Summer is the season for backyard barbecues, starlight parties and outdoor bashes. After all, the warm weather, summer sporting events and several holidays make the season especially inviting for entertaining, and who doesn’t want to spend an afternoon or evening socializing with good friends and great food. But planning a party can sometimes cause people to abandon their eco ideals, stocking up on Styrofoam cups and plates, plastic knives and spoons, copious plastic garbage bags, decor, soda and invitations. Can you have a party while still staying green? Sure you can. Here’s how:
Food and Drinks. Rather than the traditional soda, chips, burgers and hot dogs, try planning a backyard barbecue with locally grown produce and meats. Visit your area farmers market a few weeks before the party and talk to the vendors to find out what will be in season and plentiful. Plan the party theme around whatever food will be featured at the time, whether that will be locally grown radishes or spinach. Plan several fun recipes around in-season foods and decorate with them where possible. Things like radishes, berries, carrots and even sweet peas lend themselves beautifully to decorating as well as eating. Make uncooked fruits and vegetables the focus of the party rather than a platter of hot dogs. If you must serve meat, buy it from a local farmer rather than a supermarket. Rather than a bag of chips, serve up a platter of fried plantains or home-made chips or buy locally-made tortilla chips and make your own salsa.
Try a new twist on the potluck. Instead having friends bring a dish, have a tomato tasting party where each guest brings tomatoes from their garden for other guests to sample. If most people in your social circle grow mint, plan a party theme around that with, making mint juleps. Have fun with the planning and try to include seasoned gardeners with some who are new to growing their own food. For drinks, make lemonade using organic lemons and limes. Add a unique twist to this favorite summertime beverage by adding a few sprigs of fresh mint to the mix. For those who serve alcohol at their party, the challenge to stay green can be tougher. Try finding locally produced wines and beers or organically produced products.
Decor. Begin planning your party decor a few months in advance, planting wildflowers, like black-eyed Susans or flowering herbs, like lavender to decorate the yard. Think in terms of color, texture and scent and incorporate plants like jasmine, mint, dill and basil. These are fast-growing plants which smell wonderful in the yard or in a bouquet. Other plants like bougainvillea, grape and even parsley grow fast to cover a large area. On the day of the party incorporate cuttings form your garden into bouquets, combining lavender with a bouquet of lilacs or mint with a bouquet or roses. Potted plants are also a great way to add color to an area. Add more color by dying an old white sheet with saffron and using it as a table cloth.
Lighting. If entertaining in the evening, decorate the yard with solar lighting. Solar lights are easy to use, simple to install and many give off quite a bit of light. Consider adding a few soy candles for added ambiance, or, if you are ambitious enough, consider making them yourself a few days before the party. Candle making is a fun craft that doesn’t require much special equipment other than a melter dedicated for liquefying the wax.
Party favors. At a Memorial Day barbecue that we recently held, we gave cuttings from our garden as party favors. Guests left with garden-fresh onions, carrots, spinach, strawberries and clippings of mint, basil, cilantro and basil. Not only was this a hit among guests, but it helped us empty our garden of surplus vegetables we couldn’t eat. The children enjoyed picking the produce and seemed to have fun searching for the best picks of the garden. Wildflower clippings are also popular party favors. If you do not have a garden or if your garden does not have enough produce for your guests, consider giving leftovers as parting gifts or handmade gifts like soy candles or hand-beaded jewelry.
Paper products. If you keep your guest list small, you can eliminate the need for paper plates, paper cups, plastic forks or even party invitation. Just verbally invite those who you wish to include. If you must use paper invitations, look for those that are made with recycled materials and use soy-based inks. For napkins and plates, use reusable items, rather than disposable. Hosting a party is a perfect time to use those linen or cotton napkins sitting in your closet. Use your own plates, utensils and glasses rather than disposable. Yes, it means more in terms of clean-up, but it means less garbage going to the landfill. Another benefit to keeping the guest list small and intimate is you are more likely to have offers of help when it is time to clean up. If you do not have enough plates, utensils or glasses for your guests, visit your local thrift store and stock up.
Clean-up. Using fewer paper products means easy clean-up and less trash. Set up recycling bins for the paper, glass or plastic trash you have and direct guests to your compost area for leftover foods.