Summer is the season for outdoor entertaining. Unfortunately, this can result in excessive amounts of waste, as many hosts set out piles of Styrofoam plates, plastic cutlery, and plastic cups in order to reduce the amount of cleanup and broken glasses in the backyard. It might be convenient and easy to entertain in this way, but it’s unsustainable.
Consider the following zero-waste options when planning your next party. It does take more effort to use reusable items – you have to wash and store them till next time – but there won’t be a plastic garbage bag full of trash at the end of the night, which is a pretty great feeling. Reusable items add a touch of class and decoration to a party, making it more memorable for your guests. Here are some ideas:
1. Use a cloth tablecloth or placemats instead of a plastic table cover.There’s something about a tablecloth that makes any dinner look stylish and beautiful. Wash, hang dry, and iron soon after use, and it will last for many years. For something even simpler, try colourful placements made of natural fibres.Ten Thousand Villages sells gorgeous fair-trade tablecloths and placemats.
2. Reusable plates are a necessity.Buy a second set of cheap ceramic plates at a thrift store that you won’t worry about breaking, or pick up a set of enamel tin picnic dishes. If you’re really stressed about having to wash all those dishes, check out VerTerra’s compostable plates made of pressed leaves and water.
If you have a large crowd to feed, consider renting plates from a local church or community center. Some places might even take the dishes back dirty, for a fee. You could set up an outdoor washing station where guests wash their own plate, which makes a huge difference in the amount of cleanup, or ask guests to bring their own reusable dishes.
3. Use cloth napkins, which add decorative accents to a table.It does mean extra laundry, but these will last for years. Plus, they’re much more absorbent and generally useful than grabbing a handful of paper napkins to wipe up a mess. Buy them anywhere (it’s best to stick with 100% cotton, which is most durable), or repurpose old fabric to make your own. Etsy has some attractive handmade options.
4. Ditch the disposable straws and try some reusable ones.Did you know that 500 million plastic straws are tossed daily in the U.S.? Here's a much better option. Simply Straws makes these cool straws with borosilicate glass, which is tough and resistant to thermal stress, making them great for cold and hot beverages. They come in 3 sizes, and you have the option of bent or straight. The company guarantees 100% satisfaction and will replace broken ones.
5. Serve iced juice or water in a large communal dispenser.Not only is it practical and elegant, but it also eliminates the need for a cooler full of dripping wet plastic water bottles or soda cans.
6. Serve drinks in small glass canning jars, which adds a rustic touch.Write guests’ names on the side in permanent marker, or tie a ribbon around to differentiate. If you want to invest in something permanent, go with non-breakable stainless steel. You can get pint cups from Klean Kanteen, and stemmed wine glasses from Eco-Friendly Cookware.
7. Provide reusable cutlery.Not only is it eco-friendly, it also much more pleasant to eat with sturdy cutlery; cutting food on a Styrofoam plate with a flimsy plastic knife is very frustrating. Visit the thrift store for an extra set, if you’re don’t want to use your own. Another option is to buy wooden or bamboo sets of cutlery, which are great for travelling and camping. Verterra also sells compostable wooden cutlery that supposedly breaks down in two months.
8. Buy alcoholic beverages from local wineries and brewers.Some wineries offer wine-on-tap and let you fill your own bottles, which is an excellent zero waste option. Use old wine bottles or buy some of these pretty glass bottles with ceramic lids. If not, be sure to return empties for a refund and reuse.
9. Metal skewers are useful and versatile.Use long ones for grilling vegetables and meat. You won’t have to soak them ahead of time or deal with splinters in your food. Use little metal skewers instead of toothpicks to serve finger foods; wash and reuse.
Do you have any ideas for zero-waste entertaining?