How to Go Green: Dinner Parties


Photo credit: Robert S. Donovan/Creative Commons

[By Alex Smith]

With the holiday season just around the bend, dinner parties are likely on their way to packing your schedule. Dinner parties are fun to host and are the key to filling your schedule with many more. Whether you're thinking big with a Thanksgiving gathering or dreaming of an intimate party with a few close friends, we've put together a guide that will help you make your party eco-friendly.

If you're already thinking about the annual dinner party you're hosting in the next few months you may want to look closely at your vision. Are you planning to send out beautifully printed invites, serving a few gourmet meat dishes, saving dishwashing time with disposable plates and finally waving goodbye to your fulfilled guests as they hop in their cars to head back home? If so, you're dream party may not be so green.

A dinner party like this one can create a pretty serious amount of waste. From leftovers, to paper waste and even energy waste, not all dinner parties are created environmentally equal. In planning your next party, why not make it green? From small dinner parties with a few friends to gatherings packed with family, eco-conscious dinner parties can be fun and easy to organize.

With green in mind, you can re-imagine a dinner party that is good for the Earth and shows your guests how thinking green can go a long way. Before planning the menu, why not send your guests those snazzy invites via email instead? With your eco-conscious on, you may nix those meat dishes you were dreaming about, or reduce them, aware of the environmental benefits of serving your guests vegetarian style. These veg foods, ideally made from locally grown food, may be partnered with a tasty green wine. If you love the feel of menus at your dinner parties, you can even print up eco-friendly menus to get your guests excited about the green dishes you've created. And remember when you dreamed of waving your guests off as they drove home? Why not encourage them to walk, bike or public transport to your dinner instead? You can offer those who do travel green a fun door prize like a coupon for a morning cup of organic, fair-trade coffee at your favorite local cafe.

By changing just a few common dinner party moves, you can seriously reduce your dinner party's carbon footprint. Read on for more examples of small changes you can make to green your dinner party, doing your wallet, the environment and your guests' health, some good!


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Top Green Dinner Party Tips



  1. Plan and Invite Wisely
    Before you head out to shop for your locally sourced menu, first sit down and make a guest list. Whether you're inviting a big family over for Thanksgiving or a few friends, knowing the number of people coming to your party is the first big step in cutting back on waste. When you have your list set, send on an Evite, or other electronic invitation, online to save the waste paper invitations create. For those of your guests who aren't into email, give them a call.

  2. Encourage Your Guests to Travel Green
    In the Evite you send out, be sure to indicate clearly how to get to the dinner party via public transportation. Is there a bus nearby? A light rail? If you don't live near extensive transportation, why not encourage guests to carpool to reduce their footprints. For those who do travel green, you can offer fun little rewards or green favors. These may include local honey, seed packets, a bar of fair trade chocolate or even a gift certificate for a cup of sustainable coffee at your favorite local cafe.

  3. Decorate With an Eco-Conscious
    Instead of buying one time use decorations think about going green. Party store decorations are often paper and plastic and usually only last the night of your party. Look outside in your yard for nature inspired decorations. Why not gather branches, flowers foliage and rocks? You can also head on over to your farmer's market for local flowers. Filling vases with hints of the season like pinecones, lemons or leaves is a great way to add a bit of green to the dinner table. Petroleum free soy candles can help you create a mellow mood.

  4. Buy Seasonal and Local Produce
    If the farmers' market season is still on when your party shopping happens, this is the ideal spot to buy local food. Local produce is not only good for your health, its good for the Earth too: the shorter distance it travels to get your plate keeps carbon out of the air. To find out what's in season for your party you can check out a seasonal produce calendar. This will help you plan a green menu that celebrates the seasons. When you head out shopping, don't forget your reusable bags and if at all possible, stick to a 100 mile diet.

  5. Sip Green Drinks
    When you're planning what drinks to serve at your dinner party, try avoid buying those that come in cans and bottles. If you do get drinks in these, be sure to clearly mark a place where guests can recycle. When possible complement your fresh menu with green drinks. Whatever your party mood, green drink options abound. You can make your own sangria and avoid drink packaging altogether. There's also the option of picking up beer from a local brewery, or buying it organic. If wine's your thing, green wines abound, and if when dessert rolls around you want to serve a little pick me up, why not brew some shade-grown coffee?

  6. Think About Reducing the Amount of Meat on Your Menu or Go Veg Altogether
    Meat production contributes significantly to climate change. One pound of beef alone requires 1860 gallons of water. Cattle and other livestock also produce serious amounts of methane, a gas 20 times more harmful to the Earth than carbon dioxide. Note that you can serve less meat at your party and still do a good green deed. If you decide to serve some meat, check out the Eat Well Guide for information on sustainable meat in your area. If you are inspired to take your party a step further, why not make your menu entirely vegetarian.

  7. If You Want Seafood on the Plate, Choose Sustainable

    If you're dreaming of serving seafood at your dinner party, go the sustainable route. In buying sustainable seafood, you will avoid contributing to the overfishing devastating global seafood populations. You can check out our basic steps for how to pick out more eco-friendly seafood or visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch to navigate your choices.


  8. Use the Right Tableware
    If you can, avoid the usual paper cups, plates, napkins and plastic utensils. If you are stuck on these for your party, look for unbleached or biodegradable products. If you can forgo these you will save a nice pile of trash from making its way into the landfill. Instead, use dishwasher safe china and glasses you already have around the house. If they don't all match, add more green candles and native plants to match the eclectic sets.

  9. Send Your Guests Home With Leftovers
    Even if you are a star party planner you are likely to have leftovers. Instead of letting them sit in your fridge, potentially serving them up for the next few meals, why not send some home with your friends. You can lend your friends some of your green tupperware or encourage them to bring their own to fill up after the party.

  10. Clean Up Green
    Set up bins at your party that clearly mark where guests can recycle, compost and send trash to the landfill. Composting your scraps is great for your garden and easy to do. Next, be sure your dishes are finding their way into an efficient dishwasher; we have a great guide on how to green yours. The basics? Skip the pre-rinse, fill it on up, and lower the heat. If you don't have a dishwasher, be sure to do some eco-friendly hand washing. When it comes to scrubbing your countertops post-party, opt to do it with green cleaning products. They're good for the Earth and your health, too.


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Green Dinner Parties: By The Numbers



  • 27 percent: Amount of food available for consumption that is wasted by Americans.

  • $48 billion: Cost of all the wasted food in the U.S.

  • 100 times: Amount more water required to produce a pound of beef than a pound of wheat.

  • 7 million tons: Annual fish consumption in the U.S., up 17 percent over the past decade.

  • 17 million: Invitations sent per month from electronic invite website Evite.

  • $5 billion: Sales of local food in the U.S. in 2007, up from $4 billion in 2002.

  • $7 billion: Expected sales of local food in 2011.

Sources: New York Times, Evite, Packaged Facts, Renewable Energy Works, Food and Agriculture Organizations Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.

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Green Dinner Parties: Getting Techie


The Meat Question
When planning your green dinner party, the menu may be at the heart of your carbon cutting. Despite the big hype around driving Smart Cars and wearing organic cotton, choosing to eat vegetarian even a few days a week may significantly cut your carbon footprint. Meat production is a definite climate changer. Livestock, particularly cattle and pigs, release a serious amount of methane into the atmosphere. According to Reuters, in New Zealand, the 55 million animals the country sustains produce ninety percent of its methane emissions.

Thirty percent of the Earth's ice-free land is devoted to raising livestock for meat according the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. This livestock contributes to a fifth of the world's greenhouse gases, beating out transportation as a contributor to global warming. According to a New York Times article, a Japanese study estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the same amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car during a 155 mile trip.

If you decide to meat at your dinner party, check out the Eat Well Guide for information on sustainable meat in your area.

Eating Locally

With the Slow Food Movement inspiring the world, eating locally has become a more common move when going green. Our How to Guide: Eating Local Food points out that getting local food for your dinner party doesn't just mean buying something from nearby. To really buy locally you must also take into account the processing, production and distribution of the food you choose: "when you buy local food, not only do you know where it came from, you're often buying it from the person or people who grew the food."

Local food will taste fresh to your guests and will do the environment well, too. By reducing packaging, transportation emissions and climate change contributing processing, storage and packaging, local food conserves energy and materials. It also supports the local farming community instead of large scale industrial agriculture. Your neighborhood farmers' market is a great place to find local goods for your dinner party.

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Where to Get Green Dinner Party Supplies


Invitations
Evite
Sendomatic
E-Invites from Calla Magazine
Greet2k
Food
Local Harvest
Farm Fresh
Eat Well Guide
Buy Local Food
Monterey Bay Acquarium
Decorations
Green Party Goods
Beau Coup
Party Pro
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Green Dinner Parties: From the Archives


Dig deeper into a green dinner party with these articles and resources from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.
Throw A Dinner Party: Planning and Organization teaches the ins and outs of how to pull off your party once you have your guest list and menu in place.

Throw a Dinner Party: The Menu takes you from appetizer to dessert, with eco-friendly foods every step of the way

Take your Dinner Party Outside offers tips for moving the party onto your deck or patio when the weather permits.

Cut the Waste from Your Next Dinner Party offers tips on cleaning up. Check in with Chef Emeril Lagasse to get recipe ideas for your next party.

Get inspiration from the green dinner parties held each week on Planet Green's Supper Club.

Keep the trash to a minimum with the tips in Hey Party Animal - Reduce Your Party Waste in 3 Steps

Need more inspiration? Get examples of 100 Mile Diet: Menus from Four Cities

Get the "Green Basics" on Eating Local Food: The Movement, Locavores and More.

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Further Reading on Green Dinner Parties


Get more info on a green dinner party in these other worthwhile sources.
Tips for a Green Dinner Party
Our pals at HowStuffWorks have tips on how to plan a successful party, along with how locavores work, and their take on the local vs. organic food debate.

Over at Huffington Post, Planet Green's Mairi Beautyman provides Four Ways for a Stylish and Tasty Green Dinner Party.

There's more to a "Green" St. Patrick's Day Dinner Party than the green beer, according to blog Swanky Tables.

Watch this video to see Tips on Living 'Green': How to Have a 'Green' Dinner Party in moving pictures and living color.

Lifetime has tips for how to host an Earth-appreciating event to show your friends you're going green with this simple dinner party plan.

You can have a "hot" dinner party without contributing to global warming, accodring to the Top Ways to Green Your Next Dinner Party or Event at Global Warming Diet.

Ecorazzi fills you in on a Sierra Club event that was centered around throwing a dinner party for global warming action. But, hey, just because it isn't Thursday doesn't mean you shouldn't do it!

Hosting an eco-friendly, or "green" dinner party is just as easy (or easier!) than throwing one the "old fashioned" way, according to eHow.

Green style guru Danny Seo has tips for a green party in his book, Simply Green Parties.

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