Party In Style: Zero Waste!

I love parties, but I hate waste. Even before I was cognizant of the environmental impact of party waste, it still bothered me that so many decorations, plates, etc. were single use and destined to an afterlife at the dump. So, when I learned that Ecocycle had made it possible for the average Joe (or Jane) to host her own Zero Waste party I was sold. The deal was sealed when I realized that zero waste (and industrial composting) meant that I didn’t have to do any dishes (that is once the food was served)! A birthday party has multiple aspects that can contribute to waste which I’ve broken down into three categories: decorations; food & drink; and gifts.

Before the party, however, comes the invitation! I am a romantic and I know a few people in this day and age that don’t use (or like) Evite, so I sent real invitations via snail mail 3 weeks before the party date. The invitations were made from 100% post consumer paper (all 3 pieces), which I ordered through Formal Invitations, an online green stationary company. For less than $25 I made my own formal Birthday Invitations, which were not fancy, but got rave reviews all the same! Hopefully, folks recycled or kept their invites (rather than tossing them in the trash). I meant to put a recycle me! sign on the back of the card, but I forgot!

Decorations: Parties with a theme always seem a little more cohesive, so I thought long and hard on what I could do for my sons first birthday. Id already decided to bake him an airplane cake because we live in the flight path of a municipal airport and get to see little planes fly by day in and day out. Airplanes seemed lacking on their own, so I decided to combine that with the Little Prince.

To decorate I bought a small pink rose which I planted in a beautiful painted blue terracotta pot that we already owned. I then found an expired (2004) Little Prince calendar through Free-cycle, which I cut up to make hanging decorations and little place cards. Id hoped to reuse the cards, but most of them became stained with food or bent, so they moved on to my paperboard recycling container. I used the cardboard in the calendar (inserted to keep it flat) to make a little box, such as the pilot drew for the little prince when he first asked him for a sheep. I then put a small stuffed animal sheep on the box just in case my guests missed the reference! I placed these center pieces on black tablecloths (standard fair in our home) over the picnic tables in the gazebo.

Food & Drink: The biggest challenge in hosting a zero waste party is the food and drink. Especially when hosting the party in a park, which disallows the use of glass, and on a day that was forecast to be in the 80s. Our solution? Compostable tree-free plates, cups and tableware, made from either sugar cane fiber or corn, and reusable plastic and stainless steel serving dishes, trays and spoons. The food was very summer like with a bean and corn salad, a macaroni and edamame salad, a fruit salad, hummus & pita chips, and Applegate farms Organic beef hot dogs.

You cant really see it in the above picture, but the gazebo is home to a small charcoal grill which I was sure would be a source of waste. Fortunately while at Whole Foods we discovered these little charcoal bags that are non toxic and waste free. The entire little bag is burned, the wood is coated with paraffin (to help it burn) and the ashes can be added to your compost! I am sure that no charcoal at all would have been the greenest option, but then I’m not one for raw hot dogs!

We ate our hot dogs on whole wheat buns from Rudi’s Bakery, which is local to us (yipee!) and we chilled our drinks with ice from the near by grocery store. We had nearly 40 guests, so we did collect a fair amount of plastic waste from the hot dogs, buns, and 3 bags of ice. Nonetheless, in the spirit of zero waste we collected all the plastic for recycling.

For drink we provided Izzes (also local), water in compostable corn bottles (it is debatable how green and how compostable they really are), and a selection of other canned sodas nothing containing HFCS but that is my personal pet peeve! We set our two composting containers and one recycling can up surrounding the single trash can and we politely educated our guests on what to compost and what to recycle. Hopefully, nothing got tossed in the trash! Everyone seemed really pleased by the Zero Waste aspect of the party, so hopefully well be seeing a few more in the near future!

The cake I made myself (as you should already know!) and it was served on a simple cardboard tray which went into the compost at the end. I started to recycle the tray, but my husband pointed out that with all the cake and frosting remnants that it would be better served to go in the compost. I covered the cake with the tasty cream cheese frosting recipe that was given to me by my kind reader Maranda, but I decorated the cake with the Wilton decorating icing recipe.

To color the frosting and icing I used the India Tree colors, which ended up working out okay. I recycled the cream cheese and butter boxes, as well as the foil cream cheese liners. I tossed paper that they wrap the butter in, but I would guess that butter is wrapped with wax paper, so if Id been thinking ahead, I should have been able to add them to the party compost. As for the rest of the cake, I used local Ollin Farms eggs and recycled the egg carton! Egg cartons, can either be recycled and or composted if you toss one in your home (versus commercial compost) bin, beware that it may take a few months for the carton to decompose.

Gifts: After cake comes the presents! Many folks consider this to be the best part of the party, although I personally would be happy for more time to converse. I’ve attended and heard about many kids parties of late that are gift free. I considered that option for this party, but I also know (and understand) that most folks like to give gifts, and some even feel compelled to give. And, since it was Baby Green Mes first Birthday with grandparents and other relatives in attendance, I made no restrictions or suggestions in regards to gift giving. Incidentally, nearly all of his gifts came in gift bags, and few even came in reusable cloth gift bags. Woohoo!

The end result of our party is that we collected a large bag of compost, some compost for my home pile, some smaller collections of recyclables, and a very small wad of wrapping paper for the trash (see here for more on the gifts and wrapping). And, in case you are wondering, the zero waste aspect was 100% easy to implement, made for an easy clean-up and will definitely be repeated by our household in the future!