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How to throw a green party

Straight to the source

According to the Clean Air Council, every day 43,000 tons of food are thrown out in the United States, and each year Americans toss out enough paper and plastic cups, forks, and spoons to circle the equator 300 times. That's the bad news. The good news is that with a bit of creativity and a little know-how, you can throw a fun, festive affair without it taking a major toll on the environment.



When planning an environmentally friendly party menu, leave your global appetite behind and think local. Shipping ingredients from another part of the world requires a tremendous amount of fuel. Look to your nearest farmers' market or CSA (community-supported agriculture) for in-season fruits and vegetables, as well as meat, eggs, and dairy products. They're fresher, taste better, and are oftentimes priced the lowest.

Sustainable eating
Beyond "local," there are a number of other labels and designations to keep in mind, including organic, biodynamic and sustainable. Organic food is regulated by the U.S.D.A. and must meet certain standards to be certified as such. While there is debate over the value of the U.S.D.A. organic label and how much it corresponds to the original goals of organic farming (which prioritize local and sustainable agriculture), you can assume that any food bearing the U.S.D.A. organic label is free from artificial pesticides and fertilizers.

Like organic, biodynamic farming eschews pesticides and fertilizers. It's also a sustainable, self-contained system in which everything on the farm is reused or recycled, with the goal of enriching the biodiversity of the land. There are a variety of ways to define sustainable agriculture, but in simplest terms, it aims to sustain rather than degrade the environment while also being economically viable. For more information on these labels, consult greenerchoices.org, a Web-based resource run by the Consumers Union.

Menu options
It can be a little overwhelming at first, but with a little thought and a bit of planning, creating a delicious, environmentally friendly menu is easy: With the right ingredients, you can turn almost any recipe into a green one.

If you're having a backyard barbecue, opt for grass-fed burgers and steaks, which typically require fewer pesticides, fossil fuels, and antibiotics than the corn-fed alternative. Hosting a wine and cheese party? Swap imported Brie for artisan cheese from a nearby farm, and pair it with wine from the same region.

For a Sunday brunch, think frittatas made with organic eggs, whatever veggies are in season, and cheeses, all sourced from your area. Alongside, serve locally baked pastries, rolls, and muffins, or make your own sweets with fresh fruit from the farmers' market. 

Tips and tricks
Use aluminum foil
Clean foil can be crumpled up and tossed into the recycling bin, making it a better option than plastic cling wrap. But, don't risk contaminating a load of recyclables: If your foil is covered in baked cheese and sauce, toss it in the trash.

Carry a tote
When you stock up on supplies, carry a reusable tote bag. Not only is it a less wasteful choice than plastic but it's stronger and helps you carry more.


As with food, with a little planning and some smart shopping, almost any drink can be a green one.

Serving a signature cocktail simplifies matters and allows you to take advantage of local, seasonal ingredients.In the summer months, pick up a seedless watermelon, then scoop out the flesh, freeze it on a baking sheet, and blend with vodka for a refreshing warm-weather treat. In fall, use a juicer to make fresh apple juice and whip up a batch of apple Martinis.

Wine and beer
For wine, think organic and biodynamic. If you're splurging on wine, go for Frog's Leap; if you're on a budget, try BonTerra. Local wine is another great option, as nowadays wine is produced in every state in the U.S.
When it comes to beer, local is also best — shipping Belgian beer to the U.S. requires a lot of fuel. Local brews eliminate that problem and add regional flavor to your menu. Look online to find breweries in your area; sites like brewpubzone.com list breweries by state.Nonalcoholic options
Aluminum is an easily recyclable material, so choose cans of soda instead of drinks in plastic bottles. (And, according to Environmental Defense, it takes 95 percent less energy to recycle an aluminum can than to create a new can from raw materials.)
Brew shade-grown, organic coffee (shade-grown coffee doesn't require cutting down trees and therefore doesn't deplete rain forests or disturb the habitats of birds and other species), offer organic herbal teas, and purchase water in glass bottles, which are easily recyclable. Even better, reuse old wine or beverage bottles to serve tap water, filtered if necessary.Tips and tricks
Make recycling easy
To ensure that your guests recycle, line decorative baskets with clear plastic shopping bags, label as recycling bins, and place near the trash can.

Clean green
Use naturally derived cleansers, like Method's cucumber-scented dish soap.

DECORATING  When it comes to decor, think like the TV spy MacGyver: Be resourceful and use things you already have in original ways.

Why run to the store to buy bags of decorations, disposable plates, and run-of-the-mill flowers when you can use items from your own kitchen and backyard to create unique and unexpected decorations?

Create big, full arrangements with just one dozen red roses. Place a metal floral frog or water-soaked florist foam (available in the flower section of the supermarket) in a small bowl or vase and insert freshly cut roses randomly throughout.
Poke takeout chopsticks into red fruits and vegetables such as crab apples, radishes, radicchio, and even red-skinned potatoes, then push into the empty spaces to fill out the arrangement.As with food, when shopping for flowers, it's always best to look for local, organic options. Check your farmers' market to see what's available, and don't be afraid to swap something local and seasonal for the roses.Centerpieces and more
Purchase a baby tree from your local nursery, wrap the container with layers of burlap, and tie with a shiny ribbon. Place on a cake stand as a living centerpiece, and plant right after the party.
Place cards
Collect large leaves from the yard and write guests' names right on them with a nontoxic permanent ink pen.

Slice a wine cork in half and insert a leftover paint chip. Write the names of the dishes you're serving on each paint chip and use to identify them on the buffet table. This idea also works for place cards. (If the corks wobble, use a knife to make the bottoms flat and even.)

Repurpose glass vases into sangria jugs (or drink pitchers) and use real fruit as bottle stoppers.

E-vites are the greenest and most convenient way to go, but not the most personal. Instead, design a colorful invitation — scanning a handmade invite is the easiest — and send it out as a JPEG with a personalized e-mail note; follow up with a phone call.

If it's a formal occasion, think postconsumer recycled paper for the invitations: It's paper made from old paper, so you're helping to complete the recycling loop.


Bandannas can be repurposed as casual cloth napkins. If you don't have them all in one color, feel free to mix it up.

While reusable plates, cups and utensils are the greenest choice, they aren't always the most practical one, especially for large groups. Believe it or not, the phrase "eco-disposable" is not an oxymoron. In fact, it's becoming increasingly easy to find affordable environmentally friendly disposable tableware in mainstream stores.

  • Whole Foods' 365 store brand has durable plates and bowls that look like sturdy paper ones but are actually made from renewable and biodegradable sugar cane.

  • For a bit of color, look for Recycline's plates and bowls in bright, bold colors like purple and lime green; they are made entirely of recycled plastic (from old yogurt cups) and are sturdy enough to be used several times.

  • Stock up on Cereplast forks, spoons and knives, which are made from a biodegradable bio-plastic consisting of 80 percent corn-based starch and 20 percent green fillers. If you compost, you can toss these utensils right into the bin and they'll break down in about three months.

  • Forget plastic straws. Greenhome sells some made from PLA, a corn-based bio-resin. They look and feel like plastic ones but are completely biodegradable.

  • Also look for plates, chopsticks, and other utensils made from bamboo, a fast-growing renewable and biodegradable resource.

  • Tips and tricks
    Don't buy, rent
    Instead of buying new supplies, you can rent chairs, tables, tablecloths, and even snow cone machines for very low prices.Repurpose
    Bandannas are a great reusable cloth napkin that won't break the bank (as pictured below).

    Prevent waste
    If you use a caterer, bring your serving dishes to them. This way, they can avoid using disposable trays and platters.


    No matter how old your guests, it's fun to incorporate activities that come with a tasty treat.

    First, blow up a balloon (use natural latex balloons, which are biodegradable), then cut newspaper into long strips, coat both sides with white craft glue, and use to cover the entire surface of the balloon. Allow the glue to dry completely, then pop the balloon.

    Cut out a small flap and fill the inside of the pinata with grown-up treats such as gift cards, mini bottles of alcohol, and beauty product samples. Tape the flap shut and add a layer of glued newspaper to seal it up. Use a heavy-duty piece of tape (duct tape works well) to adhere a line cord or sturdy ribbon so you can hang the pi�ata from a tree branch, then use double-stick tape to wrap the outside with leaves from the yard.

    Send your guests out into the woods to gather twigs and branches to help light a fire. Bring out a big bowl full of marshmallows, organic chocolates, and graham crackers. Guests can use the twigs they collected to make skewers and toast their s'mores. (Use a manual pencil sharpener to sharpen the branches.)

    For a minty version, add a small drop of real peppermint essential oil to toasted marshmallows. (Fireplace ashes are safe to spread across the lawn. Just wait until they've cooled completely and scatter.)

    - E. Haley

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