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Host a waste-free party this festive season

Photo credit (clockwise from left): Migle; The Green Gables; Mack Male (all Flickr)

Photo credit (clockwise from left): Migle; the green gables; Mack Male (all Flickr)

The festive season is almost upon us and with the mad Christmas rush, it’s easy to let our waste-free principles fall by the wayside. Stephanie Lewis shows you how to be the host or hostess with the most, except when it comes to waste, with just a little planning.

It’s one thing to start a good habit like waste-free living, and incorporate it in to your day-to-day routine. It’s another thing entirely to take those practices and apply them to special occasions. Just as diets often fall to the wayside at Christmas, so too can waste-free principles get lost when hosting an event. Which is why we’ve created this how-to guide for hosting waste-free parties, so you can enjoy spending time with loved ones without the guilt of filling garbage bag upon garbage bag with landfill in the clean up.

Invitations

Think about waste from the moment you decide on the date. Keep invites online, using Facebook or an e-invite website. Or for something a bit more fun, try plantable seed cards, like these from Scrub Australia. They’ll create a waste-free, lasting positive environmental impact, and will also get people out in the garden!

Food

For some (like me), food is the most important element of any social gathering. It’s easy to get caught up in a last minute flurry and race to the supermarket to buy ten packets of chips because you’re not sure you’ve made enough food. But with a little bit of planning and a few key questions, you can minimise your impact on the environment and the amount of waste generated from your event.

  • Where are your ingredients from, and what are they packaged in? Packaging can be the devil of waste management. An easy way to reduce packaging is to head to your local farmers market with a reusable shopping bag and buy local. Another solution is to buy ingredients in bulk from somewhere you can BYO reusable containers – have a search in your local area for food co-ops or health food stores.
  • If you have to buy packaged foods, think about how to recycle the packaging, and chose recyclable where possible. An easy substitution is to make your own snack foods like dips and serve with veggie sticks or locally-baked bread carried home in a paper bag (or homemade bread if you’re feeling extra enthusiastic), instead of buying unsustainably packaged food from the supermarket .
  • In terms of cooking, what can you make that will result in little waste? Think about how you can use more of an ingredient in different ways to reduce the amount you have to throw out – Love Food Hate Waste is an excellent resource for recipes and tips on how to minimise waste and use up leftovers.
  • Don’t over-cater! A sure way to end up with waste is to cook too much in the first place. A bit of thought (and potentially chasing a few RSVPs) can help you cook only the amount of food you need, cutting out extra dough spent, as well as food going to waste.
  • If you’ve been over-enthusiastic in your catering and discover that you’ve got mountains of leftovers, offer them to your guests to take home, rather than let them spoil on the bottom shelf in your fridge.

For more questions to ask when it comes to food and sustainability, check out our interview with Julian Lee from Food Connect. Or, read our guide on how to do a better grocery shop, and our ultimate recycling and reusing guide.

Drink

When it comes to drinks, packaging is once again your kryptonite. Think about what your beverages of choice come packaged in, and always choose recyclable options. When it comes to serving drinks, skip the straws, and consider buying second-hand glasses from an op-shop and donating them back after the event, or encouraging everyone to BYOC (bring your own cup).

Tip: Look at the bigger eco picture and try making your own drinks (think water flavoured with chopped fruit and mint) or buying organic, sustainable beverages – let our Green Gog Guide be your bible.

Cutlery + crockery

Buying plastic, disposable cutlery and crockery is a sure-fire way to double your waste at the end of the day. Instead, rent, buy second-hand and donate back, go for compostable paper/bamboo options or encourage everyone to BYO. Or, serve a bunch of finger food and then ice cream in cones for dessert and remove plates from the equation entirely!

Take the same second-hand approach with tablecloths and napkins – an awesome vintage doily situation is going to bring more charm than a tacky throwaway plastic one, and you can donate it back as well. Similarly, cloth napkins are much more pleasant to use, and cut down on waste again.

Venue + transport

Think about location of your party, and how this will impact on waste. For example, can you have it outdoors to capitalise on sunshine, thus cutting down on electricity used? Be sure to have a backup plan in place for foul weather. It’s also fun to encourage people to walk, cycle, carpool or use public transport to make their way to you, to get them into the spirit and minimise their environmental footprint. If you put transport options on the invitations, your guests are more likely to consider them, than if they had to do the legwork (pardon the pun) themselves.

Decorations

It’s easy to get carried away with decorations at times, but two dollar and party shops can be environmental black holes. Forget about balloons and other throwaway items and rent (sites like Lenzo are great for the fun stuff), buy second-hand and donate back, or make your own decorations. The internet is a veritable source of DIY ideas, like this one on how to make your own no-sew bunting, great for using any old fabrics lying around.

If you want to go for flowers, make sure you source them somewhere local (and preferably sustainable) and send everyone home with a bunch so you don’t end up throwing out perfectly good blooms for lack of space! Or buy potted plants or succulents and keep them for your own garden or give them away as gifts.

Gifts

Discourage people from bringing gifts! (Your guests will secretly thank you.) You often end up with a lot of junk you don’t need, that isn’t ethically or sustainably produced, and that you will throw out in your next spring clean. Instead, encourage them to donate the money to your favourite charity, or remind them that the greatest gift is their presence.

Cleaning up

Hopefully if you’ve planned your party mindfully in regards to waste, your clean up will be a bit less painful. Be organised with sorting waste – make sure you have all the different bins you need, as well as large containers for any more tricky recyclables you might have to accommodate for. Label everything clearly so guests can do some of the hard yards for you. When cleaning, use eco products in recyclable packaging, or, make your own natural cleaning products to really do your bit.

There you have it! Waste-free and fun-filled parties are the way to go. If you’re thinking about Christmas, check out our tips based around this holiday or visit our guide to hosting sustainable parties.

Photo credit (clockwise from left): Migle cc; the green gables cc; Mack Male cc

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