Right now, as much as I love the holidays, it’s hard to think that far ahead. Autumn temperatures have been summer-warm–beyond any fall lover’s fantasy. On these blissful, balmy afternoons, I am picking raspberries, cutting roses. Yes, way up north in Wisconsin.
If things were more seasonal… frost tipping our still-green grasses… or dreary nights mixing rain with snow, I might be thinking of Thanksgiving. Even Christmas.
But, as an upcoming cool down foretells…the holidays are coming. And we must prepare.
I am giving at least one holiday party. And I’m going to make it green. Here are some tips for green holiday parties (mostly food-centric–any surprise about that?) that I’ve used in the past.
10 Tips for Green Holiday Parties
1. If gifts are exchanged, consider using gift bags, which are reusable, instead of gift wrap. You can even turn old store bags to holiday themed, with a scissors, gift wrap and a glue stick.
2. Eat Local/Socially Responsible. Did you know that local produce travels, an average of 56 miles, while non-local does a crazy 1494 mile trek? Even worse, one blogger‘s local Pacific Northwest crab was sent to China, extracted from the shell then shipped back again for a 8000 mile round trip.
Even as a dedicated locavore, however, I am not giving up my coffee or chocolate. But when I can’t buy something local, I try to buy from producers who didn’t exploit laborers or damage the environment. So I look for certifications like Fair Trade and Organic.
3. Serve water from a pitcher with lemon and glasses. Water is a healthy and popular beverage, but bottled water is hardly green. I was worried about this, but our guests at that 45 person party were even happier drinking filtered water with lemon. I just assigned a daughter to water (and lemon slice) refill duty.
4. Cook Efficiently. The cooking process can also be made more efficient. Resist peeking in the oven as your dishes bake (really, elves have not stolen your roast). Skip preheating if your recipe doesn’t really require it (baked goods usually do; meats and veggies usually don’t) and extend cooking time for a few minutes as needed (and in reality, the recipe cooking time is rarely exact). Consider using a smaller appliance like a toaster oven or a roaster which may cook using less energy. For stovetop cooking, put covers on saucepans to keep heat in the pans—kind of like wearing a hat outdoors in the winter ;-).
5. Turn the thermostat down a few degrees before beginning your prep work. Cooking and cleaning activities like vacuuming or washing dishes can heat up the house, as can a house full of guests. And starting with a lower temperature may be more comfortable if you are cooking over a hot stove!
6. Consider buying a keg of beer. There is a big party I give every few years where almost everyone drinks the same beer. The next time it’s my turn to host again, I will seriously consider a quarter barrel. For a smaller event that I am doing this year, I may look at a smaller “pony” size. It is especially green if you have (or can borrow) enough glasses.
7. Take advantage of decorations that are free, reusable and/or compostable. A hardy mum plant can go from party decoration to a yard plant (if the ground isn’t frozen yet). Greens from the yard or the bottom of the Christmas tree, can make beautiful arrangements. If you need to dispose of plants or flowers that you don’t want in the main compost due to pesticide concerns, consider letting them decompose naturally under the shaggy bush in your yard.
8. Use Cloth Napkins. I’ve been picking up cloth napkins at second hand stores for home use and parties. If you are crafty, you can even make your own (I tried this, and am clearly not crafty…). My daughter believes that everyone should use their jeans as a napkin, but I think cloth napkins are a better idea.
9. Compost party waste—I did this successfully at a good sized party (approximately 45 people) recently. We had enough flatware for everyone, but not enough dishes, so I bought compostable paper plates. With proper signage, the entire group managed to successfully drop the flatware in a dishpan, the cans & bottles in the recycling bin and the plates and (most) leftover food in the compostable bin. We discarded just a small amount of non-compostable garbage like gift wrap and buffalo wing bones. My oldest took the initiative to “bin check” and readjusted contents as needed (which helped people stay on track), but this was really very little effort.
In the past, compostable paper plates required a “commercial” composter but this is (usually) no longer true. Our grocery store Hefty brand compostable plates successfully decomposed in our home bin–and believe me our compost heap is not hot so it’s a great test! Just look for a statement that the dishes are home compostable.
10. Green your leftovers. Skip the plastic wrap and store your leftovers in Pyrex or other reusable storage containers. Leftovers leaving your house can go in washed cottage cheese containers or even empty spaghetti sauce jars. I even recently sent muffins home in reused Lindt chocolate bags! Set containers aside ahead of time so you are prepared.
Going green doesn’t mean having any less fun! Happy holiday planning everyone!