My name is Fabiola Carletti and I have a problem: I am severely afflicted with chronic-hostess syndrome. I thoroughly enjoy inviting hordes of people over to my house to eat, drink, schmooze, sing, dance, and (eventually) go home.
Last summer–for a “choose your occasion” party–I instructed guests to ignore the dictatorial calendar and dress up for their favourite holiday. Jasmin, celebrating Mother’s day, waltzed in with a faux-belly. Jeff, in a red shirt and wings, hoped to make some Valentine’s Day magic. Mark showed up in a white plastic one-piece zip-up suit . . . to the bafflement of us all.
As the doorbell continued to ring, revellers streamed in, celebrating everything from Christmas to Mardi Gras. I beamed, adjusting the crown of plastic flowers on my head and modelling my leaf-print dress. “I’m celebrating Earth Day” I explained.
The next day I forced heaps of waste into a big black garbage bags. Every imaginable surface had been covered in plastic cups, burnt-out sparklers and Styrofoam plates. As I flung my Earth Day wreath into the trash, the irony began to percolate. A morbid thought occurred to me: I would probably decompose before most of the plastic remnants of my party. Yikes.
Although I consider myself a nascent environmentalist, I realized then that I was making unconscious exceptions for a whole lot of “special occasions”. I am proud to say that at my recent birthday party I implemented several of the suggestions you will soon read. People responded incredibly well!
Unfortunately, our cultural norms don’t pressure us to celebrate sustainably (yet). As students, we have a reputation for indulging ourselves in festive excess-but maybe we should re-think our expertise and party what we preach.
Here are ten ideas to get us started.
(1) Plan an eco-potluck
The good news is that we youngsters already tend to make our invites paper-free. Taking our virtual networking one step further, it’s really easy to organize the “who’s bringing what” online. If you’re not a fan of Facebook, there are funky alternatives that you can use for free. I highly recommend mypunchbowl –it’s easy-to-use, funky, and has a special application specifically designed for organizing potlucks.
Let’s get all the benefits straight: You don’t have to foot the entire grocery bill on your own or spend the whole day with your eye on the oven. You can gently steer your guests in the right direction by creating a list that casually drops words like “locally-purchased”, “organic”, “veggie”. And you don’t have to worry that you will have too much (or *gasp* too little) to eat because the more people that walk through the door, the more goodies will magically appear.
(2) Make “left-over love” take-home packages
Instead of automatically recycling (or tossing!) jars and containers, why not store them to re-use? Potlucks tend to produce leftovers but that doesn’t have to mean waste. You may find yourself scooping potato salad into an empty relish jar and sending it home with a friend. Consider it a practical party favour, one that your friend will thank you for when they wake up hung-over and hungry.
Even If you didn’t pre-plan to package, many of your guests will have brought their potluck dishes in containers of all kinds. Instead of bringing the containers back home empty, encourage your guests to help themselves one last time.
(3) BYOC-Bring your own cup!
At parties, people go through drinks like it ain’t no thang. Questions like “where did I leave my rum & coke?” and “Is this even my cup?” are usually treated with a simple answer: “Cut your losses. Pour another!” Unfortunately, these losses add up — quickly! — and all the resources that went into producing the temporary chalices were for naught. What’s more, depending on the material, one-time use cups can take anywhere from 50-450 years to decompose!
Why not challenge your guests to bring their own funkiest cup/mug/bowl and pledge monogamy to it for the night? At the very least, it would make for much more interesting toasts. At the end of the night your guests will either wash their cups and take them home (less work for you!) or make impromptu donations to your kitchenware collection. I’d raise a glass to that.
(4) Encourage Public Transit. Failing that, Organize Car Pools.
This one is a no-brainer. I know I don’t need to tell you how our gas-guzzling habits harm the atmosphere. If public transit is a viable option, encourage your guests to take the better way. If they are worried that transit will stop running before your party does, or that no one is driving to their corner of the city, let them sleep over (if you can). As for designated drivers, ask if they are willing to give someone else a lift. Ask the riders you match with them to pitch in some money for gas. Fair deal all ‘round!
(But it goes without saying that you shouldn’t let anyone get behind the wheel drunk.)
(5) Dim the lights, baby, but brighten up with LED
Natural daylight would be great!–if we weren’t night-owls. Luckily, harsh lighting isn’t popular at parties anyway. To save energy, turn off or dim most lights. Make things visible with eco-friendly candles (ex: pure bee’s wax or soy-based) in creative candle holders (like some of those jars you saved). I’ve also seen the charming idea of placing long-stemmed candles in beer bottles -appropriately, at a hidden gem called The Green Room. It’s a quirky way to instantly reuse some of those empties.
If you’re nervous around flames, create a magical atmosphere with light-emitting-diode (LED) lights. When compared to conventional bulbs, these lights use 1/10th of the energy and last twice as long! Also, they do not get hot, so fret not about the fire hazard. LEDs are widely available at mainstream retailers (such as Canadian Tire) at reasonable prices.
(6) A little Flush goes a long way
One thing that’s virtually guaranteed at a party: a line-up to use the washroom. According to Environment Canada, every flush of the porcelain express uses 15-19 litres of water. That’s several litres that have been through the municipal filtration process, only to carry a relatively small stream of tinkle right back out to Lake Ontario.
If your toilet doesn’t have low flush mechanisms, there is an easy do-it-yourself method that anyone can complete in a few minutes! All you need is a plastic bottle, some sand/gravel, and a willingness to peak into your toilet tank. Step-by-step illustrated instructions are available at wikihow.com.
While we’re being potty mouths, let’s think about the accompanying toilet paper. According to Adria Vasil (a.k.a Now Magazine’s Ecoholic) if each household in Canada switched one roll of toilet paper from virgin-bleached to recycled, we’d collectively save about 48,000 trees and prevent 4,500 kgs of air and water pollution — with ONE roll. How many rolls do you go through at a party? And, seriously, considering its simple function, why does anyone need extra-fancy three-ply “cashmere”-like toilet paper anyway?
(7) Recycle, Reduce, Rejoice!
At most parties, there’s one option when it comes to waste: a huge black garbage bag sitting somewhere out-of-the-way. Give your guests some better options by setting up clear recycling/compost/garbage containers in one area. Aim to make the garbage can the last resort. Go ahead and stick a sign on it (ex: “I’m on a diet: Please don’t feed me unless you absolutely have to”) or variation thereof. Also, designate a space for collecting empties and be sure to bring them back to the LCBO/Beer Store . You’ll not only earn a few bucks for your efforts but you’ll ensure that the materials make it to someone else’s happy hour.
(8) If they insist on bringing a gift for the host(ess)
Many people were raised with the idea that it’s polite to bring a small token of appreciation to the host. That said, they may try to figure out what you might like to receive. If they insist you give them clues, suggest one of the following items:
- Locally produced/organic wine
- Eco-friendly/fair trade substitutes of staples like chocolate or coffee
- A small plant instead of a dead bouquet
- Something unwrapped or responsibly wrapped in recycled paper/placed in a reusable gift bag/or even simply cloaked in newspaper! A surprise is a surprise, skip the bells and whistles.
You can insist that “re-gifting” and thrift gifts are cool by you. Something lightly-used may end up being exactly what you need.
(9) As long as you’re telling them to BYOC, why not show solidarity and DYOD?
Yes, doing your own dishes instead of using plastic can be a pain–but if Terry Fox could undertake a cross country marathon at the age of 22, you can get your hands soapy. Offer up your own plates and utensils and you’ll be diverting a significant amount of waste from the landfill. If you are hand-washing try not to run the tap continuously; also, look for earth-friendly dish soap.
If using an electric dishwasher, make sure you’re doing full loads, and using the shortest cycle possible. Also check if you have a conserver/water-saver cycle. Long after the dishes are done, the feeling of accomplishment will linger.
(10) Use those captions for some grassroots awareness-raising
We all know the maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words. If you’ve had trouble explaining the benefits of going green, why not show people in images? If and when you post the party pictures–on Flickr or Facebook, etc–make sure you mention your eco-efforts in the captions. Drawing attention to these differences will get others thinking about how they can enjoy themselves more ethically.
You may be more inspiring than you think.
A version of this article was originally published in the February 2009 issue of MacMedia magazine