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.
General tips for how to throw a zero-waste party
1. Prepare early to avoid last-minute buying
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.
2. Use digital invitations
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.
3. Choose reusable dishes
Filling your table with disposable plates, cutleries, and napkins may seem cheaper and easier. However, considering waste, pollution, and other environmental costs is more environmentally expensive than risking your finest china plates.
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.
4. Encourage eco-friendly gift wrapping
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, reusable bags, 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.
5. Eco-friendly zero-waste party favors
When deciding on party favors, consider your guests' needs 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.
Zero waste party tips to reduce food waste
6. Choose package-free food
As you shop for ingredients for your party meals, you'll find all kinds of products and produce wrapped in wasteful plastic wrap and 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.
7. Small and simple menu
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. If you have leftover food, ask your guests to bring their own reusable containers.
8. Plan your menu with guests in mind
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.
9. Serve in batches
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 party's main events and all your guests have arrived.
10. Compost food scraps
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.
Ideas for zero-waste party decorations
11. Go for reusable crackers
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 an eco-friendly party, and environmentally friendly options are available.
Some are compostable or reusable; others transform into cloth napkins when opened. Most importantly, eco-friendly crackers contain zero waste gifts and no plastic.
12. Go natural
Balloons, streamers, ribbons, artificial flowers, and banners look great, but after the party is done, you'll have lots of plastic waste on your hands. Those items are not reusable, recyclable, or biodegradable and usually end up in our trash bags.
Natural decorations like fresh flowers, dried flowers, twigs, and twine are better. 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.
13. Use lights
Lighting instantly creates a festive atmosphere at any party; 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, pack them into mason jars for homemade lanterns, 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.
14. Create homemade decorations
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.
Zero waste after party clean up
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.
- Wash the tableware and cooking utensils with zero-waste dish soap.
- Clean spills with eco-friendly cleaning solutions (see our guide to zero waste cleaning).
- Throw all recyclables in the correct recycling bins.
- Store all reusables properly.
- Put all the scraps in the compost bin.
- Store leftovers properly and preserve excess ingredients by canning, drying, etc.
- Donate unwanted gifts and foods to charity.
This article has shared several zero-waste party tips for organizing a zero-waste party. 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.