How to Host a Waste-Free, Budget-friendly Holiday Party

The holidays are about getting together and spending time with loved ones, but more often than not, these festive get-together can create a lot of garbage. Did you know that during and after the holiday season there is a 50 to 75 per cent increase in the amount of material received at Calgary’s waste and recycling facilities? That’s well over 100 truckloads a day.

Hosting a zero-waste party may seem easy with many simple and obvious answers such as: using your own, reusable dishes, decorating with natural items or offering cloth napkins instead of paper. All are great solutions, but for many of us these options may not be accessible or realistic. Not everyone has two dozen or more wine glasses, plates, cloth napkins or utensils. And most of us don’t have the extra funds to buy such supplies! So, how can one host a waste-free party, without buying new or breaking the bank?

To help you reduce your waste (and stay within budget) over the holidays, here are some new, unique and creative tips to make sure your party is fun, festive, and free of garbage.

1. Include your guests in the preparations

As a host, you know guests will ask “What can I bring?” And all too often, a host’s polite reply will be, “Oh nothing, just yourself!”. Because a good host is one who does everything, right? We have all been in the situation where we don’t have enough glassware, cutlery, plates, or cloth napkins, forcing us into a situation where we have to consider buying the dreaded disposables! Eeek!!  To avoid this why not try one of the following solutions:

  • The Party Supplies Wish List: Create a list of all the things you need for the party from dinnerwares to decorations. Then when you get asked, “What can I bring”, share the list with your guests so see if they can cross off an item! You never know which of your friends has giant stack of wine glasses in storage!
  • The BYO___ Party : Another approach to a lack of party hosting supplies is to make it a BYO Theme party. Ask each guests to BYO wine glass/plate/cutlery/napkin/favourite decoration!

Giving your guests a unique, and meaningful way to help you will make them feel like they’re helping co-host and have a sense of pride in seeing it all come together. This will also boost that feeling of coming together over the holidays.

2. Plan ahead and adjust your menu

The food, drinks and snacks you chose to serve can have a huge impact on the amount of waste your party makes. By planning and adjusting your menu you can not only reduce the amount of dishes that need to be used and then later washes, you can reduce the amount of food that might be thrown out and reduce the amount of effort you have to put into it!

  • Planning Makes Perfect. Sit down and plan your menu. Chose items that you know can be purchased unpackaged like items in the produce section or the bulk aisle.
  • Finger foods for the win! By serving foods that your guests can simple grab with their hand, you automatically reduce the amount of utensils, plates or bowls that are needed.
  • But Warm Foods are so much better! If you just must serve a warm, comforting appetizer think it through. Chose recipes that are simple, quick and not processed (processed typically means plastic packaging).
  • Make the “Serving-ware” Edible. Serve dips and sauces or recipes that guests can scoop up with chips, veggies, buns or pitas.
  • Yes, Finger Foods need Napkins! When it comes to napkins, offer cloth napkins if you have them. Guests will take one and will typically keep their own napkins throughout the evening.
    If you don’t own cloth napkins, make them! Re-purpose old towels or t-shirts by cutting them into a unique selection cloth napkins. Stick-em in a jar and label it!
    If cloth napkins aren’t an option for you and you must supply paper napkins, only put enough out for 1 paper napkin per guest and let your guests know! No one wants to be that guy who takes several napkins when there’s really only one per person available.

In addition to the food menu, be sure to plan your drink menu.

  • Serve a Signature Cocktail. Offer only one signature cocktail to your guests, serve it in a large dispenser or bowl. This pre-mixed drink will reduce the need for multiple drink mixes like orange juice, pineapple juice, coke, sprite, eggnog, ginger ale, etc.
  • Growlers and Kegs! Calgary’s brewery scene is growing and most of them have growler refills at a decent price so you can offer your guests delicious, waste-free, local beer! Or consider getting a keg. Kegs are also a fantastic option to reduce the number of cans and bottles your party produces.

Remind your guests to reuse there glass, supply glass markers so they can write their name on the side.

3. Get creative with what you already own.

The holidays are always full of sparkle and fun partly because of the decorations we like to put up, but a lot of these decorations that we use are made of plastic and created to only be used once. Before going out on a huge decoration shopping spree consider the following options:

  • Use what you have. Take an inventory of what you already own for decor. Most of us have a box or bin stowed away in the garage or their basement filled with ole garland and tinsel. Make sure all of these decorations are put out first.
  • Re-Create with your decorations. Are some of the tree ornaments not going on the tree this year? Hang those extra ornaments and christmas balls from your curtain rod above your window or on along a stair raling.
  • Everyday items with a Holiday Feel. if you still feel you need to add a little something start looking around your house you’ll be surprised how some things may be just right to help decorate. Use pretty scarves in your closet to drape over side tables. Tie old ribbon around a jar and put a candle inside.
  • Bring the Outdoors IN. Something as simple as a few pinecones in a vase can look really nice.
  • Food for Thought. Oranges adorned with cloves in a silver bowl, not only make the room smell festive, they add a little colour to the table (plus you can still eat the orange). Cinnamon sticks tied in a bunch with a ribbon can also add some nice scents.
  • Go Back to Step 1. Ask your guests to help decorate by bringing extra decorations to fill the space!

4. Re-Gift and Re-Use

We all know gifts are a huge part of the holiday season. Reducing the waste associated with gift-giving can be difficult, so why not try some of these ideas:

  • White Elephant Gift Exchange. Have your guests bring an item they have in their home already, they are not to buy something new. It is usually something a person doesn’t need or want or have any use for. This is rather entertaining as you never know what kind of random gifts people may bring!  Follow the rules of this typical group gift exchange.
  • RE-Gifting is not that rude. There is this idea that re-gifting a gift you received is rude. But if you get something that is absolutely of no use to you, but perfect for someone else, why not re-gift it. This saves a lot of time, money and waste!
  • Wrap it up, with love not garbage. When considering how to wrap your gift think of ways that won’t create waste. Use a pretty cloth or scarf. Re-use packing paper that came with your recent online shopping! Or simple, re-use that gift bag that you received a gift in.
  • Don’t Gift, Donate! A truly waste-free gift is giving a donation. Have your guests bring donations of money, food, or even warm winter wears to donate to your favourite charity or nonprofit

Using these hosting ideas will not only save you money, time and stress, it can bring you back to what the holiday season should really be about. You will spend less time stressing about how much money you are spending or if you have checked of all the people on your gift list, while spending more time connecting with the ones you love.

Wishing you the happiest of holiday seasons this year! If you are looking for a little more inspiration and direction on how to have a waste-free, plastic-free holiday, come to our Plastic-Free Holiday Mixer and Fundraiser on December 1st. We will show you first hand how to gift wrap with cloth, make your own up-cycled gift bags and help you create unique decorations to take home! 

~ Briana

Published by


I'm a passionate environmentalist at heart. Striving to create a difference in my community and in my home to make the world just a little bit better.