Many of us love to entertain, whether birthday parties, dinner parties, brunches, or tea, and many of us also want to make sure we impact our planet a little less. We’re not going to quit having people over, decorating our homes, eating a lot of food, and having to clean up a post-party mess, but hopefully we can minimize our impact a little with the following ten tips for making your entertaining a little greener.
1. Invitations: Use electronic invitations, which have the added benefit of tracking your guest list and sending reminders, or use paper invitations in recycled paper or natural materials such as cotton, hemp, or bamboo. Handwritten homemade invitations can be sweet and classic for simple brunches or casual dinners.
2. Serving the Food: Use real dishware, glassware, and linens. It can be both elegant and comfy, and if you’re short on dishes, you can mix-and-match your own dishes with thrift store purchases to create eclectic, vintage place settings. Invest in reusable bamboo dishware and utensils. If you’re not one of the lucky few with a dishwasher and a spouse or friends who will chip in, opt for biodegradable plates, cups, and utensils (yes, they even make biodegradable utensils!) that are both sturdy and compostable.
3. Lighting: Replace your light bulbs with compact fluorescent or LED bulbs. (Remember to dispose of them safely.) Create a warmer and greener mood with beeswax or soy candles instead of paraffin. (Remember not to leave candles unattended.)
4. Decorations: Skip paper decorations and decorate with locally-grown flowers, flowers from your backyard, or wildflowers from the side of the road. Set fresh, potted herbs with a pleasant fragrance, such as basil, mint, or rosemary, as centerpieces. Place sprays of fresh lavender in rooms, and dry the lavender later to freshen your laundry. Use seasonal items, such as daffodil in the spring, maple leaves, or gourds in the fall, and strings of cranberries or popcorn and pine cone centerpieces in the winter.
5. Setting Your Table: Pass on plastic tablecloths and instead use burlap or cloth tablecloths, curtains, or sheets to cover your table, place a simple cloth runner in the center to anchor your table, or decorate the table purely with food and flowers. If you have to use plastic tablecloths, wipe them down and re-use them in the future.
6. Food: Plan your meal to reflect seasonal offerings and/or highlight locally-grown foods and shop at your local farmer’s market for the freshest ingredients. Serve finger foods to reduce the utensils required, such as veggie crudités, crackers and cheese, and mini-sandwiches.
7. Beverages: Venture off the beaten path and try an interesting, lesser-known local brew or wine. Use your event as an opportunity to try out the latest craze for wine in a TetraPak box. Serve organic or biodynamic beer or wine, creating yet one more conversation topic for your guests. Offer a signature cocktail to take advantage of local or seasonal ingredients. Serve water flavored at home with lemon or lime (a little flavor goes a long way!) or a few sprigs of mint (you can grow it in your backyard!) instead of soda. If soda is a must, buy cans of soda that are easily recycled.
8. Gifts/Favors: Whether taking a gift for your host or hostess or sending your guests off with party favors, some good options include household items such as beeswax or soy candles, organic hand towels or bath items, handmade soap, biodynamic or organic wine, a jar of locally-grown raw honey, seeds or seed-embedded paper, or a potted herb or flowering plant.
9. Transportation: Encourage public transportation, carpooling, or walking. In addition to being green, this may allow guests to drink responsibly without worrying about making it home safely.
10. Clean-Up: Set up designated composting, recycling, and garbage bins, with clear signage. It will save you the headache of sorting through things after the party, and may give someone else the idea to do that at their next event. Pack leftovers for friends or yourself to use later or compost them. Use natural household cleaners after your event.