Celebrate Red, White, & Blue while Keeping it Green
Happy 4th of July! I apologize for the hiatus in Green is Simple activity— the last few weeks have been surprisingly busy. Amongst other things, I hosted a few zero-waste events: a Ramadan iftar dinner, a birthday picnic, and today, a 4th of July un-BBQ (some meat options, but mostly plant-based foods). I also attended a few awesome parties and events that kept waste minimal without comprising quality, photo-worthiness, or fun!
Why Waste Less?
I have already shared the reasons that minimizing waste is important to me. Here’s a quick recap from here of why waste matters:
One notion that should become apparent after reading a few of my posts is that waste is not limited to the landfill waste generated after the use or consumption of a given product. Manufacturing, transportation, and disposal of any given product are all energy-intensive processes. This includes the contribution to your carbon-footprint, water-footprint (the lesser known footprint - the amount of water that goes into the production of an item, for example, 2600 gallons of water to produce the materials for a pair of jeans). For every pound of landfill waste an item produces, 7 pounds of waste is produced upstream (in these earlier processes). So, while Reuse-Reduce-Recycle and measuring your landfill waste are great approaches to start with, a more sustainable approach would be to first Refuse unnecessary purchases even if they seem "zero-waste." If you must shop for something, shopping for local, second-hand, reusable, or zero-waste substantially reduces the impact of any purchase (compared to buying a new, single-use item that has been shipped).
Additionally, for every pound of landfill waste that is produced, energy is required for the transportation of the waste, land is required to store it, and contamination from landfill waste often ends up in nearby water sources, affecting marine life and our water systems. In the 1990’s up to 80% of New York’s waste ended up in the planet’s seas and oceans; New York City also spends up to $2.3 billion a year to dispose of its trash, ultimately costing local taxpayers. So for every bag of trash that your next party produces, think about the energy it will take to get it to a landfill, the contamination that it may spread, and the precious land that will be filled up with your waste.
There are a few main sources of waste at most social events: food waste, products (like plates and silverware) that end up in the trash, and décor and favors. I have shared some tips below on how to reduce them.
Sustainability is Different for Everyone
Culture can also play a huge role in the types of parties you host. Whatever obligations you are bound to, try doing what you can to make your event more sustainable. A recent example for me occurred a few months ago, my parents hosted a prayer service hosted at their home for a dear friend who had passed away. We are very blessed to belong to a huge Pakistani-American community that shows up for each other on happy and sad occasions. However, accommodating a few hundred guests without creating any waste is a difficult task.
The event took place on a hot Arizona day, so along with the products to serve food, plastic water bottles were provided. Providing proper silverware and plates for so many guests was impossible, so it was served in compostable paper plates, and most items were finger foods. If any plastic silverware was used, we hoped that guests would rinse and recycle them. Of course, this was not a happy event, so there were not decorations or favors, but there was food served for over 200 guests who came to pay their respects.
The day after the event, my mom and I sorted through the waste. Luckily, most paper plates and food had made it into the compost bin, but trash and recycling were extremely mixed up. After about 30 minutes, this is how much trash was rinsed off and recycled:
Through a somber occasion, we did what we could to maintain a level of sustainability that was important to us. I absolutely love so many aspects of my parents’ culture: the big families, even bigger communities of friends, and the constant support of hundreds of people. But being zero-waste and sustainable while balancing this culture has been a process of trial and error. I hope to share another post with you soon about the overlap and gaps between these 2 important pieces of my life.
5 steps to a waste-free party
Now here are my quick tips to host a zero-waste party. Enjoy!
Decorate creatively This banner was made out of upcycled paper Marshall’s bags! Can you tell?
My next plan is to make streamers using the same concept. Avoid decorations like confetti, glitter, and balloons – here is why. Many decorative pieces in my apartment are gifts, like a hand-stitched quilt from Pakistan, and a table runner from GlobeIn. I also have lots of calligraphy that has been gifted from different friends that decorates my walls.
Fresh flowers add a great touch to every event and can decorate your home in the days to come. These flowers at my birthday were the perfect prop for event photos!
Start local! Zero waste event hosting starts with event planning! These two items (banana bread and frittata) that were served at my birthday picnic were made with local ingredients, purchased without plastic packaging and in bulk when possible. Bananas, dill, parsley, and cilantro were from a local outdoor market and taken home in my reusable bag without any extra packaging. Nuts, chocolate chips, and flour were purchased in the bulk section. The eggs were from a local farm, and free-range. Here’s what to look for when buying eggs.
Collect organic waste in a compost bin I usually make a quick announcement to guests about what goes in the compost bin, but, to make it easy, I usually provide only compostable food and waste products. Everything that my guests end up using can be composted, which makes decision-making for them easy! I have often even kept only a compost bin around (and out the trash and recycling bins away).
Swap paper products with reusable ones I use these adorable cloth napkins as an alternative to paper napkins. Guests love them and they add beautiful color to event photos. As I mentioned in this piece, I always count the number of plates in my cabinet and then send out my guest list. With about 20 plates in my cupboard, and room for about 20 guests in my apartment, everything works out pretty well. Often I have asked guests to bring their own glasses, or cleaned out extra mugs and mason jars if there aren’t enough glasses for guests to drink out of. This swap saves money in the long run (especially since most people already have plates that can be used by guests!), and costs only the time and effort of washing dishes.
Here’s what the aftermath of a zero-wastse dinner party looks like.
Ask guests to bring their own Tupperware Food waste is a huge issue in the United States, contributing to 20% of landfill waste. At the end of the party, send leftovers home with guests in their own containers. It will give your guests something to enjoy even after the party is over!