There are many special occasions in life where we celebrate one another and once the party is done, we're left with a huge mess to cleanup. I am the first one in line to cheerlead for my family, friends and Culinary Nutrition Expert students and graduates, but I don't think holidays or parties should override our responsibility to take care of the earth. Waste-free celebration ideas can help us honour and experience a joyful occasion, and lessen our impact at the same time. Basically, please stop with the plastic, the single-use balloons, the one-time age-specific stuff and anything else that gets thrown out after just one use.
waste-Free celebration: What is Absolutely Necessary?
When I embarked on my minimalism challenge, I took a hard look at what I really needed as opposed to the things I really wanted. I arrived at the concept of intentional simplicity, which now rules my approach to everything.
Many traditional celebrations include:
- Single-use decoration items such as streamers, glitter, balloons, confetti and more, many of which are just plastic or microplastic and all end up in the garbage after the party.
- Disposable items for serving food like paper or plastic plates, cups, cutlery and tablecloths, as well as plastic baggies or containers for leftovers.
- Gifts that people may not use or need, like plastic toys, which are wrapped in single-use wrapping paper or ribbons.
- Invitations that are tossed and if they combine paper and plastic are also non-recyclable. Don't even get me started on cards with glitter.
- Spending money unnecessarily, leading to debt or just plain financial waste (note: I have a new course coming up about this soon!)
Like other aspects of my life, my entertaining strategy is simple and streamlined. I want to spend my time cooking delicious food from scratch and being with my loved ones, not searching for the perfect napkin holders online.
When it comes to celebrating a birthday, holiday or other occasion, there are a few things to consider.
Would your guests have more fun if you have Paw Patrol napkins?
Many family members, especially children, don't care or won't remember if you had themed plates or glittery placemats. Often times, we tell ourselves we're doing this stuff for other people when really we are doing it for ourselves because we care what people think. Try to release your insecurities about what others will say about your party – and also remember not to judge others, either. The party is to gather and celebrate. Don't stress the small stuff.
What are you actually celebrating?
Focus your energy on the special occasion you are celebrating, rather than the party trappings that others might normally expect. By all means, make a huge deal about a birthday, holiday or graduation – but you don't need to redo your entire home to do it.
What is tempting you (at the mall)?
Visit any place of business between September and December and you will be bombarded with Halloween, Thanksgiving and holiday tchotchkes. Those pumpkin-shaped candle holders might look cute, but you'll probably only use them for a couple of weeks and then maybe even toss them in the garbage. Really, though, it's not just the holidays that entice us to spend money – there is always an occasion, whether it's a summer BBQ, graduation or birthday that can tempt us to buy.
Remove or eliminate temptations to shop and spend your money on little trinkets that have a single purpose, are cheaply made and will break in two seconds, or that you just don't need.
What can you borrow and what can you share?
Your social network likely offers a treasure trove of goodies for your next waste-free celebration. Ask around or put out a request on social media – you'll probably find what you're looking for. Since running my cooking classes, I have loads of spare folding chairs and everyone knows it. I bring them to nearly every party I'm invited to, and I'm okay with that. Have folding chairs. Will travel!
What can you say no to?
You don't have to host an extravagant event simply because that's what other family members like to do. I've developed the art of saying no and setting boundaries, and not letting the energy vampires suck the joy out of celebrations. You don't have to say yes to every invitation or offer something in your home that doesn't align with your values. If you want to keep your celebration simple, then do so.
Waste-Free Celebration Ideas
I'm not a total grinch and there certainly are many low-waste or waste-free celebration ideas that you can use for your next party. Give some of these a try!
Try and keep your decorations celebration-neutral. They can say "Happy Birthday" but omit the name and birthday age, or perhaps "Happy Holidays" or "Happy Day" to suit many occasions. Many of the below can be found on Etsy, at local craft markets or can be made yourself.
- Mason jars are your best decorating friends. Fill them with multi-coloured beans and legumes, dried spices like cinnamon sticks, or fresh herbs. I especially love seeing them with colourful scarves or some beaded jewelry. You could also consider collecting and painting rocks to fill the jars for decorating purposes.
- Decorative flags and buntings
- Fairy lights
- Homemade edible arrangements that double as snack platters or dessert
- Strings of tassels
- Wool pom-poms
- Fabric or heavy card stock garlands
- Pretty fallen leaves that have been dried
Waste-Free Serving Options
- Use real tablecloths and linens. Yes, they might get a little dirty, but what are you saving them for? They are meant to be used.
- Use washable plates, cutlery, glasses and other serving pieces rather than plastic. Sure, there is less cleanup with disposables, but there really is no away – all of the garbage has to go somewhere. Places like Ikea sell very affordable sets of dishes that you can invest in and have for your party occasions and even share around with friends and family when they are hosting.
- Dish rental services. This is my personal favourite for events with more than 20 people. For smaller numbers you usually have to pick up and drop off, but you can rent all your dishes, cutlery, glasses, and linens and don't have to clean any of it! You just scrape the plates and pack them up. All of the washing is taken care of.
- Offer pitchers of water and other beverages. Avoid bottled water and single-serving drink products, and opt for large volume containers or mix and make your own. I often will have a pitcher of filtered water, some bubbly water, and then a selection of squeezable citrus and some herbal soda syrup options, like these from Harmonic Arts.
- Invite guests to bring their own containers for leftovers – this isn't weird. If you think you'll have more food than you can finish, might as well share it. I don't know of any guest who wouldn't be thrilled with the opportunity to have lunch ready to go the next day!
- Provide Mason jars so guests can take items home.
- Incorporate leftover ingredients into new meals in exciting ways.
- Freeze leftovers properly to enjoy later.
Waste-Free Gift Wrapping
- Save wrapping from previous gifts to reuse.
- Use newspaper – the classic comic section is still perfect for wrapping.
- Save the white/grey paper from online packages, crinkle it up and use it to wrap gifts (the rustic look is in).
- If you have little ones around who paint and draw prolifically, use their artwork as wrapping paper.
- Use string or rope to tie around presents.
- Give experiences rather than stuff.
Hostess Gift Ideas
Edible gifts are my favourite things to give, including:
- Nut and seed butters
- Hand-crafted tea blends
- Infused olive oils
- Vanilla extract
- Cookies or other baked goods
- Spice mixes
- Homemade chocolate treats
Homemade beauty care products are also appreciated – try these natural beauty care recipes for inspiration.
The conscious decision to make a low-waste or waste-free celebration is going to save you time, stress, and money - leaving you with much more energy to enjoy what you are celebrating.
What are your zero-waste celebration tips?