How to Throw an Eco-Friendly Holiday Party

Last Update: February 17, 2023

We love throwing down as much as the next guy, but aside from the occasional hangover the morning after, what really hurts is seeing the amount of waste generated from a single awesome night.

Don’t get us wrong—the memories of a great party are worth the effort we put into throwing it, but plain and simple, we can do better when it comes to greening our events. Every year, Americans throw away 21.5 million tons of food and dispose of enough paper and plastic serveware to circle the Equator 300 times.

Throwing a party that’s less wasteful and more earth-friendly is pretty simple—these five tips will get you started.

Skip paper invites, save trees

First, there’s a guest list to deal with. Paper invites are the very first thing to cut out when it comes to trimming the environmental impact of an event. In 2012, Americans threw away 24.4 million tons of paper—that could be as many as 585 million trees.

Know what’s classier than snail mailing paper invites? Calling up each and every guest to invite them personally. Then, send those who are available the details via email. If aesthetics are important to you, design a graphic for the email or use Paperless Post. Online invites can also make it a little easier to connect guests with each other to set up carpools—feel free to encourage that.

If physical invitations are still a must, be sure to use post-consumer recycled paper, which helps keep used paper items out of landfills.

Use all-natural decorations

Decorating with plants is a lot prettier than using plastic accessories and other manufactured materials. Shop for flowers from the local farmers market to make sure you’re getting the best seasonal options. Bunches of perennial red river lilies are a lovely alternative to poinsettias. Hellebores, also known as the Christmas roses, are beautiful for a white Christmas. Calendulas and tulips also start to bloom in December.

For an even smarter centerpiece, try potted succulents and herbs. Succulents last long and require very little water, and they’re just as show-stopping as traditional bouquets. Fresh herbs add a nice dimension of scents to the table, and can be used during a meal and post-party for future dinners. Both of these green options also make great party favors for guests.

As for lighting—an essential aspect of the party mood—keep the switches off and opt for the amber glow of candles instead. Just be sure to choose beeswax candles (or make your own) instead of conventional wax ones, which are made from petroleum-derived paraffin.

Get creative with DIY hanging lanterns by tightly tying wire or string to the rims of small jars (underneath the notch where the cap stops in order to keep the jar from slipping out). Strew the strands wherever you want ambiance, drop a beeswax tea light into each jar, and light them.

Mind the dinnerware

Of course, the greenest way to go if this is a dinner party is to stick with your regular dishes, flatware, and glasses. Hitting up the thrift store to look for mismatched plates can add an eclectic vibe to the table. Invest in some nice cloth napkins to cut paper waste.

Expecting this party to be a big rager? Then reusable dinnerware might not be the practical way to go—but disposables don’t have to be a complete waste. Sustainable, compostable plates, cups, and utensils are a more earth-friendly choice.

Source food locally

Now to the most important element of any party: food! Finger foods can help minimize flatware use. (Seriously, who doesn’t love eating with their hands, anyway?)

Putting together a killer cheese plate? Imported camembert from Normandy is not the most eco-friendly choice. Go with artisan cheese from a local farm—and shop locally as much as possible for any food that will be featured at your fete.

Serve seasonal, sustainable drinks

Hold up, we lied. The drinks are pretty crucial to a party, too. Create a seasonal cocktail using in-season fruit such as cherimoya, grapefruit, kiwi, or pomegranate. Not into being a cocktail chemist? Olives are in season in December, too, so shake up an old standby: the dirty martini.

As far as beer and wine, going local should be pretty easy, since every single state in the U.S. produces wine and has multiple craft beer breweries these days. Pretty cool, huh? Whenever possible, select organic and biodynamic wines—those produced at vineyards that focus on every aspect of sustainability, from soil to the surrounding flora and fauna. For an added charm, use real fresh fruit slices as bottle stoppers.

In the end, going green doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your party prep. Even following just a few of these tips can go a long way toward a greener, healthier world this holiday.

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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Dana Poblete

Dana's love for all creatures under the sun (bugs, too) drives her in her advocacy for ethical eating, environmental sustainability, and cruelty-free living. A natural born islander, she surfs when she can, and writes, always.

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