Corralling the Single-Use Plastic Monster

My Party Pack: Mismatched napkins, cutlery, a punch bowl and jelly glasses. Photo: C. Plume

Cups, napkins, plates, serving dishes, serving spoons, cutlery, tablecloths, decorations, and leftover food – parties bring on ample opportunity for single use plastic and a LOT of waste. Even for those of us who aspire to a less-waste lifestyle, when it comes to throwing a party, the single-use plastic monster is hard to avoid. If you’re looking for strategies to reduce party waste and keep the single-use plastic monster at bay, read on.  These tips work for any party, regardless of the season.

Make Your Own Food And Drinks

Packaged food tastes – well, “packaged”, and it generates a lot of waste.  Wow your friends with homemade hummus, dips, and salsa – all of which can be prepared well in advance of party day. A sparkling water machine will cut down on the amount of waste you generate at the party – and all year long. Hill’s Kitchen offers a couple of varieties.

It can be done. Remaining waste from a party of 70! Photo: C. Plume

Decorations. Nature Comes In Many Colors

A Google search of “ZeroWaste Decorations” will bombard you with surprisingly chic ideas, using simple materials like cranberries, leaves, evergreen cuttings, good ol’ sticks, and even toilet paper rolls. Be inspired!  And, those stored-away holiday lights will brighten up any party – in any season.

Be A (Very) Short Term Job Creator

Need help with those decorations? Hire a couple of neighborhood kids to help you out. And, TaskRabbit and neighborhood listservs are great resources for finding someone to help manage coats, food, and dishes – giving you more time to spend with your guests.  Make sure that those helpers are on board with your waste reduction efforts!

Create A Party Pack And Keep The Single-Use Plastic Monster At Bay

Parties mean small plates, glasses, small napkins, and forks, but few knives and spoons. (This is where the single-use plastic monster can thrive.)  Have you ever put glass or napkin down at a party and then forgotten which one is yours? Keep that single-use plastic monster at bay, add some whim, AND help your guests avoid the “which one is mine?” conundrum by providing a mishmash of service ware. DC area Value Village, Goodwill, and Salvation Army thrift stores offer a wide array of high-quality and reusable service ware while damask tablecloths and napkins of every size and color abound on Ebay for a fraction of the cost of new ones.

Jelly Glasses Aren’t Just For Jelly

I threw a party for 70 and needed more glasses. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. I purchased a couple of 12-count boxes of pint-sized canning jars and was done.  Frager’s sells these, and they’re perfectly sized to help your guests have just the right amount to drink.  Have some ribbon or markers on hand for people to make the jar theirs for the evening.

Post Party Clean Up

Share leftovers, compost food Waste, and recycle. If it fits the tone of your party, have some takeout containers on hand so guests can take leftover food home. Set up large containers to capture food waste and recycling.  Since you won’t be generating a lot of waste, you might convert your trash bin into a compost bin for your party.  And, if you don’t have a backyard composter to dump it in, ask one of your neighbors, or take your haul to Eastern Market where there is a free food waste drop off every Saturday next to the Rumsey Pool.

Reducing waste for a party takes a bit off effort, and I’m not able to adopt all of these practices at all of my parties. But now my friends know that I have a party pack, and that I’m willing to lend it out.  And, If I lose a fork or plate along the way, since I’ve bought my goods at a thrift store, it’s no huge loss. I also know who I can borrow more napkins, forks, and plates from, if I need more.  I have my go-to party recipes that I know my friends appreciate. And people know that when they come to my house, chances are they’ll be drinking out of a jelly glass, and some may even know that my festive wall decorations are made out of toilet paper rolls – but the single-use plastic monster will be at bay.

Were you able to corral the single-use plastic monster at your party? I’d love to hear about it!

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and blogger for the DC Recycler:; Twitter: @DC_Recycler. She is also the Vice Chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, however, perspectives expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.