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Reducing Party Waste

I'm sure you know that today is Earth Day because it's been publicized, oh, everywhere.  In the spirit of this occasion, let's examine some ways to reduce your party's waste in terms of supplies, decorations, and gifts.  In addition to being nicer for the planet, you probably also know that the throwaway party supplies never look quite as chic as some of the alternatives.

Promise me you'll never use one of these kits.


Of course, the obvious answer is to avoid using disposables. When you don't have enough in your supply of silverware, glasses, and dishes...

Borrow from someone else. My friend Pam did this for her big holiday party. No one cared that her cocktail glasses didn't perfectly match...her guests were much more interested in the contents of the glasses

Go for the medium route. Purchase inexpensive but heavy plastic items that can be reused many times. You'd be surprised at how many products can go in the dishwasher. For instance, I once had about 30 people over for martinis. I don't own 30 martini glasses, so I bought disposables. As I was cleaning up the next day, I lamented all the waste that my martinis had created. Our friend Larry (who had crashed the night before and was now being a good guest and helping to clean up) looked at me like I had three heads and said that they were heavy enough to go in the dishwasher and duh, did I hate the earth or something? Ok, he didn't actually say that, but I took his advice to heart and have since used the martini glasses several times. I am amazed at how well they've held up!

If you can't avoid using disposables, ask people to write their names on their cups (I'll have more on this idea at a forthcoming date), recycle what you can, or choose products made from recycled materials.


Are you still using crepe paper? Oh, honey. I'm sorry, but crepe paper has no redeeming qualities. It's a pain to work with, it can't be reused, and it looks bad. There, I said it. What can you do instead?

Decorate with fabric. It can be reused many, many different times. I bought some inexpensive cream-colored poly silk for a cabana-themed summer party in 2003, and have since used it for a bridal shower, halloween, another summer party, and Christmas. With some duct tape, 3M Command Hooks, and lightweight rope, you can create amazing installations without doing permanent damage to your walls. The next time I use it, I'll snap a photo for you.

Use fresh flowers, and then compost them. If you grow your own cutting garden, display your own flowers, and then compost them yourself, you are my hero. If you can't do all that, join the club and console yourself with the fact that buying fresh is better than buying fake. Remember that large, tight amounts of "filler flowers" (i.e. baby's breath, carnations) can make quite a statement without breaking the bank.

Decorate with party favors. For a recent costume party, we snapped Poloroids of people in costume as they entered the party, then turned that into a voting contest. At the end of the night, everyone took home their photo. The wall of photos was a fun activity, and also decorated an otherwise bare set of utitility closet doors.


I know, it's so satisfying to rip apart gift wrap, but as I'm sure you can imagine, it creates a lot of waste. Some alternatives include...

Putting gifts in a pretty but unwrapped box, and tie with a ribbon. The box will certainly be reused.

Using old newspaper or magazine pages IF they are relevant to the occasion or person. For instance, the "Home" section for a housewarming present, or the front page of Sports section, featuring the recipient's favorite team....and then that idea really only works if the gift you're giving is also sports-themed. Otherwise, you just look cheap and possibly crazy.

Then there's the old standby, the gift bag. You know this will get reused and regifted!

When all else fails, buy recycled gift wrap, repurpose previously used gift wrap (best done for a smaller present the second time so that you don't see the original creases), or recycle instead of throwing out.

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Reader Comments (5)

I just got an email from World Market advertising these disposable, biodegradable bamboo plates. Someone in the comments at WM's website said she used them for her wedding and then put them in her compost pile. (They're also offering a free reusable canvas tote with any $10 purchase right now, so it would be a good time to try these out.)

April 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

Great ideas, Jen! I always try to get neutral/non-theme gift bags. They make for an easy "wrapping" job and hopefully will get reused. Happy earth day!

April 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterYana

These are great tips and I'll try to do better in the future... but when you have flamingo parties, it's hard NOT to use those kits. ;-)

April 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

Hmm...Denise do I smell a challenge? :D

Thanks for the link, Susan. I've seen those plates before and am curious as to how they feel. I imagine the texture to be somewhat rough and unpleasant, but maybe I'm wrong. Will have to check it out next time I'm in CPWM.

April 22, 2009 | Registered CommenterJen @ SecondCitySoiree

Thanks for including me Jen!

April 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPam

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