zero waste party planning must-haves

Mike and I hosted a New Year’s Eve party this year and I really wanted to make sustainability a priority.

It wasn’t a huge party, but we had around 15 people. Before I went straight to the store to buy disposable items, I wrote a list to see what I needed, and if/how I could buy them secondhand.

Here are a few must-haves I thought I’d need for my sustainable party:


Once I looked at what I already had in my cupboard and rummaged through my mom’s pantry, I made a list of what I still needed and headed straight to my closest thrift shop.


Secondhand stores can have some killer items for dirt cheap. Check out these beautiful linen napkins I found at Goodwill and another secondhand store near me! I also got the tablecloth there, too.

Finding linens at some thrift stores might be a little bit more difficult than it would be to find something simple like a gray sweater. Often the linen section isn’t well labeled, so you might have to ask an employee if/where they sell linens.

Most of these napkins were between $0.25-$1.00 per napkin.

What’s great about using linen napkins is once they get used, you simply throw them in the wash and can use them for years.

Same goes for plates, cups and flatware. I don’t have a dishwasher, which would’ve made clean-up much easier. But even so, it wasn’t too bad! A few extra minutes of labor on my end was worth it so I could use less plastic.



Since I’m on a pretty serious budget, when throwing a party, I ask guests to bring something along with them. I’ll usually ask them to bring a side dish or drink of some sort.

Luckily, if you’re going to have alcohol at your party, beer comes in cans and bottles, and wine and liquor usually come in glass. So that shouldn’t be a problem for you.

If you are looking for non-alcoholic drinks, consider making a large juice/punch recipe that is already pre-made when guests arrive. Also, opt for cans of pop or sparkling water rather than liters.

For food, stick with simple things. You can make a large amount of buffalo chicken dip or a vegan alternative. You can make pico de gallo for cheap or make/order pizza — who doesn’t love pizza? (AND pizza comes in a cardboard box!)

If you want to provide all the food and beverages, maybe ask everyone to bring $5-10 to contribute to the party! That way, you can ensure everything you have is plastic-free or recyclable and you won’t break your budget.


I made a composting and recycling sign at my party to help my friends remember what to do. Some people aren’t apt to recycle when they’re done using an aluminum can and some folks don’t think to compost their scraps if they haven’t finished their food.

It’s helpful to provide easy visuals to remind your friends and family to recycle and compost! Make it even easier by drawing a picture and writing exactly what you can/can’t recycle or compost. And draw arrows/describe where your recycling and compost bins are. I used left over brown paper bags I had from my wedding last spring and used tacks to hold them in place on the wall instead of plastic tape.

It might sound excessive, but small reminders really can make a difference!



Instead of opting for plastic plates and flatware, consider getting a compostable option — check out Amazon. Or sometimes Target and Walmart have some pretty decent eco-friendly options, too. Search around!

Or, if you’re having a fancier party like a wedding or bridal shower, consider renting plates and flatware from a local party rental shop. Sometimes it’s cheaper than buying your own, other times it’s more expensive.

Price out your options!

If you’re planning a wedding I have more specific ideas on the “our wedding” page — you can check that out here.

How do you plan a party zero waste style? I’d love to hear your tips!

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