I'll never forget my grandma's dinner parties. How she'd take out her patterned cloth napkins from her "special occasion drawer" and unfold them neatly on the table. She had an entire cupboard of crystal glasses, bowls, and cutlery and would ask me to set the table with her floral cotton tablecloth. I remember feeling so fancy drinking orange juice from those glistening crystal cups.
They were wildly different from my mom's parties, where everything around the table was disposable. Plastic plates and cutlery were placed on top of a gaudy blue tablecloth, alongside paper napkins, refreshments in plastic bottles, big floating plastic balloons, and of course those infamous plastic red cups. Everything was tailored to convenience so that at the end of the evening when everyone would leave, those big black trash bags would come out of hiding.
In the last 60 years, plastic has become a fixture of modern life—offering us a sense of quick convenience. In most cases, it's thrown away within seconds, minutes, or days after purchase. Once we toss it in the trash or recycling bin, it's easy to believe it is out of our lives forever. But the harsh reality is that every bag filled with plastics is directly contributing to a giant problem in a not-so-distant space. It's wreaking havoc on our ecosystems and compromising other species living on our planet.
How to make your next occasion a plastic-free affair.
Today, more eco-friendly alternatives to plastics are emerging to save you time, money, and grief when entertaining. By making just a few swaps, you can support other species, protect the well-being of our future generations, and contribute to a healthier planet. Plus, this type of conscious party planning can instill in you a sense of gratitude and presence.
As we enter summer and the season of BBQs, graduation parties, and family holidays, here's a primer on organizing the best (zero-waste) party of your life:
1. Go for digital invites.
Forget the paper invitations that will inevitably be tossed upon opening. In today's digital age, there are SO many other ways to invite people that don't take up resources. So whip out your phone or laptop and send e-invites or emails, or make a phone call to get people excited.
2. Get resourceful with your cups, napkins, and cutlery.
If you feel like you don’t have enough reusable cups to go around, the classic wide-mouth Mason jar is a great alternative. They are cheap, look relatively classy, and are easy to clean. The best part? They are multipurpose, so after your party, you can use them to store all the leftover food. You're avoiding food waste and nixing plastic food storage at the same time!
For cutlery, check out secondhand stores, and for napkins, why not repurpose them from linen or cotton curtains you never ended up using? Get creative!
3. Forget traditional decorations.
For the love of god, forget the balloons! Animals can easily mistake them for food and choke on them. Instead, make a cheesy (or classy, depending on your vibe) banner or dig up those holiday string lights to create atmosphere. Or buy some thrift store mini vases and add delicate succulents to the table. Save them to make your home a bit more of a green oasis.
4. Craft a healthy, eco-friendly menu.
Don't forget to bring your own cloth produce bags to the farmers market or favorite grocery store for all your veggies, fruits, and non-packaged bread for a giant plate with fresh goodies and dips. You can make your own crackers or stop in a Mexican restaurant and ask them to fill up your bag with tortilla chips. (I do this all the time—they're so much better than plastic-bagged ones!) Instead of buying plastic bottles for beverages, try to find glass bottles and make your own concoctions. Mix herbs like mint and add cucumber with ginger tonic and ice. Opt out of plastic straws completely or replace them with reusable glass, steel, or bamboo ones.
5. Don't be too hard on yourself.
Last but not least, remember you are human! Don't let the fact that you might end up making a little bit of trash keep you from zero-waste aspirations. No one is perfect, and we live in a world that is filled with trashy conveniences that are almost impossible to fully avoid. You are a hero for every single action! Think of zero waste as a mindset switch rather than an end-all-be-all.
Want some more advice on how to live with less trash? Check out how these zero-waste all-stars do it.