It’s been party-central around here with my son’s graduation party for 50 guests just last weekend and a looming 4th of July party for almost as many. Since my husband and I both come from big families, parties for 50+ and dinners for 30 are standard around here. When making my party plans, I’m always trying to minimize the environmental impact of feeding and entertaining all those people. Here are a few tips I regularly use:
1. Use real silverware not plastic. Several years ago I bought a set of 24 forks on Overstock.com for around $30. I haven’t had to buy disposable, quick-to-break, plastic forks in years, more than covering that initial investment. I don’t see any on Overstock right now, but a quick search on Ebay turned up 36 stainless-steel forks for $16.50. You’re bound to find some in your local thrift store, too.
2. Use disposables made from recycled materials. My everyday plates are a set of 16 (found in a consignment shop on vacation for a bargain!), so combined with my good china, I can drum up enough plates for many of our holiday dinners. But for big, outdoor parties, I look for disposables made from recycled paper (Chinet brand is one). It’s getting much easier to find recycled paper napkins, too, when cloth isn’t an option. I even found them in assorted colors at the local party store when shopping for my son’s graduation party.
3. Invest in Reusables. I’m a big fan of Preserve Products. Their tableware is made in the USA from 100% recycled plastic, BPA and melamine free. While it costs a little more than paper, you can throw it in the dishwasher and reuse it over and over. When it finally gets too worn, you can recycle it or return it to Preserve and they’ll recycle it for you! I bought some of their cups for last 4th of July, and I’ve used them several times since. They’re easy to stack and store and make a great alternative to disposable plastic cups. You can buy on-line or at local stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.
4. Just say no to the junk! Now that you have your tableware covered, let’s talk about what not to buy. Just say no to the disposable decorations that will be tossed after the party. For graduation, I resisted the big aisles of graduation centerpieces, lawn signs, inflatables, and other junk that would just be thrown away when the party was over. I do have some 4th of July items – cardboard stars, cotton bunting, and big outdoor bows – but we’ve been reusing the same decorations for about 8 years now. If you always host a certain holiday, invest in some sturdy, attractive pieces that you can use over and over. Skip the cheap throwaways!
5. Decorate with plants. What to use for centerpieces? For outdoor parties I often use potted plants that can be transplanted to my garden. Buy a flat or two of one plant, and it makes quite an impact. For graduation, it was white begonias all over the place.
6. Think local and fresh when it comes to food. I personally stopped eating beef about 4 years ago, but my family still does, so it’s local and grass-fed beef only for the 4th of July burgers and a box of veggie burgers for me and a few other like-minded souls. I’ll also stock up on vegetables, cheese, and other goodies at the farmer’s market – there’s nothing like a farm-fresh spinach, strawberry & goat cheese salad this time of year!
7. Host a kegger! For the adult beverages, stick to local brews in recyclable bottles and cans, or if the crowd’s big enough, get a keg! You’ll have to deal with cups, but there are plenty of reusable and/or recyclable options out there. For the wine drinkers, I have a large stash of real glasses accumulated over the years, so all that’s left behind is the empty, recyclable, wine bottles. For the kids, think water, organic fruit juice, and big batches of lemonade. Skip the soda and the high-fructose corn syrup.
8. Put out the recycling bins and relax. Make sure to have a few recycling containers available and clearly marked with what’s acceptable. Our township collects everything, but some places still only accept #1 & #2 plastics, clear glass, etc. Put a note on your bins so you don't have to do a messy sort later.
Then get out there with your guests and have a good time. Just do what you can to reduce your impact, don't worry about being perfect, and enjoy a wonderful day with friends and family. Hopefully your guests will be so impressed by your party, that they'll try to green their next party, too.