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One Can Challenge: No-waste birthday parties & other gatherings

Enviromomchallenge We're closing out Kitchen Week with some tips for reducing waste when having parties and large gatherings. The convenient thing to do when entertaining large groups of people, of course, is to just buy disposable plates, cups, silverware, tablecloths and napkins so you don't have to do any clean-up! I remember doing this for my daughter's fifth birthday. It was great! I just wrapped all of the disposable goods and gift wrap up into the big plastic tablecloth and jammed it into the garbage can at the roller rink. Ah, the good old days. (Shudder.) My how things have changed in the past 18 months.

Since then we've held several parties for both kids and adults and have managed to keep them pretty waste-free. We've used only durable goods and cloth napkins. For my daughter's sixth birthday, we threw a small, old-fashioned at-home party with a few of her friends. It was a totally green birthday -- no waste at all. Renee also threw a no-waste party for her 6-year old, but she held it at a gymnastics center. She proved that it's entirely possible to have a party with food and beverages away from home and not generate any waste. She brought her own durable goods and just packed them up at the end, took 'em home and tossed them into the dishwasher.

Here's how to keep your gathering green, kitchen-wise:

  • Instead of paper plates and plastic silverware use durable plates and silverware. If you don't have enough and don't want to buy any, consider renting. It's really not that expensive (plus the rental company does the clean-up). You could also try borrowing from friends and neighbors.
  • Instead of paper use cloth napkins.
  • Instead of juice boxes, buy a jug of juice and pour it into durable cups.
  • If possible, bake birthday treats and other edibles from scratch to avoid excessive food packaging.

Now you're thinking, "Okay, that all seems do-able on a small scale. But we're having 30 people at our next party, and it's at a park! How 'bout them apples?" Our friend, Christy, had this same dilemma not too long ago. She ended up purchasing enough durable plates, cups and silverware for 60 people with the intent of sharing them with other families hosting large gatherings. She asked the other families to pitch in $10 to cover the costs! Brilliant! Then she went insane and ended up sewing 60 cloth napkins herself, but hey, where there's a will there's a crazy mom with a sewing machine. (I, on the other hand, took the lazy, er, easy route and recently purchased 20 cloth napkins at a rummage sale for about $4.) If your large gathering is off-site, just dump your dirty dishes into a basket or bag and haul them home for cleaning. Yeah, a little more work, but a lot more reward.

Well, how about compostable plastics, you ask? Well, we're not big believers in compostable plastics here at EnviroMom corporate headquarters. Between the intensive farming to grown the corn to the manufacturing of the plastics to the questionable compostability of the product -- we just don't like it. Ditto on the bamboo compostable plates and utensils. Are you going to bury 30 place settings in your backyard? And most curbside composting programs won't take these corn-based plastics because they don't completely break down, nor do they add anything beneficial to the compost.

Using durables when hosting large gatherings really is a test of one's green mettle, isn't it? If you can do it on a grand scale in full party mode, then anything is possible!

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