How To Plan A Plastic-Free Party
There is a reason single-use plastics are everywhere. They are SUPER convenient! I struggle daily when I consider using something plastic for its convenience. I have two kids, a house that needs managing, a couple jobs, and a strong desire to balance my crazy life with convenience. BUT I also care deeply about my family's impact on the environment and my local community.
A core value of Graylie Events is environmental sustainability so I take every opportunity that comes along to consider how I could minimize my impact on the environment when planning and designing events.
This is the first in a 5 part series on the best and easiest ways to make your event more eco-friendly. I hope you enjoy this article on how to eliminate single-use plastic and consider sharing it and following along over the next few months to learn more ways to make your wedding or event more environmentally friendly.
First, what are single-use plastics?
As the name suggests, single-use plastics are items made out of plastic that cannot be re-used, re-made, or recycled. They are often used for a very short period of time then discarded. Some examples include the plastic bag your takeout is carried in, the wrapper your candy bar is sold in, and the balloons you blow up for birthday parties. They are so well incorporated into our daily living that you don't even notice how much you toss away.
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the American Chemistry Council, in the United States in 2018, we generated nearly 36 million tons of plastic waste and 27 million tons of it ended up in landfills. A "ton" can be hard to imagine so to help put that into perspective, the EMS Titanic Ocean liner weighed 58 thousand tons. So 27 million tons of plastic in the landfills in 1 year is equivalent to nearly 470 Titanic ships. That is A LOT of ships!
Why are single-use plastics a problem? Why do we care about plastics in our landfills? In short, when plastic is left alone, it doesn't breakdown like organic material such as leaves do. Instead, the plastic breaks up into very small pieces until it becomes "microplastics". The microplastics can be extremely harmful to humans and wildlife that consume it. There are many ways it can be harmful and if you're interested in learning more about it, I encourage you to read up on it. For now, we're going to move on to where single-use plastics are most commonly found at a wedding or event.
Where are single-use plastics most often found?
In order to ban single-use plastics at your event, you really need to know where they are most commonly found. Across all types of events, here are some of the most common sources of single-use plastics ranging from the most obvious to some less-known sources.
Cutlery, plates, bowls, cups
Think of all the paper plates, plastic forks, and plastic cups used at parties and it's not hard to imagine how this is the most commonly found plastic in the landfill from a party.
This is a huge source of waste from weddings and parties. Think balloon arches, table centerpieces, confetti, and photo booth props.
Offering water or soft drinks in plastic bottles is very common and not at all eco-friendly.
Swag bags and guest gift bags are often filled with travel size goodies. This makes them convenient and compact gifts but it also usually means plastic containers. These bags are also often filled with fun trinkets that are only used once or your guest forgets to take it with them or the items get tossed quickly because they don't have a real use to them.
Signs are very important for the overall success of an event. They help with navigation and provide directions for the guests such as where to check-in and where the restrooms are located. With forethought, they can also be rented, made to be re-used, or made to be recyclable.
It may surprise you to hear clothing on this list. I'm specifically referencing synthetic, plastic-based clothing materials that are disposed of often or only worn once. Wedding dresses are often at the top of this list.
Vendor Use of Plastic
Which vendors you select can have a big impact on how much single-use plastic is created by your event. Consider how much plastic wrap your caterer uses to transport food to the event or how much floral foam your florist uses to create your wedding centerpieces. Another common source are the plastic bags that the venue uses to line all the trash bins.
How do I create a plastic-free wedding or event?
Now that you know where single-use plastics are most often found, you can take steps to reduce the use of them when planning your next party. The following suggestions outline single-use plastic alternatives and will hopefully provide you some inspiration.
1. Remove Item Altogether
One of the first things to consider is whether you need the item at all. This is often overlooked but can be the simplest approach and the most affordable. For example, plastic straws for soft drinks or the plastic holder for badges at conferences can both be removed altogether. You can also select vendors based on their approach to plastic use. Don't be afraid to ask them how they reduce their use of plastic.
2. Explore Rentals
The next thing to consider is whether there is an alternative option to rent the item. This is great for tableware, dispensing water, decorations, signs, and clothing.
There are many options for renting your tableware from local sources. The local rental shop may even have water dispensers you can rent so that your guests can refill their glass or water bottle themselves. This not only means less waste generation, it also means you are supporting a local business and your community. When you do look to rent items, the closer the vendor is to your event location, the better. Closer means less transportation and thus less carbon emission to get your rentals to and from your party.
Decorations and signs are also really great to find as rentals. There are specialty shops out there where you can rent large items such as furniture and sandwich boards for signs to smaller items such as centerpieces or twinkle lights. Many people opt to buy items from the local Dollar Store to save money. This is completely understandable; yet it is worth exploring Facebook communities and business pages or checking out local businesses for the items you need. You may be surprised that prices can be comparable and the items are much nicer than Dollar Store alternatives.
Renting clothing is great for items such as bridal party attire. There are also bridal shops that rent dresses for a fraction of the cost of a new one. This is a great way to save money while also doing your part to reduce waste generation on your big day.
3. Consider Biodegradable Options
When you hear compostable and wedding or event in the same sentence, you typically think food waste and floral waste. And yes, these are great examples for incorporating composting into your next party. To take it even further, consider the following:
Can you or your caterer bring compostable take-home containers for leftovers?
Did you know there are large trash bags that are biodegradable? Does your venue use these?
Instead of confetti to throw in the air when you celebrate, have you considered dried flower petals?
What about biodegradable party invitations?
For guest gifts or swag bags, what about plantable book marks or themed seed bombs?
If plastic wrap must be used by the caterer or another vendor, do they purchase the compostable version?
Ever consider using compostable cutlery, plates, and bowls instead of paper? They are much sturdier and are pretty easy to find locally or online.
There are many ways to incorporate biodegradable or compostable options into your wedding or party. You only need to take a moment and consider whether there are alternatives.
4. Encourage Guests to Bring Their Own
Asking your guests to bring their own (insert item here), may be weird at first. The more you implement this approach though, the easier it becomes. Maybe you're hosting a company team building event that includes coffee and tea service. I think it is safe to say that all co-workers that drink coffee and tea, have a to-go mug. A short line in the invite asking them to bring it along is quite simple!
Another example could be a large expo where you expect guests to collect items from booths. A reminder for guests to bring their own bag to hold the items instead of providing plastic or paper ones is a much more environmentally friendly approach.
And a final example could be at a wedding or private party. Perhaps you plan to have a photo booth. Ask your guests to bring something fun as a prop. Crazy hats, fun scarves, or small dry erase boards with markers can all be great items for them to bring!
5. Consider buying second-hand
Buying second-hand is a great alternative that allows you to give a much loved item another life. Buying second-hand does not only include stores such as Goodwill or Value Village, this also includes Facebook Marketplace and Buy Nothing groups. You could find all the decorations you need on these sites for your next baby shower, bridal shower, or bachelorette party!
A great way to bring in gently used items to your wedding could be to source fun coffee cups and mugs or mason jars from thrift stores. Each guest gets their own to use at your wedding and then gets to take it home as a wedding favor!
Thrift stores are also great locations to find kids birthday party supplies. You could throw together a suitcase full of dress up clothes and have it next to a full length mirror for the kids to play with, all sourced from a local thrift shop. Then after the party, the items become a part of your child's dress up collection. You could do a similar approach for a tea party!
6. Think Outside The Box
This category captures all the other miscellaneous ways you could reduce plastic including:
Electronic alternatives - electronic gifts instead of gift bags and digital signs for navigation or menus
Instead of balloon party arches what about a paper streamer backdrop? Paper streamers are recyclable! Or perhaps garland, lanterns, or pom-pom balls made from recycled paper?
Instead of a goodie bag full of plastic trinkets, how about gifting gourmet popcorn or a bar of eco-friendly, locally sourced soap?
Can you send your party or wedding invitations electronically?
I have full confidence that you can ban single use plastic from your next party or event. Even if you aren't able to fully remove the use of plastic, every small step contributes to a world of difference.
I hope you found this article helpful and that it gave you some ideas and inspiration for how you can reduce your use of plastic waste. If you enjoyed this post, check out my other blog posts to find inspiration for your next party!
'Til next time
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