The holiday party season has officially arrived. You're planning on hosting this year, but realize that along with everything else, it's time to green your end-of-year celebration. We asked Somer Huntley, who helps organize "waste-free" events for the environmental non-profit Rainforest Action Network (RAN), for tips. Here are her suggestions on how you can make your party better for your guests and the planet.
Paper-free Evites are one eco-friendly way to go, but if you feel like sending invitations the old-fashioned way, Huntley suggests using invitations made from recycled paper and printed with soy-based ink, or "plantable" cards; made of compostable paper and plant seeds, your guests stick the card in soil and add water, and sometime in the new year a sweet reminder of your party will pop up in the form of wildflowers or a mini spruce tree.
If you live in a part of town served by public transportation, include your stop on the invite so your guests can reduce their carbon footprint by taking a bus or subway.
From the huge sit-down dinners she helps organize for RAN to the more intimate parties she hosts in her San Francisco home, Huntley always spends the biggest part of her budget on organic, locally grown food. If you plan to have your party catered, she suggests looking for an organic-focused company. In the Bay Area, she uses the Berkeley-based Back to Earth.
As the green movement has grown in recent years, so have the number of organic wine and spirit producers. Huntley recommends carbon-neutral Parducci Wine Cellars, known for its 2006 Pinot Noir; Frey Vineyards, the oldest organic winery in the country and maker of an award-winning 2005 Syrah; and Wild Hog Vineyard, the small, organic producer of a popular 2004 estate-bottled Zinfandel.
If you're on the east coast, keep in mind that European wine has a lower carbon footprint than those from California and even further away New Zealand and Australia. Appellation Wine & Spirits in Manhattan sells organic and biodynamic wines and ships to most states.
Instead of bottled beer, Huntley either brews her own or rents a keg from her local microbrewery. If you opt for bottles or cans, set up a recycling station before your guests arrive, and stock up on local or organic brews. Vermont-based Otter Creek Brewery makes a seasonal Winter Ale that is available throughout the Northeast. Organic beer from California's Eel River Brewery is distributed throughout the west. And in the midwest, Lakefront Brewery in Wisconsin produces an organic Extra Special Bitter Ale.
And finally, instead of bottled water, forgo the plastic and serve filtered tap water.
For RAN's big events, Huntley rents tables, linens and cutlery which will be reused by the party rental company. For smaller house parties, Huntley suggests using your own plates, glassware and utensils. If you don't have enough for the crowd or don't feel like dealing with a sink-full of post-party dishes, you can order compostable plates, cups, napkins and utensils from www.worldcentric.org.
Keep it simple, and look for things you can reuse. Since many of the fresh cut flowers sold in the U.S. are grown using chemicals and fertilizers that can find their way into ground water, Huntley opts for plants, such as ferns, as table centerpieces. They're better for the planet, and if you're feeling generous they can also be gifts your guests can take home. You can also order guilt-free flowers from Organic Bouquet, which has a special holiday line that includes sustainably grown calla lilies and fragrant wreaths made of rosemary and bay leaves.
If your friends and family happen to be readers, a book exchange is an easy, green and cheap way to make sure everyone goes home with something new (to them anyway). If you'd prefer to give to the less fortunate, request that your guests bring canned or packaged food to donate to a local food bank, or take up a cash collection for your favorite cause or organization like Heifer International, which arranges for you to buy animals from llamas to guinea pigs for families in need in developing countries.
From party scraps to those compostable plates, instead of dumping party leftovers into a landfill, Huntley composts all plant matter so that it can break down into a nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer. If you're not already composting at home and would like to reduce your amount of garbage by about a third, visit a site like www.howtocompost.org to learn how. If you'd prefer to just get rid of the stuff, donate it to a local nursery or garden center with a compost pile.
RAN's event planner Somer Huntley (right) with Executive Drector Michael Brune and Events Coordinator Katie Steele at a party in New York.
Story by Emily Brady. This article originally appeared in Plenty in November 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.