Forget movies, concerts, and dinner out. These days my favorite social activity takes place in the comfort of my own home. That’s right, I’ve become an entertainer. From breakfast to brunch, midday snacks to light supper, even multicourse dinners and cocktail soirees — I’ve found that there’s nothing like gathering a bunch of people in the cozy comfort of your personal space.
But as I move deeper into my role as hostess and continue to throw parties both big and small, I’m starting to feel twinges of eco-guilt. The usual entertainment accoutrements — disposable plates, cups and silverware; one-use decorations; processed snack food, etc. — can be incredibly tough on the environment. In this era of all things sustainable, I guessed that there had to be planet-friendly alternatives to the usual party, but I wasn’t sure where to start.
Enter Celia Chen, ex-event planner and current editor-in-chief of Notesonaparty.com, an online magazine dedicated to entertaining. Chen knows how to throw a party, and today she’s equally versed in hosting the ultimate eco-affair. She recently answered a few of my questions, and I’ve now got what it takes to give my events a necessary green facelift.
I want to host a greener party — where should I start?
Take your party outside.Find a venue that incorporates elements of nature and host your event early — you’ll use less energy if you take advantage of natural light by hosting your event while the sun is still shining. Find a garden or terrace for drinks at sunset — it’s Mother Nature’s entertainment!
I’ve got hungry friends. What about the food?
Contrary to what you may think, an eco-friendly menu does not consist of bland, vegan food. If you serve organic and locally grown food, you can have pretty much any type of cuisine you desire, but without nasty pesticides, chemical additives or antibiotics.
Most leading grocery or specialty-food stores now offer organic produce and hormone-free meat. Or, find a local green market and support local farms and food artisans. Food that is in season and sourced locally is better for you and the planet. It’s fresher because it doesn’t have to travel as far to get to your plate.
If you don’t have time to prepare the food yourself, hire a green caterer in your area. In New York City we turn to Sage Events, a localsustainable caterer (operating since 1997) that prepares delicious food sourced from local family-run farms.
You can also set up a farm table with local artisan cheeses, organic fruits and vegetables and freshly baked bread.
They’re thirsty, too. Is it possible to serve eco-friendly cocktails, beer and wine?
Better ingredients make better cocktails, so stock your bar with organic wine and beer as well as spirits that are made in a sustainable way. Parducci is an organic winery that’s powered by solar panels and wind energy and also uses earth-friendly packaging. Peak Organic Beer has four signature brews made with barley and hops that are grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Disposable plates and silverware can’t be good for the environment, right? What are the alternatives?
When possible, use glassware for your events instead of plastic (which is made from petroleum) or paper (which ends up in the landfill). Tableware and glassware can be rented from local rental companies or through your caterer. They can deliver right to your door and will take away all the used items afterward — no dirty dishes to wash!
If you are dining outside and need a nonbreakable alternative, there are a few companies that make clear cups out of polymer, a substance that is made from corn and is 100 percent biodegradable. And Preserve by Recycline has great-looking tableware and cutlery sets in different colors made from 100 percent recycled plastic.
What about décor? How do I create a party atmosphere that will make both my guests and the planet happy?
Be creative with your décor. Buying mass-produced, disposable themed décor is unoriginal and, if you only use it once, pretty wasteful. You can find interesting ways to create atmosphere with everyday items. For example, vintage tea tins make great vases. Or find brightly colored fruit that’s in season to display as an edible centerpiece.
You can also buy seasonal flowers from the green market or an online retailer like Organic Bouquet that specializes in sustainably grown, fair-trade flowers. Their roses come in many different colors and smell amazing. Small potted plants are also an easy way to incorporate florals without having to arrange cut flowers. They can be given to guests as they leave or be enjoyed by you after the party.
Go digital! The best way to save paper (and money) is to send a digital invitation. Pingg.com is a new online invitation and event management company that offers a great selection of modern images. Not only are the invitations free of advertising, but the interactive Web pages will let you upload photos, video and even set up a gift registry.
If your event is more formal, try paper invitations that are made from 100 percent organic cotton and printed with vegetable inks that are nontoxic. One of my favorite stationery companies is Smock, which handprints the most exquisite wedding invitations and birth announcements. They are the only letterpress printer in the U.S. that uses paper made from bamboo, which is a renewable resource.
There’s always so much left over at the end of a party. What’s the best eco-move for extra food, flowers, etc.?
Dealing with your post-party cleanup is the least glamorous part of your event, but an important aspect of being green. Sending your guests home with leftover food and bouquets of flowers is a thoughtful way to lessen your load.
You can also put out different bins for recycling bottles, cans and paper. This sends a low-key green message and helps to educate guests. If you hire a green caterer, they will be in charge of separating compostable food from garbage and will dispose of it properly.
Leftover food that hasn’t been touched can be donated to your local food bank. Make arrangements beforehand and find out their specific requirements.
What if you don’t have access to eco caterers and other green vendors? Can you still throw a sustainable soiree?
If eco-friendly vendors are scarce in your neighborhood, hop online to see what might be delivered to you. Or, be creative and use what you already have in your home. Vintage items and heirloom tablecloths are eco-friendly because you are continuing to use them and not buying something new.
Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of Lime.com, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.
Please note: Neither Marisa Belger nor TODAYshow.com has been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.