For many, summer is a time for gatherings with family and friends, now more than ever after a year of isolation. However, parties can become synonymous with plastic—food, utensils, cups, plates, even decorations all comprised of the everlasting polymer. To help you participate in Plastic Free July, this articleexplores alternatives to the conventional plastic-based party.
A meal is often at the center of a get-together, but food does not have to revolve around plastic. When planning a gathering, buying in bulk is often a good option for both plastic reduction and cost reduction, and opting for fresh, local produce and homemade goods can help eliminate plastic packaging. While this may seem overwhelming, organizing a potluck is a way to shift some of the responsibility to the guests while continuing to keep food-related plastic use low. Going beyond plastic, food waste can be a product of gatherings, so make sure to encourage guests to take home leftovers.
The largest contributor to waste at parties is usually cutlery and dishware. Fortunately, this is also the category with the most convenient alternatives. Paper, bamboo, or reusable materials such as metal and glass can be implemented for everything from straws to plates. However, be aware that greenwashing (falsely implying that a product is more environmentally friendly than it is) is common. A product may be loosely labeled as “biodegradable” with no legal consequences for its legitimacy. Sometimes the best way to avoid greenwashed products while reducing dish-based waste is to use reusable items; mason jars are a good option for a lower cost. You could also ask party guests to bring their own cutlery and dishware, and this could be made into an event: guests could vote on the best reusable items in various categories, for example “most quirky” or “most innovative.” Friends of the San Juans also has a set of reusable plates and utensils for thirty people available for borrowing; contact us if you would like to arrange to pick them up at our office in Friday Harbor.
Finally, there are opportunities to reduce plastic with party decorations and gifts. Recent studies have highlighted the negative impacts of balloon pollution. Balloons are one decoration easily replaced with alternatives such as streamers or bunting made of paper. Plastic tablecloths, too, can be swapped out for reusable fabric ones. Wrapping gifts in newspaper or paper grocery bags and forgoing bows and ribbons can help reduce present-related waste.
Gatherings and celebrations are hallmarks of summer, and a few creative solutions and alternatives can eliminate the use of plastic for these events. I hope this article has been a helpful starting point for your party, just one of many opportunities for plastic reduction on an individual level. Happy summer!
Written by Kaia Olson, high school junior from Spokane