8 Ways to Host a Holiday Party with Minimal Waste

If you've ever hosted an event, you are probably all too aware of both the joys and the chaos that can be left behind after your guests are gone, including the immense amount of trash that manages to build up in just a few short hours. If you've been making an effort to reduce your waste output, don't worry! There are still ways to celebrate with a much more minimal footprint. Read on for 8 tips!

1. Choose reusable dinnerware over disposables.

We know it’s tempting to stock up on disposable plates, napkins, cutlery, and cups to avoid the onslaught of dishes at the end of the night, but here’s an unfortunate truth -- none of those items are recyclable. And the more we think about the buildup of all the paper plates, napkins, and single-use plastics we’ve used in our lives sitting in a landfill (even paper plates take 20 years to decompose there), the less convenient they actually seem. 

But don’t worry! Here are a few totally doable alternatives:

  • Reusables. Use your own dinnerware if that’s an option, or, if you don’t have enough to accommodate all of your guests, supplement with items from the thrift store. You can either keep them for your next event or donate them right back afterward! If it’s in your budget, the same places that rent dinnerware for special events like weddings also often rent out items for smaller occasions.
  • If you’re just planning to serve finger foods or hors d'oeuvres, consider reusable toothpicks and cloth napkins to avoid the need for plates and utensils.
  • Serve drinks with reusable straws, like these cool bamboo ones!
  • If you’re set on disposables, let us point you in the direction of this selection of (actually) compostable dinnerware made from organic, renewable bamboo

2. No *new* ugly sweaters. Try a “secondhand” theme!

If you love throwing a good theme party, try to avoid one that encourages guests to buy a new item they might only use or wear once. But have no fear! Ugly Holiday Sweaters can easily be found this time of year at thrift stores. (The Goodwill in Portland has a whole section of them!) Maybe your white elephant exchange can even consist of ready-to-donate items guests bring from their own homes.

3. Get a beer keg, or have a signature cocktail or punch pre-mixed to help guests avoid single-serve beverage containers. 

Concoct a festive drink that can be made with items in plastic-free containers and serve them in glasses to avoid extra waste. We love a good mulled wine made with red wine, oranges, a sweetener like sugar, honey, or maple syrup, and spices like clove, cinnamon sticks, and star of anise. Depending on your local grocery stores, you might even be able to find most of these items plastic-free or in the bulk and produce sections! Another great option is to order a keg from your local brewery, taphouse, or Bevmo.

If you do decide to opt for some single-serve drinks, choose options in aluminum cans or glass bottles if your area is able to recycle them. Check out our blog post “A Packaging Hierarchy (for When Zero’s Not an Option)” to learn more about how to choose between packaging options. You can also look into BottleDrop options, like this one in Oregon, that vary by state.

4. Serve some vegan or vegetarian options.

If you have any vegan or vegetarian guests, we’re sure they’d be very appreciative to have some options available to them. But even if you don’t, serving plant-based options is a great way to offer something nutritious while also minimizing environmental harm and quite possibly your grocery bill! And while you’re at it, try to prioritize locally sourced, seasonal, and organic foods and beverages to reduce carbon emissions from transportation, support your local economy, and optimize health for your guests and your community. Here are a couple of recipes to try:

5. Have a plan for leftovers.

Try to be precise with how many servings of food you have available for guests to reduce food waste. You can always have extra desserts that don't need to be consumed immediately or snacks that can easily be saved as backup. Or if you'd feel more comfortable having more of your main courses on hand (or if you're nervous about changing up the portions to a perfect recipe), encourage guests to bring containers for leftovers! Another great option is to invite guests -- maybe just a select few -- over for round 2 the following day!

6. Deck the halls with natural decor.

Use long-lasting natural decor like eucalyptus and pussy willow that will add a touch of simple beauty to your space, provide a light and refreshing scent, and easily decompose at the end of its life. You can also use consumable decor like pomegranates, chestnuts, star of anise, or cinnamon sticks in glass jars, vases, or bowls!

Hot tip: If you’re decorating with strings of twinkle lights, opt for LED versions that use less energy and save on your bill!

7. Elevate your ambiance with a non-toxic scent.

Skip traditional candles made from petroleum-based paraffin wax that produces carcinogenic fumes like toluene and benzene when burned. Many wicks also contain lead, which as you can imagine is also not great to inhale when burned. (Yikes, amiright??) If you still want to get your candle fix, opt for 100% beeswax or soy candles with 100% cotton wicks. (Read here to learn how to check for a lead wick.)

If you’re open to alternatives to candles for scenting your home, check out our blog post on “9 Plastic-Free Ways to Freshen a Room” for more ideas!

8. Celebrate a spirit of gratitude!

A sometimes overlooked element of minimizing waste is appreciating and savoring what you already have, whether that be your home, your belongings (including gifts from holidays past), or the people with whom you’re celebrating. Finding a way to incorporate gratitude into your event is a wonderful way to spread the good vibes to your guests. You might do that through the classic Thanksgiving tradition of having everyone share one thing they’re grateful for, which is a great and nourishing practice any day of the year, by sharing what you appreciate about each of your guests, or even just by avoiding the urge to complain. Bonus: studies have shown that expressing gratitude helps boost happiness! Be the host that spreads the most joy with a simple and waste-free gratitude practice!

Have you hosted a party and found a clever way to minimize waste? Share in the comments below!

-Alex Grand

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  • I will definitely be trying the first 2 recipes this Christmas!

    Susan Smith on

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