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Business For Good San Diego

How to Host a Zero Waste Holiday Party

This article was originally posted by BFG board member Diolinda Monteiro on

The holiday season is a hectic time of year for most of us. Attending and hosting gatherings can be stressful. And when you host a party it’s easy to fall back on readily available items that are affordable and make entertaining easy and festive.

After all, it’s all about gathering together, right? Absolutely! And we can recycle most of it, right? Well, that’s a little more complicated. Let’s take a look at the zero waste movement and how it applies to event planning.

What is zero waste?

The term “zero waste” was used as early as the mid-1990s to describe methods in which resources are conserved, and reuse is emphasized. Although recycling and composting are certainly part of zero waste principles, product design is key. Materials discarded by one entity become resources for another.

In 2002, the zero waste movement gained traction in the mainstream when a group of scientists, community representatives, and environmental activists met in Switzerland and the UK to help communities reduce waste. The following year, the group formed the Zero Waste International Association (ZWIA) and by 2007, the group resolved to support efforts to:

  • aid small-scale organizations that are focused on zero waste
  • keep organics out of landfills
  • pressure manufacturers and retailers to take responsibility for their products and packaging
  • persuade local authorities to adopt source separation
  • convince local universities to set up resource management training

The holistic focus of ZWIA on individuals, businesses, government, and academia acknowledges how zero waste cannot be achieved by any single group. It requires a unified approach.

Zero waste event planning

Individuals can make a difference in our daily actions. but also by making mindful purchases and making sure that our representatives understand the importance of minimizing waste throughout our communities.

When it comes to event planning, there are points all along the process that zero waste methods can be applied. We’ve combined our suggestions on zero waste party planning with additional pointers to help you reduce the overall carbon load of your event during the holidays and all year round.

Some important points to consider when hosting a zero waste party are:

  • Do you need to print and mail invitations to guests or can you communicate details and collect RSVPs electronically? Websites like PunchbowlEvite, and Paperless Post allow you to send invitations and keep track of RSVPs
  • How far will guests have to travel to get to the venue and is there a convenient way for them to get there without driving? In addition to providing an address, suggest that your guests take public transportation, carpool, or, if possible, ride a bike to your party
  • Research catering companies. In terms of food, if you are having your event catered, take some time to research catering companies that work with local farmers and suppliers and who can provide you with reusable (preferably) or biodegradable/compostable plates, cups, utensils, and serving ware
  • If your gathering does not include a caterer, consider using reusable plates, cups, utensils, and napkins or ask guests to bring their own. WorthyPicks has some amazing bamboo products. It’s best to use reusable items but if that is not possible, plan ahead to keep trash to a minimum. Keep in mind that while plastic cups are accepted in many recycling programs, most paper plates and all plastic utensils are typically not recyclable and end up in a landfill. You can also rent a water refill station from your local water supply and ask your guest to bring their own cups!
  • Have a plan for leftovers. In a small potluck-style gathering, consider asking guests to bring their own take-out containers to minimize wasted food at the end of the party. To be more festive, consider alternative packaging like Beeswrap, ecolunchbox or M’Porteco.  If you are hosting a catered event, make sure your caterer has a plan for leftovers that does not include a trash bin. Some organizations that work with unhoused people will accept leftover food and beverages. Is it possible to compost excess food and donate extra food and beverages? If you have a compost, be sure to have a dedicated place where guests can contribute to it. If you don’t have a compost, ask around to see if someone can take your food waste. You may have a party guest who would be more than happy to help out.
  • When considering waste, don’t overlook the process of gift-giving. When setting up a holiday gift exchange, guidelines are often set in terms of how much to spend. If a gift exchange will be part of your party, consider setting up a zero waste rule, where gifts must be pre-owned, edible (with reusable packaging), or must involve experiences rather than physical objects with limited life spans.
  • Get excited! If your guests understand that you are excited about hosting with as minimal waste as possible, they will most likely follow suit. Think in advance about your gathering and how you can set yourself up for (zero!) success.

Check out these great zero waste resources:

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