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How to Have a Waste-Free Party

Want to have a waste-free party? It’s not as hard as you’d think and it can also save you money!

How to Have a Waste-Free Party, eco-friendly party, frugal party #frugal #ecofriendly

Many of us are trying to cut down on or eliminate the waste of disposable products. Some do so to save money, some for environmental reasons, and some for both. I’m in that last category. I’d rather spend my grocery money on organic produce, good coffee, chocolate and wine than on paper towels or plastic wrap.

Over the past few years, I’ve done really well. I never buy plastic wrap or baggies anymore. I’ve had a roll of Seventh Generation paper towels way up in the cupboard for a few years and I buy perhaps one roll of foil every year or two.

But what about parties, you might ask? Don’t you have to use disposable plates, cups, and napkins? Well, not really. Now, I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t buy cute plates and napkins that match your kid’s birthday party theme. I don’t have little kids anymore so I’m going to just by-pass that potentially controversial topic. What I’m referring to are adult parties. Even though adults aren’t likely to throw a party with a cartoon theme, most still end up buying disposable plates, cups, and napkins. I used to, as well.

How to Have a Waste-Free Party

Here is how I got away from having to purchase disposable partyware. My first purchase was quite a few years ago when I was still shopping at Walmart. We were having a party and would be serving dessert and coffee. I really detest styrofoam and didn’t have enough coffee cups so I bought 16 matching clear glass dessert plates and coffee mugs. They were not very expensive but the clear glass looks nice even if it’s cheap. We’ve used these many times since.

Our next purchase was two dozen wine glasses from the dollar store. We were having a large party and even if I weren’t opposed to disposables, who likes drinking wine from plastic cups? Yuck. But I certainly didn’t want to risk breaking our expensive wine glasses – and we didn’t have enough anyway – so for a buck a piece we had plenty for our party. Over time we’ve had a few break but because they were only a dollar it’s no big deal and I can easily replace them. Each time it happens I’m glad I can tell my embarrassed guest that I bought it at the dollar store and not to worry about it.

We also have plenty of silverware. Several years ago we were still using the set I bought for my hope chest when I was in high school despite the fact that we were down to only 4 or 5 spoons. (What the heck happens to spoons??) After about 25 years of marriage, we decided we deserved a new set. We have a store here in town which sells all manner of stuff which they’ve bought in truckloads from department stores and such. They had some nice quality silverware for an exceptionally good price. I was just going to buy one set which was a service for 8 but fortunately, my smart husband encouraged me to buy two sets. I put one set in the silverware drawer and put the other away. Whenever we have a party I pull out the extra set.

How to Have a Waste-Free Party, eco-friendly party, frugal party #frugal #ecofriendly

I have 16 large dinner plates which I’ve used for parties when I served food which needed plates but I was lacking enough bowls when we recently had a party to celebrate Mardi Gras. I was making gumbo and that needs to be served in a bowl. Initially, I was going to have my husband go borrow some from our church but he decided to check the dollar store first. He was able to buy 20 plain white bowls for a dollar each so we have now added those to our party supplies.

The one item of which I still resorted to disposables was napkins and we did so at our last large party. We use cloth napkins ourselves but didn’t have enough for big parties. Plus I found that guests are often reluctant to use our cute cloth napkins with roosters on them, or the pretty red and white check napkins. Then one evening when we were out to dinner at our favorite local Italian restaurant, I noticed the napkins. They were black. Stains don’t show on black. Perhaps our guests wouldn’t be as reluctant to use them. So I did a bit of online shopping and found some large, all cotton, black napkins. I bought one set of 6 so I could see if I liked them. This was fairly recently and yes, I like them quite well. Of course, being 100% cotton they do need to be ironed but I was already in the habit of ironing our other cloth napkins so that’s not an issue for me. However, I do understand that many don’t like to iron so a no-iron fabric is certainly another option. I’ll be ordering a couple more sets soon.

At some point, I’d like to buy 16 plain white or glass dinner plates. Something a little smaller than our regular dishes which would coordinate with the white bowls and glass dessert plates we currently have. I’ll keep my eye out for some.

You don’t have to buy all of these things at once. I’ve been adding to our party stock for several years now. If you stick to something plain (like clear glass and white like I’m doing) it shouldn’t be difficult to add to your collection slowly. They don’t have to be exactly the same. In fact, you could also take the opposite route and collect unique, one-of-a-kind dishes for a quirky, eclectic look. In addition to discount and dollar stores, check out your local antique, junk and thrift stores.

Another idea is to borrow some of these items. One of my close friends has glass dessert plates and mugs similar to mine. In fact, seeing them at her house is what gave me the idea to buy mine. Between the two of us, we have a LOT of these so if either of us has a larger party we can borrow additional ones. Many years ago our local grocery store had one of those deals going where you could buy individual pieces of inexpensive china with points from shopping. My mom, aunt and I all did this and at one time, between the three of us, we had enough plates for our very large holiday family dinners. If you have a relative or close friend nearby who doesn’t mind sharing, perhaps you could each purchase several pieces with the idea that you can borrow from one another for parties.

The Clean-Up

How to Have a Waste-Free Party, eco-friendly party, frugal party #frugal #ecofriendly

Now, I’ll bet you’re thinking, “That’s all fine and dandy but someone is going to have to wash all those party dishes”. And you’re right. That is the downside. But I haven’t found that to be enough of an issue for me to go back to disposables. Most of the time at least a few of my guests will take it upon themselves to rinse and stack plates. You could set out a large bowl with hot, soapy water for silverware. Personally, I’m happy if people just bring their dishes to the kitchen. We have a dishwasher, although I do hand wash the wine glasses. But even doing them all by hand isn’t a big deal if you approach it right. I generally try to make sure everything is rinsed and stacked, food put away and counters wiped down before I go to bed. If it’s a late party, that’s all I do and then I tackle the dishes in the morning. Sometimes my husband is around to help and we chat about the party and how much fun we had. If I’m doing it alone, I put on some good music and sing along while cleaning up. It rarely takes more than 15-20 minutes even after a large gathering and I consider that a small price to pay in order to not have a huge bag of trash to take out.

With a little creativity and forethought, you can easily avoid wasteful, expensive disposable items for most parties. It’s easier on the wallet, better for the planet and honestly, wouldn’t you rather eat from real dishes?


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Deanna Piercy is a hippie married to a pirate, trying to live green in a red state. She blogs at Life With Dee.

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  1. love the idea of glass plates, mugs, etc… I never thought of that. And black napkins! I am trying to work up a collection like you have done and napkins were next on my list. I was going to have my mom sew some and I like the idea of black. Most people don’t like to use cloth napkins at someone’s house. Why is that?

    I bought white bowls a few years ago for Christmas Eve and have sued them several more times for chili at Super Bowl parties. I like using real dish so much better than disposable.

    At our last Super Bowl party I had my kids’ decorate a couple of cardboard boxes for the recyclables – glass bottles and metal cans. Worked out well.

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