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How to host a plastic free festive party 

Guest Writer | 7 December 2021

At the Party Kit Network, we’re all about being eco-friendly, especially over the holiday season, and what’s more fun than a plastic free festive party?! 

However, when we stop to look a little more closely at hosting a celebration, there’s often a lot of single-use plastic involved. Entertaining can be very wasteful with items used for just the event and then thrown away. 

To help make celebrations more sustainable, we need to consider both the waste generated and the impact of producing so many disposable items. For example, to produce just 1kg of gift wrap creates more than 3kg of CO2 emissions. That’s the same amount of CO2 as generated by boiling an electric kettle 200 times. This means, for a greener party we need to swap single-use items for reusables and try to avoid unnecessary plastic. 

Here’s some ways to host a more eco-friendly holiday event without spoiling any of the fun… 

Tableware

Hosting a party has often meant grabbing a pack of paper plates and plastic cups. Readily available in supermarkets and an appealing way to avoid the washing up, disposables may seem like the easy option. However, they generate a lot of waste after a very short use. Each year, in England alone, an estimated 1.1 billion single-use plates and 4.25 billion items of single-use cutlery are used. Most disposable tableware is wholly, or in part, made of plastic and very little is recycled. 

In the fight against plastic pollution, many governments are introducing new legislation banning single-use plastic plates, cups and cutlery. The EU introduced a ban on plastic tableware in July 2021 and many other countries are set to follow. So what are the alternatives? 

  • Use what you have – Ditching the disposables and switching to reusable tableware is the most obvious sustainable solution. If you don’t have enough plates, consider borrowing from a neighbour or even asking guests to bring their own plate.
  • Hire a party kit – There’s a growing community of people who lend reusable tableware for celebrations. Party kits contain reusable tableware which can be borrowed for the event and then returned to be used again. Some also offer decorations, table linen and even a washing up service. Find your local party kit.
  • Plastic-free alternatives – If switching to reusables really isn’t an option for your event then look for single-use tableware which is plastic free. For example, plates made from palm leaves and cutlery made from wood can both be composted at home after the party. Try to avoid disposable items made from bioplastic (PLA) or those which can only be composted in industrial composters – these are often not as green or practical as the marketing messaging might make you think. 

Food 

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Food is core to any festive season celebration. After all, is a party really a party without cake?! However, party food can generate a lot of waste. This comes from both the packaging and the food itself. 

In the UK, 10 million festive turkeys are purchased each year generating 3,000 tonnes of packaging waste, most of which is single-use plastic. An estimated 2 million of those turkeys will go uneaten generating a shocking amount of food waste. 

With a bit of planning it’s possible to significantly cut unnecessary waste…

  • Create a food plan – It can be easy to end up with more food than really needed for a party but with a bit of planning you can reduce the likelihood of any leftovers. Be realistic about how much guests might eat, especially if your party isn’t being held at a normal mealtime, and try to avoid last minute panic buying.
  • Make your own – One of the easiest ways to avoid unnecessary plastic food packaging is to make your own dishes rather than purchasing readymade food. To ease the load, ask family and friends to help or consider hosting a ‘potluck’ party where each guest brings a dish of food to be shared.
  • Plan for leftovers – Even the most experienced host can misjudge quantities so planning ahead for any leftover food will help reduce waste. Ask guests to bring along reusable containers to the party to take home any leftovers. Freeze what you can – even cake can be frozen! And ahead of the party, research local organisations, such as food banks or community fridges, who will accept donations of excess food. 

Decorations

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Whether you’re putting up a Christmas tree, creating a festive table or decorating an entire house, there are many ways to make decorations a little more eco-friendly without spoiling the holiday fun. 

  • Go natural – For table centrepieces or around the home use natural foliage, such as twigs, pine cones and holly. All these are plastic free, reusable and can be composted once used.
  • Edible tree decorations – As an alternative to plastic-wrapped edible tree decorations such as candy canes, try hanging foil-wrapped chocolate or using small fabric stockings or bags filled with treats.
  • Bunting isn’t just for birthdays – Festive bunting makes a great decoration which can be used year after year. You may be able to hire bunting locally or make your own from scrap material or old Christmas cards.
  • Give crackers a green makeover – Whether it’s a tiny magnifying glass or yet another packet of mini playcards, many of the trinkets in store-bought crackers are pretty useless and often plastic. Instead, fill your own crackers with things guests may actually use. Make crackers from paper or fabric, or fill a small bag with a couple of items guests might actually enjoy. Switching to reusable party crowns is another win for reducing waste.
  • Pick quality over quantity – With many sustainable choices, often buying less is the best way to reduce our waste footprint. If you do want to add to your collection of decorations, look for secondhand items first or choose items which are durable and will last year after year, such as decorations made from felt. 

Gift Wrap 

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Gift wrap is another area where a few swaps can help make celebrating a little more sustainable. 

Most traditional gift wrap is single-use and can contain hidden plastic. Metallic or glitter wrapping paper are both offenders. So if you’re passionate about reducing plastic waste, try to avoid these. 

Gift wrap is used for such a short amount of time before being discarded. In the UK, the equivalent of 108 million rolls of wrapping paper are thrown away each festive period – that’s enough paper to wrap around the planet 22 times.

Reduce waste with one of these wrapping paper alternatives… 

  • Wrap with fabric squares or scarves – Either fold the fabric around the gift (as you would with paper) and tie with ribbon or knot the fabric using the Japanese art of Furoshiki.
  • Use fabric bags – Perfect for those tricky to wrap gifts. Consider using a fabric bag, specially designed reusable fabric gift wrap or even a pillowcase for a quick and easy way to wrap presents.
  • Reuse gift wrap or packing paper – If you’re very careful it is possible to reuse gift wrap. The recycled packing paper, which often comes with online orders, is good for wrapping (and free!). It can be decorated with ink stamps or tied with festive ribbon and still recycled after. Swap plastic sticky tape for string, ribbon or paper tape. 

Guest post by Isabel Mack, the founder of the Party Kit Network. This non-profit organisation connects those planning a party with local party kits of reusable tableware. Started in the UK in 2019, there are now hundreds of party kits run by people from across the globe. Together network members help their communities avoid thousands of single-use plastic items. 

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