How to have an Eco-friendly Summer Gathering

As an environmentalist, I have made so many changes at home in the items we purchase and how we dispose of those items after the fact. However, there are outside situations that we will always have less control over.

The weather is beginning to warm up, bringing with it more summer celebrations like cookouts, parties, festivals, carnivals and more. I cringe at the sight of overflowing garbage cans, filled with single-use plastics, recyclables, and even the dreaded styrofoam.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to prevent some of this waste. We just have to think ahead a bit and be proactive. Here are some tips for enjoying all those fun summer activities while being a little gentler on our environment.

Party sustainably

Planning ahead is key

Recycling and acting sustainably doesn’t take as much thought when we’re in our own home, where we are used to doing so. However, throw us into a situation where we are busy managing the event and/or trying to enjoy ourselves, and it just won’t happen unless we prepare for it.

So, when you are helping to coordinate an event–whether it is a big festival or simply a family gathering–you must remember to think through the logistics of the recycling, event breakdown and leftovers, along with the other party preparations.

Each detail of the event, from decor to utensils to the menu, should be evaluated for sustainability. Look into your options for making each of these areas more environmentally friendly. Following are some guidelines.

Invitations & Advertising

Whenever possible, try to limit the paper waste and instead opt for using social media and email. I know I catch myself grabbing flyers that I see at a coffeeshop or library, only to turn around and throw it in the recycle bin at home. It’s a much better idea to just take a quick photo and let the paper ad rest in its place. is a great free resource for creating social media ads for events, and even invitations that you can email out to all of your potential guests.

I realize that there are some special events, such as weddings, where it may be preferable to send out an actual paper invitation. In this case, there are options such as recycled materials and cleaner inks that can make these invitations more sustainable.

Borrow over Buy

If your event requires special equipment, props or other items that could be rented or borrowed instead, investigate that option first. You can also search for the wanted item(s) in your local Buy Nothing group, Freecycle, or on your favorite classifieds apps.

If your event requires special equipment, props or other items that could be rented or borrowed instead, investigate that option first. You can also search for the wanted item(s) in your local Buy Nothing group, Freecycle, or on your favorite classifieds apps.

Mention transportation alternatives

If possible, hold your event in as central a location as possible in order to decrease driving. This will likely also increase guests’ access to public transportation. Make sure you provide them with clear instructions on how to access and use the transportation options available to them.

When welcoming many out-of-towners, give them a window of time for arrivals so that more than one can be transported at once. You can also encourage them to use some of the greener airlines.

Keep recycling easy & obvious

Try to ensure that there are as many recycling bins distributed as there are waste bins. Some communities offer options for renting recycle bins specifically for events. Always post a detailed list of what can be recycled, in order to avoid any confusion. The easier you make it to recycle, the more likely guests are to participate. If it is at all complicated, they’ll just toss everything into the trash and move on. You may also want to have someone at the event who is monitoring these containers from time-to-time.

Once the event is over, you’ll need to sort through your recycling bins since, when in doubt, people are likely to throw some items in that cannot be recycled. For those items that are soiled with food, you will need to rinse them off. Some dirty recyclables will not be able to be salvaged. It is important to keep unclean materials out of the recycling pickup, since they will contaminate the entire load.

Don’t drown in the single-use plastic potential of events

Avoid single-use plastics

Recycling is wonderful; however, the best option for reducing waste at an event is to offer reusable containers instead. Events tend to be notorious for one of the most obnoxious items that ends up in our landfills–single-use plastics! By providing your guests with real glasses, plates and utensils, you can eliminate a whole lot of unnecessary waste.

I know just how infeasible the “real” route is the larger your event becomes, however. Thankfully, there are eco friendly plates“>some biodegradable disposable options that have entered the market in recent years. If you find this option to be a little outside of your budget, opt for recycled and/or recyclable paper products; never polystrene or styrofoam. And always skip the straws;our sea creatures deserve better.

Opt for quick & healthy homemade dishes

Summer is filled with invites where a potluck dish is requested, but that doesn’t mean our only choice is to either spend hours in the kitchen or select some over-packaged store-bought dish that is full of preservatives. Check out my pinterest board for quick and healthy potluck dishes. Meatless options are a great way to put together something more sustainable as well.

If your event hires a catering service, remember to question them about their environmental practices such as recycling and single-use plastics. You want the company you use to reflect your own philosophy in order to truly achieve a “green” event.

Don’t toss the leftovers!

Did you know that 40% of all food produced in the U.S. ends up in our landfills? The decomposition process produced by this food waste in less than ideal composting conditions, results in destructive methane gases, air and water pollution. Research your local options for donating or composting the leftovers, and this will be one of the greenest acts you can commit at your gathering.

Decor, Linens & Prizes

As with all other aspects of your event, look for reusable or recyclable options. Keep your decor more natural with local potted plants or organic beeswax candles. Etsy is a wonderful source for more eco-friendly party decor. However you decide to decorate, do your best to ditch the balloons. As innocent as they may seem, they are capable of so much environmental harm.

When it comes to the tablecloths and napkins, go with real if at all possible. You can always purchase them used and then donate them afterwards.

The one thing that I find the most unnerving to my environmental heart while attending these gatherings, is the sight of all the tiny senseless plastic gadgets. They are just waiting for children to win them, break them and discard them, often before the actual event has even ended.

Instead of offering this cheap crap–things that will last longer in our landfills than in our children’s hands–as carnival game prizes and promotions, why not find something less destructive and more meaningful? Offer coins, cookies or donated used trinkets instead. You could even have more valuable treats for them to trade in all of their coins for at the end.

Fill your summer with green gatherings

Putting together a green event doesn’t have to be hard; you just have to put a little extra thought into it. What kinds of measures do you take to ensure that you are living your greenest life, whether you are attending someone else’s gathering or planning your own?

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