Throwing a Party with Less Plastic
A healthier way to eat cake, drink beer, and celebrate
Parties are always great. You get to see friends, have a good time, and figure out how to eat delicious food off a paper plate while not spilling whatever may be in your cup. While the chips, cake, and booze may not be the healthiest, there are other things you might not be thinking about that harm our health. The biggest offender at parties usually is all the plastic. The plastic cups, the plastic utensils, the fun table cloths with Yoda's face on them are all made of plastic.
While there are many reasons to avoid plastic - it's not good for the world, it requires oil to make, it's hard to recycle if there has been food on it - one that people often don't usually think of is that single-use plastic can affect our health, both immediately and long term. The chemicals in the plastic cups, or even used to make paper cups and plates oil and water resistant, can easily seep into food and drinks. As it does that, it gets into our bodies as we consume the fun party foods and can interfere with the ways cells communicate with our bodies. This interference has been shown in various research projects to lead to things like obesity, fertility problems, temperature disregulation, and even cancers (1).
We are never going to be completely free from plastic. It's everywhere, and for certain things, it's really convenient and necessary. But, it isn't necessary as often as we normally use it. And, one way to lower the risk of health problems and send a message to companies that create unnecessary plastic waste at the same time is to buy and use fewer plastic products or products with excessive plastic packaging.With a few simple swaps, you can make the party healthier for your guests (and yourself) by limiting the amount of plastic you use:
- Choose recyclable and reusable decorations, like flowers, string lights, cloth, and paper decorations. Or, make your own decorations with reclaimed, reused, or repurposed materials. You can make garlands from scrap paper or fabric, turn old wine bottles into candlestick holders, or use mason jars for just about anything from vases, to cups, to votive holders.
- Choose fabric or paper bunting or garland (which can be easily found on Etsy, or made at home).
- Skip the balloons, especially the shiny foil ones. Paper lanterns or tissue paper honeycomb balls make a good substitute.
Food and Drinks
- Bring reusable cloth bags with you when you go shopping for party supplies.
- Use real plates, cups, and flatware if possible, then wash them in the dishwasher after the party. If you don't want to wash dishes, serve things people can easily pop in their mouths over a napkin. We're thinking jalapeno poppers, meatballs, and mini-toasts.
- If you don't have enough plates, cups, etc. for everyone at the party, opt for compostable options like waxed or untreated paper, bamboo, or sugarcane plates, cups, and cutlery. Be sure to look for options that say they are PFAS free. Clay-coated options are also safe. (2)
- Go straw free! Plastic straws are definitely an example of unnecessary single use plastic. If you are very pro-straw, choose paper straws which can be composted (and are super instagramable). Stainless steel, glass, and silicone straws that can be used over and over are other good options, but more expensive and come in smaller packages.
- Send leftovers home with people on compostable plates wrapped in foil instead of in plastic bags. Better yet, ask people to bring their own containers for leftovers. Promote glass or stainless steel containers over plastic ones.
- If it's a potluck, ask people to bring food on real plates/serving trays instead of plastic trays.
- Instead of bottled water, or soda, consider making large containers of iced tea, lemonade, juice, or even water with fruit in it. Wine or beer often come in glass bottles, so you are good on that front!
- Set up clearly marked recycling, trash, and compost (if available in your neighborhood) bins. Help people by listing what can go in each.
Now that you are armed with tips, go party!
1) Mannikam M, Tracey R et al. Plastics Derived Endocrine Disruptors (BPA, DEHP and DBP) Induce Epigenetic Transgenerational Inheritance of Obesity, Reproductive Disease and Sperm Epimutations. PLOS One. January 24, 2013.
2) Responsible Purchasing Network/Center for Environmental Health. Webinar Slides: Toxic Chemicals in Disposable Food Service Ware. October 17, 2017.