How to Host a Zero Waste Party

On my street, we have a birthday party for the person our street is named after every year. We also have a lot of events in the community. So when I was asked to provide ideas on how to host a zero waste block party this year, the following is what I came up with.

Please know that the definition of zero waste can mean different things depending on how your city/town/or organization has defined it. For the City of Austin, Texas, it means reducing the amount of trash sent to landfills by 90 percent. Zero waste can mean no disposables/ solid reusable items only, or it can mean everything is recyclable or compostable.

Please check with your city’s hauler/contractor/provider(s) to make sure you are disposing of items in the most appropriate manner.

  • Cake
    • Purchase from a local bakery or one that uses only paper boxes without the plastic film view window. The paper box can be composted.
    • There are also stores that have a plastic base and plastic lid which would be recyclable.
  • Cookies or Cupcakes
    • If you want cookies or cupcakes, see if a local bakery will let you use your own container. Lady Quackenbush’s Cakery pictured here will let you use your own container for food or drink.
    • Otherwise try for items in a cardboard box that can be composted or a plastic container that can be recycled. Remove any plastic windows from cardboard before composting. These most likely will have food residue so do not recycle this cardboard. Sugar Mamma’s Bakeshop uses cardboard containers that keep the cupcakes upright and separate and can be composted.
  • Ice Cream
  • Plates and utensils
    • You could try to ask people to bring their own. Probably not gonna work well though in my experience.
    • Paper plates (with no plastic or wax coating) and bamboo utensils are compostable but bamboo utensils tend to cost more than plastic utensils.
    • Plastic utensils are recyclable in Austin blue carts.
    • Consider making a Party Box of reusable items like plates and utensils that get passed around the neighborhood for the parties. You can include an inventory/contents list.
  • Cups and drinks
    • Reusables are best. Asking people to bring their own cups or water bottles is great and gets them thinking about carrying their own in other contexts as well like running errands.
    • Most paper cups are lined in plastic so they are not compostable.
    • Plastic cups are recyclable, especially if they’re #1 or #2 on the bottom.
    • Drinks in plastic, glass or aluminum are best as they can be recycled.
    • Drinks in the paper-ish/carton-ish containers cannot be recycled, they’re a composite, a mix of paper and plastic and sometimes metal too.
  • Napkins
    • Napkins that are not died or white would be better because less dye in the compost, but all paper napkins can be composted.
    • If you’re ambitious and have enough you could wash cloth napkins.
    • You could ask people to bring their own cloth napkins.
  • Table cloth
    • Use a cloth tablecloth or a flat sheet that can be washed.
    • Paper would be next best as it can be composted.
    • Plastic could be reused if taken care of and then recycled with plastic film and bags at a bag recycling station.
  • Snacks and food
    • Bulk trail mix, pub mix, nuts, etc. are available at most groceries now.
    • Wheatsville Coop in Austin is the only grocery store that lets you bring your own container and can take the weight off. ¬†Weigh it and record the weight first. I like to use a wax crayon or painter’s tape and a permanent marker.
    • Other grocery stores will have plastic containers or zippered bags that can be recycled: single stream and plastic bag collection respectively.
    • Olives, cheeses and the like are available at those bars in the grocery store; you may have to search for them on the edges of the store. Our HEB has one near the deli counter.
    • If people bring food, ask them to use a reusable container or one that is recyclable. The aluminum pans (rinsed clean) can be recycled.
    • Sandwich trays or snack trays are recyclable. Sometimes sandwich places will serve food in paper boxes and ¬†those can be composted.
  • Decorations
    • Reusable, recyclable or compostable are best: paper, fabric, plastic.
    • Balloons cannot be recycled and leave a mess and micro pollution.
    • Thrift stores can be a great place to find items.
    • Ask around! Maybe your neighbors have some great theme decor!
    • Austin Creative Reuse has crafts, decorations and party type items at almost no cost!

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