Parties and celebrations are tremendous fun, but they also create a tremendous amount of trash. According to the Clean Air Council, 43,000 tons of food are thrown out in the United States each day, and each year, Americans toss out enough paper and plastic cups, forks and spoons to circle the equator 300 times. Waste and eco-trash stuff our landfills and add to greenhouse gases. From plastic cups and plates to having every light in the house on for eight hours, parties can be eco-disasters.
Luckily, the world of eco-friendly party supplies has expanded, with green party supplies looking every bit as stylish as non-eco-friendly party items. If you'd like your birthday party, graduation celebration, bridal shower or other fete to be eco-friendly, here are the top tips for your green celebration:
--Keep it online. Send online invitations via Evite or Pingg, or design your own invitation, save it as a jpeg and email that to your guests.
--If you're hosting a formal event or prefer print invitations, choose from eco-friendly invitations made from 100 percent recycled paper or eco-sound bamboo and printed with eco-friendly soy or vegetable inks that don't release toxins during production or from the page. Some papers are even embedded with seeds, to be planted after receipt, that grow wildflowers or herbs.
--Find recycled colorful invitation papers and envelopes in craft and office supply stores, and recycle spent printer ink cartridges.
--Use your own dishes, glasses and utensils, and for a larger guest list, ask a friend or relative if you can borrow some of hers for a trendy mixed-design tablescape.
--Choose eco-friendly, biodegradable plates and bowls, now found in regular supermarkets and also in Whole Foods' 365 line, made from renewable and biodegradable sugarcane. At the Facebook page Paper Chic Studio, you'll find eco-friendly products in festive designs.
--Look for utensils made from recycled materials, such as Cereplast's line featuring forks, spoons and knives made from 80 percent corn-based starch and 20 percent green fillers. After the party, this brand of utensil can often go right into your compost bin. You'll also find utensils made from renewable bamboo.
--Choose biodegradable paper napkins made of recycled content and without toxic dyes, or create colorful fabric napkins out of leftover craft fabrics. Danny Seo, author of "Simply Green Parties" and "Simply Green Giving," says: "Bandanas can be repurposed as casual cloth napkins. If you don't have them all in one color, feel free to mix it up."
--Seo suggests locally sourced foods that don't have to be shipped across the globe, so look to your nearest farmers market (found at localharvest.org) or a community-supported agriculture shipment from a local family farm for in-season fruits and vegetables for your self-catered dishes. Or hire a caterer who specializes in eco-friendly, organic menu items.
--Shop for organic meats and seafood, and avoid menu items known to be farmed or caught in unethical ways. For more information on shopping for organic foods in different categories, visit greenerchoices.org.
--For your wine and cheese party, choose artisan cheese from a local farm.
--For a Sunday brunch, Seo suggests "frittatas made with organic eggs, whatever veggies are in season, and cheeses, all sourced from your area." Also, serve locally baked pastries, rolls and muffins, and provide an organic fruit salad from your farmers market harvest.
--Include vegan and vegetarian options in your menu, to suit your guests' diets.
--Skip plastic cups and use glass drinkware. If your guest list is large, borrow sets of wine glasses from friends.
--Serve wines and beers from local wineries and microbreweries to support your community, and choose organic beverages, including soft drinks and fair trade teas and coffees. Check http://www.epicurious.com to find local wineries and brewpubzone.com for a list of breweries by state.
--Sangria made using organic fruits and wine is a budget-friendly crowd-pleaser.
--No plastic water bottles! Filter tap water into pretty glass pitchers, and add slices of organic fruits for color and flavor.
--A daytime party means no or few lights on in the house, saving you energy usage.
--Provide outdoor game gear, such as bocce ball sets, a badminton set and other fun activities that guests (especially children) can play, rather than energy-wasting video games.
--Use decor items you already own, such as colored platters and glass vases. A top trend is gathering a variety of different glass bud vases with one flower in each for a rustic, garden-themed look. And pre-owned fabric tablecloths can be set on different guest and buffet tables.
--Keep it simple. Skip the large bunches of balloons and over-the-top floral centerpieces. Simplicity is the key to a great green party.
--Buy organic, in-season florals at an organic grocery or farmers market, and divide the bunches to make your own table decorations.
--Buy potted flowers and herbs to use as your table decor, and then plant them in your garden after the party. Or offer flower or herb plants in peat pots that guests can take home as favors to plant.
--Gather fallen pinecones from your yard to create free eco-friendly floral arrangement accents.
--If you buy organic fruit in large batches, fill glass bowls or pre-owned wicker baskets with the colorful fruit as your centerpiece and decor.