Throwing a party with your loved ones does not have to end with a big pile of trash, unfinished drinks, and leftover food. Party decorations, single-use cutleries, plastic bottles, and packaging are some of the waste items that parties typically generate. With a bit of planning, you can cut out unnecessary waste. This article shares some of the best ideas for low-waste parties, zero-waste party decorations, and avoiding food waste.
Zero-waste party preparations require a bit of time, so a last-minute mad dash will not work. At the planning stage, take stock of each item you'll need for the party and ask yourself if they are sustainable. Then, with a little time in hand, seek out zero waste swaps for any unsustainable item.
Finding the perfect alternative might take some time, but it's always worth it. However, if you are in too much of a hurry, you run the risk of skipping several necessary steps and may end up with more waste.
Related: If you are new to zero-waste, check out our zero-waste beginner's guide, which covers a bunch of the principles and easy steps to get started.
Paper invitations are getting fancier; some even incorporate plastic for extra pomp and sheen. But no matter how pretty, and even if recyclable, a paper invitation is still a disposable item. Instead of single-use paper invitations, opt for digital alternatives.
A simple call, text, email, or social media messaging will do. If you want something fancier than plain text, use Canva, Inshot, or similar apps to create stylish flyers or videos in tune with your party theme. It can help to mention in the invitation that you want to make the party waste-free. That way, your family and friends can prepare accordingly.
It may seem cheaper and easier to fill your table with disposable plates, cutleries, and napkins. However, when you think about waste, pollution, and other environmental costs, it is more environmentally expensive than risking your finest china plates.
Instead, go for reusable plates, glassware, metal cutleries, and reusable cloth napkins. Check out our guide to bamboo utensils and cutlery for some ideas from sustainable bamboo.
For drinks, you'll need reusable straws and cups, and for those parties where it might suit the vibe, a punch bowl. A punch bowl is a great zero-waste party addition as it means you don’t have to buy individual juice boxes or PET bottles but can buy in bulk kegs or glass bottles.
You could even create a tasty juice drink at home. If you don't have enough reusable dishes, ask some guests to bring theirs along or check out a party rental site.
A lot of party waste comes from gift wrappings, tags, and decorations. Ask your friends and family to consider eco-friendly gift wrapping for their gifts if you are celebrating a birthday or occasion where gifts are welcome. E.g., in old newspapers, seed paper, brown kraft paper, or not at all. Those gift wrappers are recyclable or compostable; that way, you don't have a lot of waste paper and tags to trash after the party.
Some gifts, such as experience gifts, cash, or gift cards, don't need to be wrapped. You can encourage your guests to bring such gifts to your zero-waste party.
Upcycled, homemade, and pre-loved items from online thrift stores are also great ideas for reducing waste. You can also ask people to consider zero-waste gifts where the packaging and manufacture are also low waste.
Or, you can save everyone the hassle by opting for a ‘no gift’ policy.
When deciding on party favors, consider your guests' need more than what’s pretty or popular. Consumables like scented eco-friendly candles, bath salts, cake, and chocolate are items your guests will use.
You can also use fun experiences like a photo booth session and virtual reality experiences as unconventional party favors. You can also break out of the norm at your zero-waste party and not give any favors.
As you shop for ingredients for your party meals, you'll find all kinds of products and produce wrapped in wasteful packaging. Ignore those and buy your ingredients at the supermarket bulk section or shop at the local farmers market if you want to support the local economy more.
For zero-waste party prep, go food shopping with your reusable food containers, bags, or glass jars, so you don't accumulate plastic bags for every item you buy. Also, if you make your own fruit drink or buy in larger containers, you cut back on drink packaging too.
Perhaps the most important zero-waste party tips are cooking smaller food portions and keeping your menu as simple as possible. Because often, guests get so caught up in merry-making and won't eat as much as they would on a regular day - or you thought they might.
Instead of cooking up a storm for a small get-together, offer finger food like potato wedges, shrimp, tarts, mozzarella sticks, and stuffed mushrooms. These delicious snacks will be popular among your guests. If there are leftovers, it is easy to pack them as takeaways for guests or make them into a new meal.
Save yourself from wasting food by getting your guests to participate in menu planning, especially if you want to include ‘specials’ in the menu for a small gathering. Ask about seasonal favorites, food allergies, and dislikes.
It's important to ask these questions so that you don't end up with a table full of snacks that only you like and end up wasted. You also need to know about any dietary restrictions to avoid waste and ensure everyone enjoys the spread. Start thinking about your menu at least a week in advance so you have adequate time to ask all these questions.
You shouldn't put out all the food you have cooked all at once on the table the moment guests begin to show up. Leaving the food sitting at the table for too long can make the food go cold and lose flavor and freshness. Then most people will not want to eat it anymore.
Serve the food in batches, restocking the table as the food gets low. Alternatively, you could carve out a specific time for eating and bring out all the food at once. Perhaps after the main events of the party and all your guests have arrived.
Another zero-waste party tip for food waste management is to compost food scraps. To make it easy, get a special trash bin before the event and instruct your guests to throw their unsalvageable leftovers in it. Living in the city and thinking about composting is just too much hassle? Check out our guide to urban composting.
Crackers are a popular table decoration for creating a festive atmosphere at Christmas, but they are primarily single-use items that result in plastic and paper waste. But you don't have to forego crackers entirely to have a zero-waste party, and there are eco-friendly options available.
Some are compostable or reusable, and others transform into cloth napkins when opened. Most importantly, eco-friendly crackers contain zero waste gifts and no plastic.
Balloons, streamers, ribbons, artificial flowers, and banners look great, but after the party is done, you'll have lots of plastic waste on your hand. Those items are not reusable, recyclable, or biodegradable.
A better idea is to use natural decorations like fresh flowers, twigs, and twine. Depending on the theme, fruits can also work as decor; pumpkin for Halloween and pine cones for Christmas.
Balloons are one of those ubiquitous party decorations, and rather than going to lots of plastic numbers, check out our ideas for biodegradable balloon alternatives.
Grab some flowers from the farmers' market if you don't have a flower garden. Looking to nature for decoration is a great idea for reducing waste. After the party, you can just compost the decorations in your garden.
Lighting instantly creates a festive atmosphere at any party, and you can reuse them for a long time. You can use LED tealight candles to create a romantic ambiance, hang string lights for outdoor parties, and use disco lights for a real groovy party.
There are so many other lighting options, like LED strip lights and fairy lights; you just have to choose one that matches your theme. Even better, if you opt for LED bulbs, you’ll save electricity, as they use far less than conventional lighting. You can even find various fun DIY tutorials that’ll teach you to create your own party lights.
If you are organizing a zero-waste party for young kids, you should get them involved in creating DIY paper decorations. It will be as memorable as the party itself. You can make paper pompoms, garlands, banners, and hats.
If you have fabric scraps that are shiny, vibrant colored, or patterned, you can make streamers from them. You can reuse these fabric scraps when throwing a zero-waste party next time.
Many zero-waste party tips focus on what to do before and during the party. But what about after? You should wrap up the party in a zero-waste way. Below are some tips on how to clean up post-party in an eco-friendly way.
We have shared several zero-waste party tips for organizing a zero-waste party in this article. Regardless of the theme, you can use your favorite tips to ensure that the next party you throw is also a celebration of mother earth.
Don't worry, zero-waste parties are as much fun as a regular party, and you'll miss nothing except loads of waste.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.