Trials & Tribulations of an Eco-Friendly Hostess

When I decided to baptize my daughter, Mia, I knew it would be a big event.  I have so many family members and friends that live nearby that I didn’t even consider keeping it small.  But I did have two major concerns: how to throw a party that won’t end up in a landfill and how to throw a party that wouldn’t break the bank.  I think that I was successful in making a few key changes that Mother Earth would be proud of, although there were some things that I had a hard time avoiding and some I didn’t even think of until it was too late.  If you are throwing a party soon, try some of these tested ideas and see if they work as well for you as they did for me.

  1. Set the tone with your invitation. I printed out 30 elaborate invites and snail-mailed them to our guests.  Just as the mail drop door closed shut, I realized this probably wasn’t my most ecologically responsible move.  Electronic invites are an easy way to get out the word without leaving a paper trail or requiring gas for delivery.  But if you are of the old-fashioned sort (like me) who love sending and receiving mail, then try getting recycled paper to print your invites on.  We found ours on sale at Michael’s ($20 for 30 cards & envelops) and they honestly couldn’t have been prettier.
  2. Let your guests know what to expect. This is also something that I didn’t do, but really wish I had.  The day before the party my mom and I were finalizing the preparations list and I kept insisting that she didn’t cook anything that would require its own plate or eating utensil.  She said to me, in a very sensible tone: “Maybe you should have let people know what they were getting into?”  And she was right.  You could use a “Go Green” theme for the party or you could simply say at the bottom of your invite, “Let’s reduce, reuse & recycle for this Earth loving event!” or something along those lines, but less cheesy.  This will give your guests the opportunity to take part, in their own way…maybe by using recycled wrapping paper or newspaper to wrap their gift?
  3. Simplify your decorations.  We traditionally set the tone of the party with balloons, streamers, plastic tablecloths and decorative paper plates, cups and napkins.  But does the cost outweigh the benefit, especially when the ecological cost is accounted for?  We set the ambiance for our party by making sure we had good, local music (thank God for WWOZ) and our home videos playing on mute as a backdrop.  We set out vases of fresh flowers and little bowls of colored candies.  Although my intention was to use flowers from my garden, my husband kept complaining that they smelled so we ended up buying two dozen daisies and setting them out throughout the house.  It was perfect!
  4. Invest in reuseable plates and cups.  Check your local thrift stores for dishes for the party or borrow from family and friends.  If our party had been smaller, this would have worked for us.  Since we were expecting about 50 guests, it was more economical for us to purchase reuseable plastic plates and cups from Wal-Mart at $1 for a set of 4.  For a $25 investment, we now own hardy dishes for all of our parties & they would be great to loan out for others.
  5. Make the switch from paper to cloth. We recently decided to start a paper-free kitchen and have been loving our reduction in waste.  For the party, I borrowed 50 cloth napkins and 3 fabric tablecloths from my aunt.  If you don’t have someone to borrow from, they are relatively inexpensive to purchase (really cute ones at Bed, Bath & Beyond $10 for 12) and they will never go to waste.  Cloth napkins are the easiest change you can make to reduce the amount of paper waste (and tree depletion) in your kitchen.  If you’re handy, get some cheap fabric and sew them up!
  6. Turn wine into water.  What would be the point in making all these changes if bottles of water and cans of soda stocked your beverages container?  We served pitchers of freshly brewed iced teas and lemonade.  Our beverages container had cleaned wine bottles filled with ice water.  Although we should have peeled off the labels to prevent confusion (and some disappointment) in our guests, it worked out beautifully.
  7. Replace your garbage can with a recycling bin.  Since your guests should have very little trash, just hang a plastic grocery bag for the things that can’t be recycled.  One of the best things about not having a garbage can is everyone’s amazement at how an entire party of 40 people can produce one grocery bag of trash…it gets everyone involved in the effort!
  8. Use your compost.  We are in the process of making our own backyard compost and didn’t have a chance to do this, but it was in the plans.  Keep one bag separate for food scraps.  Depending on your type of party, scrape your guests plates after the party or ask them to scrape their food scraps into the bag for the compost.  Why throw all that good food away?
  9. Borrow some floor fans.  If you are throwing a summer party in New Orleans, you have to expect that your air conditioning will run constantly.  By borrowing 4 floor fans and positioning them throughout the house, we were able to use a little less energy and keep our guests nice and comfortable.
  10. Keep your food simple.  This was the hardest part for me.  I love to cook and I love to feed people I love.  My goal was to serve food that would fit onto one (washable) plate and only require one fork, no spoons, no knives.  This is easy to do – lots of chips and dips, finger sandwiches & bite-sized desserts will complement one main dish and salad.

This party was my first attempt at entertaining from a conservation mentality and I was surprised at how smoothly it went.  I’m hoping that I’ll learn more things to add to this list and find a few shortcuts to make the next party even easier.  Any suggestions that I didn’t think of?

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