Gather Together

By Jacqueline Frasca

How to throw an eco-friendly soiree

 

Summer is the time of year when the weather tends to cooperate, helping us throw some excellent parties—the days are long, sun is out, plants are vibrant and moods tend to be lifted. In return, it’s important to give back to the Earth by hosting the most sustainable, eco-friendly party you can. No matter what you’re celebrating, organizing an event requires careful planning. With food, drinks and aesthetics, it’s easy to overlook details that deserve consideration—like our environment. Parties can also contribute to the amount of waste in already overwhelmed landfills; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the

amount of waste America alone generates in a year has more than tripled since 1960. That’s not to mention energy, water and resource waste, or the chemicals used in the import/export, meat and paper production industries. 

Conveniently, a multitude of resources exists to help minimize your party’s contribution to waste. To be a conscientious, green host, employ that catchy phrase you’ve heard since childhood: reduce, reuse and recycle. Whether it’s a themed birthday party for kids, a casual gathering among friends or a business function, having an environmentally conscious gathering can be easy, affordable and rewarding. 

SPREAD THE WORD

The first step in planning any party is the guest list and invitations. More formal events that call for physical invitations can still be earth-friendly if you opt for recycled paper, non-tree paper or make your own with unused fabric materials. One way to give back to the planet is to include a pack of seeds with your formal invitations. Botanicalpaperworks.com sells special wildflower seed paper and envelopes for your guests to plant—after they RSVP, of course.

The greenest way to get party details to your guests is to use e-vites or social networking websites. Facebook events are quick and make it easy to see who is coming, may attend or has declined, as well as to update guests on event information through messages and wall posts. E-vites can be a bit more personal than a Facebook message; an easy and aesthetic e-vite resource is new.evite.com, stocked with hundreds of invitations for any occasion. Conveniently, you can choose to be notified when your guests RSVP, since it’s important to be able to plan according to your crowd in order to avoid over-buying and potentially wasting food or sundries. 

Getting to the event is also something to consider. When it comes to home events, casual gatherings or kids' parties, encouraging your guests to carpool is a great way to save on gas. Try setting up a carpooling system via Facebook events or websites like ZimRide.com. For business or larger events that require travel, offer to drive as many other attendees as your car can fit or consider a location that would be convenient for guests to use public transit, walk or bike. 

EARTH-FRIENDLY CUISINE

The decision to cater, cook on your own or host a potluck is often dependent upon the length of your guest list, available resources and contents of your wallet. Luckily, the Green Restaurant Association has made it easy to locate green caterers in your area. Visit dinegreen.com and search “Caterers” in your state. If your certified green caterer options are limited, search for certified green restaurants that cater or can work with your preferred local caterer to create local, organic or vegetarian food options. Also, hors d’oeuvres, tapas and sides of raw produce are smart ways to save energy and are sure to satisfy guests. 

Worried about wasting extra food? Make sure to send your guests home with plenty of leftovers. Whatever food or scraps remain, you can compost yourself, give to a neighbor who does or contact your local composting company. 

Then, there’s the drink situation. If cocktails are on the menu, make your own mixers and use juice made from seasonal, local produce whenever possible. Ask your local package store or caterer for a list of its organic spirits and beers that follow ethical production practices. For example, 360 Vodka uses 100 percent locally grown grains and 85 percent recycled glass bottles, while still using 200 percent less energy than the common distillation method. 

For wine, go with the biggest bottles—they have a greater wine-to-glass ratio. And remember, carbon dioxide emissions from the manufacturing process are much higher for screw-cap or plastic stoppers than for natural cork, which you can then repurpose. Likewise, purchasing beer kegs, as opposed to bottles and cans, will help reduce waste. Tetra Pak, which is used by French Rabbit, is another low-carbon-footprint packaging to look out for, as it is 100 percent recyclable, creates 80 percent less greenhouse gases and uses 90 percent less packaging. A couple of earth-friendly brands include Maker’s Mark whiskey (uses locally sourced grain), Bonterra wine (implements sustainable growing practices), VeeV (funds from drink sales go toward tree planting) and Fair Spirits (first line of Fair Trade certified spirits).

ENERGY REDUCING 

Lighting and cooking methods have incredible potential to up your green status, as energy and natural resources are hardly something we want to be wasting. Electric grills are the cleanest and greenest choice compared to convection or gas, though natural gas is a better option than charcoal. The absolute best grilling method is the solar grill—if you have the resources to obtain one, you’ll be an eco-friendly superstar. Always grill with the hood down and look for models with the lowest number of British thermal units (BTUs) to promote energy efficiency. 

For indoor or outdoor events, lighting is an important element, and there are many green ways to illuminate a space. Two types of light bulbs to employ are compact florescent (CFL) bulbs and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. LED bulbs cost a little more than CFLs, but they use even less energy and last longer. String lights, many of which are made with LED bulbs, can create atmosphere indoors or be a great touch for outdoor parties that go late.

Of course, there are always candles. Unscented candles can often be bought in bulk at low cost, and candles made from pure beeswax, vegetable oil or soy are the best for the environment. For quick and classy centerpieces, try repurposing old wine bottles or glass jars by putting lit tea lights inside or using them as vases. 

GREEN GOODS AND DECORATING

Plates, napkins, utensils and decorations are staples at get-togethers, yet they also cause the most waste. Most commercial paper and plastic products are cheaply made with harsh, environment-damaging chemicals.

Recycled or post-consumer paper products and sundries are more popular than ever and, therefore, more accessible. Seventh Generation, whose products can be purchased either online or at most chain supermarkets, has a plethora of 100 percent recycled products: napkins, trash bags and even household cleaners to keep your event space well-prepped for company. You can also choose to opt for cloth napkins made from sustainably sourced materials, which can be washed and reused, or make your own by repurposing old towels, shirts or unneeded sheets. Make sure you have three well-labeled waste areas designated: one for compost, one for recyclables and one for trash. 

Whether you need cups for sodas or cocktails, opt for a plant-based, non-plastic variety. From corn to bamboo, greenpartygoods.com is the ultimate resource for the earth-conscious party-thrower—they have tablecloths, bakeware, utensils and even biodegradable balloons. While actual silverware and ceramic plates are often a hosting preference, it’s more practical—and much greener—to use post-consumer recycled dishware that is either reusable, like bamboo, or biodegradable, like corn; it saves water and can often be composted. More formal events that call for real dishes and flatware can be made greener by utilizing local garage sales and thrift stores to reuse. 

For parties with established seating, it’s a good idea to set your tables for your guests for the sake of convenience, aesthetics and to eliminate as much unnecessary waste as possible. No matter the food layout, guests are less likely to overuse plates, cups and utensils if a set is designated for them from the get-go.

Green DIY decorating can be highly affordable with the right resources, personalizes a project and, most importantly, reduces your environmental footprint. When buying materials to get started, make sure to pay attention to the different recycling symbols: The normal three arrow symbol means an item is recyclable, while the symbol with a black background means the item is recycled. If there is no qualifying statement, such as “70 percent post-consumer recycled content,” the product is made from 100 percent recycled material. Avoid chlorine-bleached papers and opt for non-tree paper whenever possible. To get a variety of DIY ideas, check out hostessblog.com and love-the-day.wordpress.com for printable themes.

For more information on green party planning, contact sevenstarevents.com, which is dedicated to helping clients transform their events into environmentally responsible good times. Even small green changes when party-planning can make a truly positive impact, so employ some of these tips and resources to make your summer soiree sustainable, successful and memorable.