5 Tips for Throwing a Zero-Waste Party

This past Saturday, I served tea and baked goodies at my friend Todd’s piano recital. With the holidays coming up, I thought I would share the simple things I did to reach (practically) zero-waste while plying a crowd with treats.

1. Plan ahead

Although I don’t need to worry much about food waste when I bake (I can easily find volunteer eaters), planning ahead does reduce excess. I first figured out what to bake for about 100 people, and settled on a few different types of cookies and gluten-free brownies (I knew many people attending would want this latter option). Some people would eat nothing, while others would eat two or three cookies, so I decided to bake roughly 100 items. If I didn’t sell them all, I could freeze them.

baked collage

I settled on chocolate chip cookies, coconut macaroons, shortbread cookies and flourless brownies. Finding a good gluten-free brownie recipe almost sent me over the edge. The first recipe I tested turned out too dry. The second one—with black beans—tasted absolutely fantastic, but yielded a cake which would have required plates and forks. I wanted to keep things simple. The third recipe turned out well (people raved about it) but I did end up using parchment paper. I could not have possibly removed these sticky brownies from the pan without parchment. At least I used the same pieces for both batches before (gulp) throwing it out.

Update 12/13/17: This parchment paper is compostable in a home composter.

2. Shop with glass jars and reusable cloth bags

zero waste shopping

I always bring glass jars and homemade cloth bags for bulk bins shopping. Stores vary in how they weigh the jars (you don’t want to pay for the weight of the jar in addition to the weight of the food). At some stores, before filling up, you weigh the jars yourself and mark the tare on them. At others, customer service will weigh the jars for you. The cashier will then deduct the weight of the jar when ringing you up. At a few stores, the cashiers have no clue and will look at you as though you have completely lost your mind.

I bought bulk organic ingredients: flour, sugar, shredded coconut, fair trade chocolate chips, black beans which I didn’t use for this after all, Earl Grey tea bags and chai tea bags. In a perfect world, I would have bought loose-leaf tea and brewed it in multiple tea pots, but I wanted to make this day a little easier. The used tea bags went in the compost at the end of the day.

I buy my eggs from the farmer’s market and my egg lady accepts the cartons back for reuse. The organic non-homogenized milk did have a small plastic seal around the lid. And the paper wrapped around the organic pastured butter—which I refuse to give up—did wind up in the trash. But that’s still minimal trash. The paper box wound up in recycling. (I rarely recycle as I rarely buy packaged food.)

I used my homemade vanilla in the recipes. I set out a few bottles for sale and touted it as my secret ingredient. I actually sold one of the large bottles!

3. Opt for reusables


I sewed nearly 100 cloth napkins for the day and handed people their food on them. This practical solution to serving the goodies cut down on waste. The napkins turned out nicely and a couple of people asked if they could buy them. I said sure! I also used ceramic mugs and metal spoons rather than wasteful disposables.

4. Borrow what you need

cups and spoons

I live in an intentional community and borrowed table cloths and lots of mugs from our community kitchen. I also borrowed a pile of stuff from the church affiliated with the community: a hot water dispenser, two cold water dispensers, spoons and baskets to hold food and other items. (I don’t belong to the church. I don’t have a problem with it but as a recovering Catholic, I cannot bring myself to join any church.)

5. Do what you can in advance

A couple of weeks ago, I began to test gluten-free recipes and I began to cut out and sew napkins. The week of, I finished my napkins, shopped and picked up borrowed items. I cannot lie and tell you everything took only a bit more work than buying trays of food from a bakery and boxes of coffee from Starbucks. But of course, store-bought cannot compare with homemade (especially considering the quality ingredients I use!). The food tasted delicious, people seemed inspired by the effort and I really enjoyed planning and preparing for this. Besides, I needed food to match the quality entertainment (not that my baking skills come anywhere near Todd’s musical skills). And Todd played beautifully as always! He’s incredibly talented. Check out the program.

The trash bin tally for the entire event: two pieces of parchment paper; 9 pieces of wax paper wrapping from butter quarters. I guess the food tasted pretty good, because no one threw any of that out either 🙂

39 Replies to “5 Tips for Throwing a Zero-Waste Party”

  1. Wonderful tips! Thanks!

    1. Thank you. I’m glad you found them useful 🙂

  2. oh well done you – we used to do a bit of catering for concerts etc at local community halls but I never ever got close to zero waste – and you are right there is no comparison the food you make respectfully with love and intent just tastes so much nicer than the other.
    I did like to use teapots and leaves with cosies – still do but it is much more of an effort .

    1. Thank you so much, Sandra. It was definitely worth the extra effort, and I completely agree, you can taste the difference when the food is made with love. I hope to do this again and I’ll try teapots with cosies. Thanks for the idea. I’m visiting my sister (a compulsive knitter) right now and she’s looking for something to knit 😉

  3. This is superb! More work I know but the whole feel was I imagine lovelier, as well as a lot classier, for having quality biscuits, tea and coffee in proper crockery and real napkins. Drinks always taste better out of a proper mug or glass than from paper or plastic. It annoys me so much that you have to fight in some establishments to get them to serve you in crockery! You have to admit, all those millennia of civilisation and yet we have plastic or paper cups foisted upon us…

    PS – I’ll be trying those coconut bites! The only recipe I have involves liquid glucose, which means a plastic tube and lots of hassle.

    1. Thank you! I usually bring my own cup with me to cafes not merely to reduce waste but also to avoid drinking out of paper cups with plastic lids (not very appetizing). I noticed at the recital that people enjoyed picking out a cup from the large, varied collection I had amassed.

      The macaroons were delicious and very simple. I found it best to mix them with my hand. I hope you like them 🙂

    2. Oh and the macaroons are the perfect recipe for the leftover egg whites from making aioli 😉

      1. Thank you. The feeling is mutual!

  4. I love that you guys had live music, too! I think we miss out sometimes when we isolate ourselves with ‘pods instead of enjoying a musical experience in community. Or any other artistic endeavor for that matter! (Baking is an art form, too, btw.) Thx for sharing!!!

    1. You’re welcome. Thanks for the comment 🙂 The music was amazing. Todd played classical in the first half and then Terry came out for a jazz set. I wish someone had recorded it, it sounded just awesome. The ‘pods are nice but I agree, they isolate us. Listening to a wonderful live performance, like this one, with an audience full of people is a thrill.

  5. Love this ! well done you. Hope you voted yourself a good (well deserved) rest afterwards.

    1. Thank you so much! I left directly from the recital for a vacation with my family 🙂

    1. Thank you! It was so much fun. I hope I can do it again soon.

  6. This is so fantastic! Love that you made your own napkins (and that people liked them so much they wanted to buy them)!

    What was on the recital program? What was the bassist playing (my husband is also a bassist)?

    1. Thank you!

      Todd played classical for the first half: Sonata no. 9 in D major, K. 311 and Sonata no. 14 in C minor, K. 457, both Mozart; then Debussy’s Claire du Lune. After intermission, the bassist came out and they played jazz together: a piece by Todd, followed by Time Marches on (Scofield); Mr. P.C. (Coltrane); Three Views of a Secret (Pastorius); and St. Thomas (Rollins). It was awesome!

      Your home must be constantly filled with music 🙂

  7. What an effort! Very impessive! I hope you found some helpers to wash your mugs afterward. 😀

    1. Thank you 🙂 I had lots of help taking everything down and transporting it home. I should have mentioned that in my post…

  8. Wow! Great tips, perhaps a new business venture- Zero Waste Chef Catering! Well done!

    1. Thank you 🙂 I would love that!

  9. […] for a challenge? “5 Tips for a Zero Waste Party” – Anne-Marie Bonneau, the “Zero Waste Chef”, shares ways you can host a […]

  10. Great website and thank you:)

  11. […] for a challenge? “5 Tips for a Zero Waste Party” – Anne-Marie Bonneau, the “Zero Waste Chef”, shares ways you can host a […]

  12. I need some help in this area, I am getting married this fall and would like t o have a minimal/zero waste wedding.

    1. Ooooh, that would be awesome. Well I think the key is to plan ahead, which I’m sure you’re doing a lot of right now. I’d be happy to give you lots of unsolicited advice if you want to hear it 😉

  13. I would love some advice on how to do this without overworking my friends and family in preparation. I LOVE the Idea of making my own cloth napkins, I was also planning on using my own mason jar collection as vases and drinking glasses. I have seen grow a note invitations (seed paper) you plant it when you are done. Your input would be very welcome.

    1. Those are all great ideas. Are you doing all of this yourself (i.e., making the food yourselves and getting married in your backyard) or having it catered at a big venue? Is it a big wedding?

      1. We have reserved an old barn that has been restored for events, it is inexpensive and next to the town park so kids can run off some energy. My unrevised guestlist is 70 people including 10 kids under 11years. Catering the groom wants his friend to do it but she has been slow to answer, she is a caterer specializing in Mexican food, but I am open to other ideas. We are ordering flowers but doing them ourselves, I am a florist. This maybe a stupid question can I rent plates and silverware? I don’t want to buy that many but I don’t want paper either. The wedding is in September and not a very formal event.

      2. Wow, that sounds beautiful! Absolutely, you can rent plates, cups, glasses, silverware, teapots, table cloths…all sorts of stuff. I looked into that for the recital but I really needed only 50 cups and some spoons and was able to borrow them. How about the little gift people usually give out. Are you going to do that? If so, you could do something in a mason jar, like food or a beeswax votive. I was thinking about wedding gifts. Cash is zero-waste :p I guess the big question is the food. But I think you can pull this off without too much hassle. You just need to think through the small details.

      3. As for gifts for the wedding party and mother’s I have no great ideas. As for my registry I feel weird about asking for money and my gift list is short kitchen aid mixer, 8 settings of silverware and a tea kettle maybe a couple new pans. We already have a house full of stuff and my taste is a bit more eccentric than what most big box type stores offer (I like vintage and antique finds)

      4. How about services for the wedding party for gifts? Like a day at the spa, or tickets to the symphony, theatre or a sporting event? I was wondering about the bridesmaid dresses. Would you consider having them rent from Rent the Runway?

        I know what you mean about the cash. You could also ask for unwrapped gifts or, again, services. Service-as-a-gift is my go-to solution for non-cluttering gift-giving 🙂

  14. ZWC, I just attended a non-ZW graduation open house. I will host one in 2 years. Do you have a post on the topic or will you work it in soon? Similar to a wedding reception…

    1. Hi Catherine. I haven’t written a post on that but I’ve added it to my list. Thanks for the suggestion. I think the biggest tip is to plan ahead. I find that a huge amount of waste can be avoided by planning ahead and googling for alternatives when you’re stumped. ~ ZWC

  15. Thanks for sharing your success story! We have a collection of 2nd hand plates/cups/cutlery/glasses from op shops that we lend out to friends for their parties, and of course we love using them for our “pizza nights”: BYO prechopped toppings & treats to share (homegrown/homemade whenever possible). We make the dough & sauce and everyone bakes their own masterpiece in the handcrafted wood-fired oven. I’d like to sponsor a cloth napkin-making busy bee with my friends—-sounds like another great way to recycle textiles!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      That all sounds like so much fun! I have a bunch of second-hand dishes for workshops and I like how they don’t exactly match. Somehow they all look good together. That’s a great idea to have a napkin-making busy bee. I like how you roll 😉

  16. […] on a road trip? Throwing a party? Starting a business? With a bit of planning, you can substantially reduce your plastic consumption […]

  17. Linda Practical Parsimony says: Reply

    You can use the butter papers to wipe butter in baking dishes before throwing away the paper.

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