I recently had the pleasure of throwing a party at my home for my son’s first birthday. We all know a first birthday party is really for the parents to celebrate keeping their sanity during the first year, but I digress. I have thrown many parties before, so I am a seasoned veteran of most green things you can do for a party. For example: I have washable plastic plates, reusable silverware, re-usable table cloths, recycle bins, drinks that are served in re-usable glasses, and other beverages that come in recyclable containers. Rarely is there much waste at a party at my house.
Now, did I mention that this birthday party was HUGE? I have never had 65 people at my house for a party before. Nor did I ever have to figure in the catering fiasco. Does the chicken really have to come in a paper box that I can’t recycle due to grease? Why does the shredded beef have to be shrink-wrapped in plastic? And don’t forget the “mom factor”. This refers not to me but to my mom who can find a way to get involved in anything. She did find some awesome pop-up recycle bins that we were able to use in various places in the yard and garage (and are reusable for future parties I might add). But she also wanted heavy duty paper plates, plastic silverware, and way more paper napkins than I will use in a lifetime.
So, what do you do in a situation like this? How do you find a balance between convenience and over the top environmentally minded? Blending the two and taking a few small steps toward a greener solution can help take this daunting task and make it a smaller more manageable one.
I ended up using paper plates because the alternative was to buy 50 more washable plastic ones that I would probably never need again and are made using non-renewable resources. We donned the plastic tablecloths, half of which we saved and are using again for our much smaller 4th of July BBQ. Plastic silverware was the unfortunate best option due to the number of people and kids running around and also not wanting to lose my real silverware to the trash. But there is an upside! Some of the food was made by me and family members and was served in reusable containers. Some of the catered food came in aluminum trays (which we know to be recyclable). The leftover food was able to be taken home by guests in recyclable aluminum to-go trays (thanks for finding these, Mom!). Most of the decorations were paper and were promptly recycled. All the drinks were in reusable cups or in containers that ultimately ended up in the recycling as well. And of course, we can’t forget the presents! All of the wrapping paper was recycled and we are saving the gift bags to use again.
At the end of the party we ended up with two 33 gallon garbage bags, and nine 18 gallon recycle bins over flowing! I see more trash than that in a week at some houses in town so I think we did pretty well. Were there things we could have done better? Sure. I had a nightmare about the amount of trash we did have if I am going to be completely open and honest.
The biggest hurdle was trying to inform guests about what to recycle. As much as I would love to believe that everyone I am related to and friends with recycles, I know that is simply not the case. At the end of the night, if you had driven by, you could have seen my husband and me digging through trash and recycling and moving things to their correct bins. That would have been a great picture to put on facebook. Luckily no one captured that photo… as far as I know.