Avoiding Party Waste

Dear Sam,

I always cringe when I see the amount of waste at parties. What advice do you have to avoid single-use items like paper plates, plastic cups, silverware, paper napkins, etc. when hosting people at your home or at our upcoming block party?

Thank you,



Dear Sally,

The good news is, throwing a party doesn’t need to generate a lot of waste! There are so many easy–and economical–ways to reduce single-use items, food waste, and more when throwing a party. A great place to start when planning a party is to think about the 5 Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle. 


Refuse unnecessary party add-ons that end up in the trash almost immediately–balloons, cheap little plastic toys and party favors, etc. 

Tip: Want to have a takeaway for guests at your child’s party? Give away something special that your child creates for their friends–painted rocks, homemade cookies, matching pencils for the new school year, handmade friendship bracelets, a potted “friendship” flower.


Reduce trash by avoiding individually wrapped food, condiments, throw-away party decor, and single-use items such as plastic silverware and disposable dishes. Reduce wasted food by using the Guest-imator on SaveTheFood.com. It helps you plan just how much food you really need (including the perfect amount of leftovers).

Tip: Instead of serving individual packets of chips, buy one large bag and serve in a large bowl. Hosting a potluck? Instead of a general “bring something to share” message, create a theme or assign specific courses to guests.


Choose to use reusable dishes, silverware, cups, and even cloth napkins. Borrow from your neighbors and family, shop secondhand stores, or rent at a local party rental store. It is so much nicer to eat off of a real plate and drink from a real glass. Also, mixing and matching serviceware can be a fun way to add interest to your tablescape!

Tip: Instead of serving bottled water and drink boxes, provide pitchers of water and juice with reusable cups.


Consider how you might repurpose things you already own. This is a great way to add a personal touch to your party and save money!

Tip: Potted plants, framed photos, lego creations, and favorite stuffed animals make great centerpieces. Save empty bottles from your favorite craft beer or soda and fill with locally grown flowers. Old sheets and fun blankets can make great table coverings.


Recycle cans and bottles directly in your blue cart. And, if you must use disposable serviceware, choose certified compostable plates, cups, and silverware. Many options are available at local stores such as Kowalski’s, the co-ops, and Party Value. Compostable serviceware can easily be ordered online, too. Just make sure what you buy is BPI-certified compostable. To make it easy for guests, be sure to have a labeled organics receptacle or marked a paper bag for collection. Once bagged, collected compostable items can go right in your green Organics Recycling cart (don’t have one? Learn more here).

Tip: If you are renting a space for a party, find out ahead of time what recycling options are available at your venue. Hosting at home? Create a fun label for your recycling and organics receptacles so guests know exactly what goes where.

National Night Out is coming up and we invite you to follow the above 5Rs at your block party. Ask your neighbors to BYOP–Bring Your Own Plate (and cup, water bottle, silverware, etc) and make sure to have an easy way to collect recyclable items such as cans and food waste for organics recycling.

Want to learn more?  Check out these websites:




Sustainability Sam