Celebrating is one of the most incredible things about being human—gathering with loved ones to share stories, food, and laughs have been something we have been doing for more than 100,000 years. However, in recent times, our joyous affairs have been entwined with bags of wasted food, flowers, and disposable decorations, making our parties a bit of an environmental nightmare.
It doesn’t have to be like this. However, using a few simple tricks from sustainable event planners worldwide, every backyard barbecue, wedding party, and family reunion can actively contribute to a more sustainable future. Here is how to make every event, big or small, a celebration of the Earth.
Think about the menu—and what happens when the party goes home.
Food is one of the most contentious and divisive aspects of sustainability because people are prone to wasting it. While throwing away that box of new kale or too-old-for-comfort leftovers is unfortunate enough as an individual, parties take that food waste and dial it up a whole bunch of notches.
The primary way to ensure that all beautiful party food, whether catered or homemade, reduces it is per guest. Ellen Hockley-Harrison, the chief events officer at New Jersey-based Greater Good Events, says that for some more formal parties. Caterers will cook up multiple meals for each guest if everybody wants to try every snack, side dish, and dessert.
Whether or not catering, or setting up the buffet, consider providing a more realistic amount of food–enough for everyone to have a few hors d’oeuvres and a delicious main course. As much as we all love food, people can only eat so much stuff without feeling too sick to enjoy the party at the end of the day.
On top of monitoring how much food provide, choosing a sustainable menu is also vital. Hockley-Harrison suggests reducing meat consumption, looking into seasonal produce-based menus, and using local vendors versus flying in food from all over. Taking these steps, she says, is also a way to inspire the community around her.
No matter how thoughtfully curate guest lists and food options, there will probably still be leftovers. The first thing should consider doing with surplus food is donating it to the community by partnering with local shelters or food banks. If that does not work out, then composting is the next best option, Hockley-Harrison says. “Compost is not ideal because it is still waste, but it is a better form of waste than the garbage,” she says. Doing a little research on how to get waste to a composting facility after the festivities have faded will ensure that, at the very least, cupcakes are not releasing greenhouse gases from the landfill.
Flowers can be pretty for more than one reason.
It is hard to imagine weddings, graduations, and religious ceremonies without flowers. However, the harsh reality is that like food, and blossoms release methane when they decompose after being tossed. Moreover, unlike food, flowers mainly serve aesthetic purposes.
It does not have to say farewell to the idea of colorful, sweet-smelling vases decorating birthday or baby shower—but be smart about them. First off, Hockley-Harrison says to make sure every plant serves multiple purposes. At a wedding ceremony, the big flower arch can repurpose into bouquets for tables, accessories for a photo booth, or as take-home party favors.
Even after they have had their moment in the spotlight, she suggests donating them to hospitals and elderly care facilities so that their beauty lasts longer than the event alone. Some companies like BloomsURent even allow brides to reuse bouquets for more than one joyful occasion. If some flowers cannot take on a second life, composting them is the way to go.
Forget disposable plates and utensils.
Disposable plates and cups make for easy clean-up in the short run, but they make a nasty mess for the planet in the long term. So while it may end up having to spend more time washing dishes, it is undoubtedly the more environmentally friendly way to party, and it is far cheaper.
Think of it this way, says Sofia Ratcovich, founder of Los Angeles sustainability consulting group Zero Waste Co., when buying disposable stuff, are throwing away money. Instead of investing in styrofoam cups, look for good deals on unique second-hand dishware at thrift stores or Etsy.
A sneaky bonus is that sometimes they can make great gifts, so while a paper plate may only have one lifetime at the party, a reusable one can act as a fun memory that lives on in a friend’s cabinet. It can also ask friends and family to bring their cups and dishes (that way, no one mixes up their drinks, and everyone is in charge of scrubbing their receptacles after).
If must use disposable table goods, it is essential to know what can be recycled, says Meegan Jones, an Australia-based sustainable events expert with the Institute for Sustainable Events. Depending on where it lives, specific products and packaging may not be recyclable, so check the municipal website or apps like Recycle Coach before it signs off on that bulk order for cups.
“Right now where we are today, being sustainable does take a little bit of elbow grease,” Jones says. Thinking through the afterlife of purchases will make it so that a sustainable party is more than talk.
See party as a teaching opportunity for sustainability.
When a person walks into a party, they are likely to feel excited, happy, sociable, and open-minded. As the host, It has probably put much effort into creating a welcoming environment. Once it has made sure all of the waste reduction elements are “bang on,” Jones says, you can use all of your hard work to educate your captivated guests.
For example, when guests are munching on sustainably produced snacks, it can pop in and express how important it is to buy locally. Alternatively, if the venue and twinkle lights power by renewable energy, drop a few facts about how solar, wind, and batteries are becoming cheaper and more accessible for home use.
“Events are such an opportunity to activate a person,” Ratcovich says. So whether it is a massive gathering at a music festival or even just a small gathering at home, people in their element are more likely to give sustainability a second thought than, say, after a hard day in the office.
Beyond just planning an event sustainably, do not be afraid to leave guests with an impression of what sustainable life could look likes. After all, that sentiment is likely to stick with them longer than a plastic party favor.