No one loves a good dinner party more than we do: Friends, wine(s!), dreamy tablescapes, and delicious food—count us in; we’ve already RSVP’d “heck yes!” But there’s no denying the amount of waste that occurs during your standard evening with friends. From the flowers to the food, every step of the way incurs a level of wastefulness we’re only beginning to understand. Fear not, as there are plenty of simple changes that will not only reduce your carbon footprint and waste but also save you money. Here is your guide to throwing the dinner party of the future: a zero-waste celebration.
While we love a planned seating arrangement, skip the wasteful place cards and let your guests sit wherever they desire. Or if you really love selecting seats for your guests, get creative with place card alternatives. Write their name on leftover holiday ribbon tied up in a bow or emboss their names on a leather bookmark they’ll keep forever. Another option: Write names on a bottle of wine or olive oil, which also act as a parting gift.
Opt for linen napkins instead of paper, advises Laura Baross of Design W Care. She suggests Coyuchi, which make napkins and table liners that are reusable, certified organic, and look luxe. If you don’t have enough silverware for the number of guests, Baross says to peruse vintage shops for one-of-a-kind options. Or use a service like Table + Teaspoon, which lets you seamlessly rent an entire tablescape setting for an evening.
Nothing sets the mood like an array of candles, but did you know that the paraffin in some candles is a type of petroleum that can create toxic fumes in the air when burned? Pass on the potentially harmful effects by lighting up some sustainable, paraffin-free candles. Baross likes using Good Light Candle tapers on her tablescapes with vintage candlesticks.
Before you run to IKEA to grab a few extra chairs or small tables just for this occasion, consider renting furniture—yes, renting. Clever new companies, like Feather, Kamarq, and old-school institution Lost and Found, offer chic furniture and storage solutions for single-night rentals.
What is a dinner party without some blooms? Instead of grabbing a hefty bouquet, try small potted plants that guests can take home with them afterward. Or Baross suggests asking a flower shop to purchase flower scraps (which sounds bleak, but they look anything but), like greens and bulbs. While they may not be professional arrangement–worthy, they still look great and make for a more minimalist table arrangement.
Food is a major issue when it comes to waste. Around 35 to 50 percent of all food produced (more than $160 billion worth) is thrown away. Creating less waste when purchasing food is amazing, but utilizing traditionally wasted food items takes a zero waste dinner party another step further.
A lot of food waste happens long before it hits the market—up to half of fruits and vegetables can be discarded at farms, often due to overly stringent cosmetic standards. We’re talking misshapen carrots and larger-than-usual apples—that’s all it can take to make the “trash” pile. The other aspect of waste is the amount of time food sits around waiting to spoil, whether it’s in warehouses, stores, or wasting away in fridges at home.
There are a few incredible stores and brands that are fighting food waste by offering perfectly imperfect produce and package-free services. Try grabbing your groceries at places like Precycle in Bushwick, which exclusively sells “ugly” produce. If you want it to come to your door and you live in Brooklyn, try The Wally Shop, which will deliver organic, package-free groceries; if you live in the Northeast, Misfits Market will provide a similar service.
Chef and cofounder of Plant People, Gabe Kennedy loves utilizing “ugly” produce for dinner parties in particular. For a casual breadboard appetizer, he grabs almonds, pickles, olives, bread, olive oil, and vinegar in bulk from the local store or food co-op (just bring your own containers, like mason jars to cut down on plastics). He lays out the assortment on plates of differing sizes along the tables for guests to nibble on as they’d like.
For the main meal, Kennedy gets creative with presentation. For a recent “zero waste” party, he polished a 15-foot cedar plank he had lying around and topped it with lettuce greens and bruised produce, like carrots, beets, leeks, and celery from The Wally Shop. He slow-cooked the produce off-cuts, like onion skins, carrot greens, old garlic, and leek stalks, in a big pot to make a flavor-filled veggie broth with the salad course.
How you dispose of food scraps is nearly just as important as how you obtained them. Save any leftovers in a reusable stainless-steel or glass container. Then scrape all plates clean of food debris to compost. The EPA has a guide to composting for those curious about where to start.
Part of the trouble of using cloth napkins and tablecloths are the enviable stains that occur, but fear not, as there is such a thing as “sustainable laundering.” Sisters Theresa and Corinna Williams of the popular Williamsburg laundromat Celsious have some Earth-friendly suggestions.
They recommend tending to a stain as soon as it appears, but you won’t need any pricey products or tools. “You don’t need any harsh chemicals, just a little white vinegar, baking/washing soda, and vegetable soap,” the sisters say. The key to defeating stains is to fight like with like—that means using white vinegar on acidic stains from coffee, tea, or fruits; oil-based soap bars (they like the ones from Meliora) for grease stains; and an oxygen brightener (the ones from Sonett are great) for red wine stains. They also swear by using a bamboo toothbrush, like the one from the Package Free Shop, to work soaps and brighteners into the fabric.
To clean linens without an egregious stain, the sisters suggest washing them using the cold cycle setting to save energy and preserve the fabric’s fibers. They also prefer a lower dryer temperature and using dryer balls instead of single-use dryer sheets.
Beyond that, have fun, do your best, and party on. These tips are meant to help encourage you and your guests to make little changes in your lives that will add up to big things.