Parties are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to creating unnecessary waste. It might be easier, and possibly cheaper, to grab disposable everything for your next big bash, but is it really worth it? Why not go all in and pledge to throw an entirely zero-waste party? Contrary to what you might think, it can be done without too much difficulty — here’s how.


It’s about time to ditch the classic themed paper invitations, as they are almost always thrown away immediately. For casual parties, it’s pretty easy to invite people to your event via social media or email, which also allows you to organize and manage RSVPs all in one place. If you still like the idea of sending out personalized invitations, opt for an evite service that will allow you to design something that matches your theme.

On that note, I do agree that extra-special occasions, like weddings, graduations and first birthdays, may warrant an actual paper invite that people can hold in their hands. If you decide to go this route, stretch your DIY muscles by making your own seeded paper. Guests will likely be thrilled to receive a card that they can plant anywhere instead of tossing it, and you can customize it with all sorts of seeds, from wildflowers to edible herbs. Plus, it’ll be a great way to recycle all that paper that you inevitably have lying around.


Glass vases make for easy decorating. Photo: Shutterstock

Isn’t it just so easy to hit up your local party store and snag a bunch of decorations that fit your theme perfectly? Yes, it is super easy, but it’s also super wasteful, as most of it will be discarded when the party is over. It’s pretty generic, too, and your party is better than that. Going with nondisposable decor may seem like a far-fetched (or unaffordable) option, but wasteless party decorating does not have to break the bank.

You can start off with items you already have, like string lights, glass vases, and various toys and decorative trinkets. For those who are crafty, there are more ways to make party decorations with recycled materials than there are Pinterest pins in the universe. If you’ve got an excess of a certain thing lying around (like mason jars, magazines, newspapers or plastic bottles), you can do a custom search for DIY party decorations made from that material. A few minutes (or hours, if you’re a fall-into-the-rabbit-hole type of person like myself) will leave you with plenty of ideas on how to customize recycled household materials to fit any theme you can imagine.


Yes, paper plates and plastic forks are convenient. There’s no denying that fact. However, we all know they’re not great for the earth, and there’s definitely a better way to go about getting food and drink into your guests’ bellies. Most of us don’t have a coordinated fine china set that’s meant to feed the masses, but that’s okay. I promise, the only one who really cares if everything matches is you. Your guests will just be happy that there are refreshments in the first place.

If you don’t have enough plates, bowls, silverware and cups (matching or otherwise) to feed your entire party, ask people to bring some of their own, or knock on a neighbor’s door and see if they’re willing to pitch in for the day. If combining resources still won’t provide an ample supply, or if the event definitely calls for coordination, rent everything from a party rental store. It’s not as expensive as you think, and your local landfill will thank you for the investment.


Use the bulk bins. Photo: Trong Nguyen /

When it comes to the food, there are a lot of ways to reduce waste. One of the best ways to go wasteless is to have a potluck: Everyone who can afford to brings something, and they bring the leftovers home. If it’s not a potluck kind of party, keep the food simple and light. Plan out two or three finger food dishes, and make about two servings of each for every guest (this is an industry standard that caterers go by to reduce cost and waste). Try to find recipes that will make for good leftovers or that can be repurposed into a new meal, just to be safe.

If you end up with too many leftovers for your household to consume, send guests home with some of it. If you’re making something that calls for ingredients you rarely use, try and get whatever you can from the bulk section in the grocery store. Your local market probably has a good array of spices, baking supplies, nuts, snack foods and candies available in bulk, which will allow you to grab only what you need and nothing more. Don’t be afraid to be that person who brings measuring spoons and cups to the bulk section — I do it all the time. A half a cup of almond flour here, one teaspoon of turmeric there. There’s really no need to buy the preportioned branded amount of an ingredient that you’ll never use again.


If you’re serving nonalcoholic drinks, a good rule of thumb is to provide 8 ounces for each child and 16 ounces for each adult of a special beverage, and then have ice water available for those who are still thirsty (obviously, bottled water is a no-no here). It may seem a little skimpy, but if it’s a sugar-laden beverage, all the parents will thank you for limiting its supply. Making your own lemonade or punch and serving it in glass pitchers or a punch bowl will reduce waste, especially if you try to find ingredients that come in reusable glass containers. When it comes to alcoholic beverages, you’ll want to be more liberal with the supply. In order to reduce leftovers and wasted half-empties at the end of the night, use this formula to provide the perfect number of drinks for your event — the basic gist is one drink per guest per hour.

When shopping, choose liquors that come in swing-top glass bottles, as they are much more reusable than traditional screw-top bottles. Wine bottles are also reusable with a supply of corks on hand, and there are plenty of fun ways to repurpose them. If you’re going with beer, that’s fine. There doesn’t have to be any technical “waste” if you recycle every last bottle, can and cardboard box. If you’re picking up six-packs, be sure to seek out ones with either recyclable plastic, biodegradable or edible six-pack rings. The days of wildlife getting stuck in those plastic nooses are, hopefully, well behind us.


Mason jar favors. Photo: Shutterstock

When it comes to a zero-waste party, favors are often left off the list (who really uses that stuff, anyway?). If you do opt for favors, pick something that the guests will actually find handy. Personalized wine or shot glasses, reusable BPA-free water bottles or even tiny succulents in biodegradable planters are all excellent options. If it’s a girly party, sample sizes of lip balm, soaps and lotions will work well, as long as you ensure that the packaging is recyclable. If you want to hand out things like candy or birdseed, deliver it in a package that the guest can reuse, like teacups or tiny mason jars.

Every special occasion deserves a big celebration, but that doesn’t mean there needs to be a dumpster bursting with paper plates, red Solo cups, soiled napkins, plastic tablecloths and popped balloons left over at the end. I promise, if you put in a little time and effort, you can pull off a zero-waste party.

Feature photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Read More:
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5 Tips for Hosting a Child’s Birthday Party Without Plastic
Swapping Is Sexy: How to Host a Clothing Swap Party

By AJ Earley

AJ is a freelance journalist, personal chef, environmental activist and social justice advocate from the Pacific Northwest. Her free time is spent romping around the mountains; snuggling her kitty, Buddha; singing karaoke; or enjoying a good root beer float.