Zero Waste Holiday Entertaining
If you’re throwing a holiday party this year and want to reduce the amount of waste it generates, don’t fret — it’s simple! The main thing to remember each step of the way is to look at your set way of doing things, and the amount of waste (including not only trash but also recycling and food waste) and question whether there is a lower waste option. For instance, any disposable dishes or napkins you use can obviously be replaced with reusable options; and meanwhile if you have noticed that certain foods get thrown out, replace them with other options that freeze well or can be sent home with guests after the party — or just don’t make so much food!
Choosing Your Venue
This is simple if you’re entertaining at home, but for any party for work or other organizations where you need to pick a venue, try to choose one with transit access if possible (so people can choose to take transit rather than drive, if they want to); with dishes available so you don’t need to worry about getting eco-friendly place settings; and that offers composting services if possible.
Use What You Have
Perhaps the most important tip is also the easiest (with the biggest savings!): Resist the urge to shop! Whether it’s food, drinks, decorations or dishes, use what you have first. Chances are, you don’t need to buy any new decorations — if you already own decorations, use those! Buying new items that are more eco-friendly doesn’t somehow magically negate the impact of the choices you’ve already made. If what you already own is plastic or wasteful, use it until it’s used up and make a better choice when you replace it — that might be several Christmases from now, after all. Another though on decorations — pull items like candles, potted plants, strings of lights, pieces of fabric and so on and get creative in the space where guests will be gathering. Think outside the box!
Feeding the Masses
Bea Johnson, zero waste activist and author, has some great party prep ideas on her blog, Zero Waste Home. She recommends drawing your menu from the bulk section and deli of the grocery store, serving things like nuts, olives, sliced meats and cheeses, and mixed salads speared on metal turkey lacers instead of disposable toothpicks or skewers. Vegetables and fruits are perfect ingredients as they can be purchased without packaging and then used on their own or to make delicious dishes. Another consideration regarding food: have a plan in advance for the leftovers! If you know you’ll have to throw it in the compost if it doesn’t get eaten, maybe there is a better option. Anything that can be eaten as leftovers, frozen, used for other dishes or will keep in the fridge (like pickles and olives, for instance) means less waste! Speaking of waste, put out clearly marked bins for compost and recycling (and perhaps post lists of what goes where). Lastly: what to serve for drinks? Well above all, ditch the single-serve cans and bottles! Instead of serving single serve drinks, consider jugs of iced water, juice or other drinks — or consider a signature cocktail! If you have (or can borrow) a Soda Stream, utilize it for any fizzy drinks. And if you’ll be serving alcohol, think local and hit up craft breweries and local wineries if possible.
Setting the Table
For dishes and other utensils, you can commit to using your regular dishes, or serve finger foods and provide cloth napkins. If you’re one to throw big parties and don’t have that many dishes on hand, consider buying a set of cheaper dishes or buy mismatched dishes from the thrift shop. You can re-donate after the party or keep them boxed up for next time. And of course, either skip the straws, or stock up on reusable straws! If you were thinking of offering a party favour, reusable straws could fit the bill!