guests to bring tupperware to the party that way if there is way too much food they can take any leftovers home with them.
Rethink the Meat. Choose locally raised meats and go to locally-owned butcher shops, or try to buy certified organic meat (raised in a more humane environment). Think about reducing the amount of meat to one meat based item and supplement with lots of seasonal salads, grilled veggies, beans, breads and fruit for the menu.
Choose your food consciously. When possible use local ingredients and try to cut back on the amount of packaging when you’re grocery shopping. Try to plan around farmer’s markets for produce that way you are supporting local and reduce the amount of plastic packaging. Rethink the meat by choosing locally raised meats and go to locally-owned butcher shops, or try to buy certified organic meat (raised in a more humane environment). Think about reducing the amount of meat to one meat based item and supplement with lots of seasonal salads, grilled veggies, beans, breads and fruit for the menu.
Drink sustainably. Try to avoid plastic packaging, opting for aluminum cans which are slightly easier to recycle. You can also serve drinks from large beverage coolers limiting people to one or two cups versus how many ever pop cans and bottles – reducing the amount of clean-up at the end of the night. If this is a big party with people who like to drink beer, think of getting a keg over a case. If possible, try getting the keg from a local brewery. Instill a BYOC, bring your own cup, rule to limit the amount of cups floating around at the party and they will be more aware of their cup.
Use a Terracycle recycling box. If you’ve never heard of the company Terra Cycle, you are missing out! They are a recycling company that has many programs to help you recycle some of the harder things out there. You simply order one of their boxes, fillit up with the specified recycling items and then send it back to them, where they recycle the contents of the box for you. This is a great way to lower the waste of your party as they have a specific party supply recycling box that can be used for things like confetti, tissue paper, garland, wrapping paper and so much more. And the best part is you don’t have to separate any of it, simply place it all in the box and send it away. This is most beneficial for big gatherings and parties, rather than smaller and more intimate gatherings.
Ask for donations. If you are throwing a party that requires a gift like an anniversary or birthday or Christmas, try asking your guests for donations instead of a physical gift. Donations can go a long way for a lot of organizations and is a socially responsible way to celebrate your birthday, anniversary or Christmas. Consider making a list of your favourite organizations so that it is easy for your guests to identify what is important to you!
Summer activities. If you’re looking for some sustainable options for party activities, think about inviting guests to bring their favourite board games or lawn games. That way these things that we buy for entertainment actually get used, instead of sitting in a bin, on the shelf or in a closet. For the really hot summer parties, a good way to cool down is with a water fight! Instead of buying the plastic water balloons that break before you even throw them and make a huge mess in your yard, substitute the water balloons for sponge water bombs. Sponges are durable so they will last for years and years, and won’t cost you nearly as much as water balloons over time.
Choosing to host a more sustainable summer party shouldn’t be a hard decision, all it takes is a little extra preparation and planning but it’ll be well worth it at the end of the day. There will be less waste-induced guilt and you’ll maybe inspire friends and family to turn to more sustainable options for their own parties and get-togethers.