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Published on July 21st, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans


Easy Eco Entertaining

If you have ever thrown any kind of party, you know how much waste is left at the end.

Employing a few simple strategies to prevent a waste management disaster will put your mind at ease so you can kick back and relax with your guests.

Simply knowing your party planning options makes it easy to reduce your environmental impact and host a memorable, cost effective, and enjoyable affair.

Casual Outdoor Entertaining

Invitations and Guests

Invitations are a guest’s first peek of the festivities to come. For a more casual affair, a phone call or e-invitation is perfectly acceptable.

  • Online invitations, such as the ever-popular Evite, are fully customizable so you can add a photo, select a color theme coordinated with the event, or pick the layout of the page itself. Online invitations are used for a very wide array of events—American Greetings offers wedding invitations.
  • Electronic cards also offer simple and sophisticated templates for the busy host or hostess. Many sites offer reminder emails as the party date approaches.

Some events are more traditional, requiring formal paper party invitations. The realm of invitation paper boasts a range of environmentally friendly options:

  • Green Field Paper Company sells invitations with “seed embedded paper”, which you can plant and watch grow into wildflowers, rather than throw away.
  • Of the Earth has a variety of earth-conscious options that are very customizable.
  • Doodle Greetings are made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper. It is chlorine-free and powered by renewable energy.
  • Often, small art supply or card stores will have cards made by local photographers or artists. The small cost of transportation and the support for local business makes these just as eco-friendly as recycled cards made several states away.

Remember, environmental options are not only available for the invitations. You can find sustainable “thank you” and RSVP notes online or in stores.

Until the party is underway, usually only the host or hostess knows
everyone who is invited. Suggest carpooling for guests who know each
other and live in the same area. Carpooling is not only good for the
environment—it also cuts down on the number of designated drivers

If guests offer to bring something, feel free to take them up on their
offer. Whether you prepare for it or not, guests will often bring some
type of gift. If you plan to serve a nice bottle of wine or need
flowers for the table, let them know these would be welcome additions.
Not only does it let your guests feel helpful, but it eliminates
useless gifts collecting dust in a closet.

Whimsical Decorations at an Outdoor Party


Depending on the type of party, the venue is often predetermined. For large parties, where an event space will need to be rented, there are several factors to consider:

  • Choose a central location that is easy for all to access. Instead of having a cookout in your backyard, consider hosting one in a more centrally located park that guests can reach by bike or on foot. Also, pick a venue that is easily accessible by public transportation.
  • Look into chartering a bus or large car to shuttle guests. Hybrid limousines may soon be on the market, and even the cost of one gasoline powered bus is better environmentally than a fleet of cars.
  • Think creatively. If you want your party on a boat, think about a large sailing boat rather than a gas powered yacht.

The long, warm evenings of the summer are great for entertaining. Consider placing the food table outside to take advantage of daylight. Outdoor entertaining can go late into the night and it may be necessary to gain extra light sources. However, not all llighting is created equal…

  • Buy candles made from beeswax, soy, or vegetable to create the lowest environmental impact.
  • Solar powered lanterns, like those found at Gaiam, collect energy by day and release it at night creating a beautiful glow.


Beautiful table settings at dinner parties do not have to involve anything fancy. Fresh flowers and plants, whether wild or organic, can add all you need to create an elegant setting. As the party wraps up, give plant-based centerpieces to guests to take home.

Use scraps of paper from the recycling bin to make origami shapes, such as a crane. Hanging these from the ceiling or placing them on the table creates a whimsical feeling, and the paper can be recycled again after being used.

The release of traditional balloons made of latex is banned in many places due to the harmful effects on the environment and potential hazards posed to wildlife. Even if you aren’t planning on losing any balloons at your party, it still makes sense to find an environmentally friendly alternative. Look for creative eco solutions like paper balloons—they don’t hold helium as long as a latex balloon but they are soluble in water.

Instead of buying extra tablecloths, try draping an old sheet over the table. Reuse discolored tablecloths by using natural dyes to color them or cut up the pieces that are stain-free to create napkins or place settings.

Green, Reusable Place Setting


Reusable supplies are the best way to go for green entertaining. However, for large groups, consider renting or borrowing flatware. Even if you don’t get to reuse them, someone else will.

Even among disposable options, there are some good choices out there:

  • Bambu offers flatware made from fast-growing
    bamboo. Their products are said to decompose within half a year.
  • Plates made of sugarcane fiber (bagasse) and compostable cutlery can be found at World Centric.
  • Even some plastics are better than others. If you do choose plastic, search out polylactide (PLA) plastic, which is primarily made from corn and is biodegradable (in industrial composting conditions). Better yet, choose polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is plastic with recycling code 1. PET plastic can be reused many times and is one of the easiest plastics to recycle.

For informal parties, consider using the same plate for most, if not all, of the meal. Flatware stays relatively clean, and providing a new dish simply creates extra waste.

Food and Drink

Food and beverages really give the host or hostess a chance to shine.

  • Fresh and organic ingredients will really bring out mouth-watering flavors. Whenever you can, try to buy locally. A farmers’ market is a great chance to pick up all of your ingredients at once while saving you, and the environment, from the hassle of driving from store to store.
  • Alcohol can also be purchased locally. Vineyards exist almost everywhere and BrewPubZone will help you find locally made beers.
  • When you’re buying soda, remember that aluminum cans are recycled more efficiently than plastic. Have a separate bin for recyclables and ensure guests know not to toss recyclable materials.
  • If you are grilling out, use natural charcoal or propane. Not only is the natural version free of harmful chemicals added to many charcoals, but many products are sustainably harvested.

It is almost impossible for one person to cook for bigger parties. Enlist a team of friends to help you prep or seek out an environmentally-conscious catering service. Search online to find eco-minded caterers near you. The blog site Eat. Drink. Better. provides links to eco-catering services in some states (browse the comments section for additional U.S. locations).

Make sure to get an accurate head count before planning how much food will be needed, since serving too much food can generate a lot of waste. If there are leftovers, let your guests take home any extra food that your household cannot consume.

Clean Up

After saying goodnight to your guests, cleaning up can be quite a let down. Save what you can from the party: flowers can be a reminder of a great night. Leftover food, if not taken home by your guests, may be enjoyed by officemates. Use the last nubs of the candles next time you want a romantic dinner or bath.

Feel free to use the dishwasher—experts say that fully-loaded dishwashers are much more efficient than washing the same dishes by hand, as long as your detergent is phosphate free. Just make sure to switch off the drying cycle and simply let the flatware air dry.

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