Create Less Waste During Holiday Gatherings and Parties

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The holiday season is here, and in the coming weeks many of us will be gathering with our friends, family, and loved ones to celebrate the holidays and ring in the New Year. It’s a season full of joy, laughter, food, drink and…well, trash.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day Americans generate an additional one million tons of trash each week. That’s enough trash to cover the entire area of Los Angeles County, Ventura County, and Orange County each week. All this additional waste takes up space in the landfill, pollutes our soil, air and water, and generates greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to half the cars in Los Angeles County driving on the road for an entire year.

When thinking about all the events we organize and attend during the holiday season, there are many ways to reduce our negative impact on the environment without sacrificing the quality, style and feel of the party or event. Here are a few tips to help you during this holiday season:

THINK ABOUT YOUR MATERIALS

When you’re planning any sort of gathering, think about where each item you purchase will go at the end of its life. Is that serving tray reusable, recyclable, or compostable? Can you donate or gift those decorations after the event? Will those disposable plastic cups end up in the landfill? If so, think about using more sustainable or reusable alternatives. For example, set out glass pitchers of water and reusable glasses instead of single-use plastic water bottles. Not only is the glass option much more attractive, but it will save a significant amount of resources and minimize the waste your event produces.

DITCH THE DISPOSABLES

Roughly 10 percent of all the discards in the U.S. landfill system are single-use disposable items, including disposable plates, cups, utensils, and bags. These items are used only for a few minutes or even a few seconds before being thrown in the trash. Even worse, plastic can take anywhere from 400-700 years to break down and about 32 percent of all single-use plastics don’t even make it to the landfill. Instead, these items end up in our oceans, where they pollute the marine environment and harm aquatic species.

Consider using reusable plates, glasses and utensils for your parties and events this season. Not only are they more elegant than disposables, but you will be reducing the amount of waste your party generates, as well as conserving all the resources and energy that would have been consumed in order to produce those items in the first place. If you don’t have enough plates, utensils or glasses for your party, think about renting or borrowing them, or head over to the local second-hand store to find whatever you’re missing. Mismatching plates and silverware can add to the aesthetics of your decor and serve as a conversation piece at the table. You can even use this opportunity to share with your guests the ways in which you’re reducing the environmental impact of your event.

FOOD WASTE AND SCRAPS

Food waste is often the largest volume of discards that end up in the landfill after any event. In the U.S., about 40 percent of the total amount of food produced is wasted; this means that all the water, labor, energy, land, and other resources that it took to produce that food is also wasted. Additionally, when food ends up in the landfill it generates methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

This year, plan for the accurate amount of food your guests will consume. Save The Food has a party calculator to help you plan your meals with the correct amount in mind. They also have a great food storage online resource for learning how to properly store food in order to avoid spoilage.

In addition, check with your waste hauler to find out if they will allow you to put food scraps in your green yard waste bin. This will enable you to divert all your food and organic waste from the landfill and in the process create compost, a beneficial soil amendment that improves the health of our soil. If your waste hauler doesn’t allow it, request that they provide this service and find out if they have any plans to implement a program in the future. You may also be able to find a local food waste drop-off location near you, such as a farmer’s market or a drop-off hub through LA Compost.

PLAN AHEAD FOR CLEAN-UP

Many hosts end up trashing everything at the end of an event because it feels quick and easy. Instead, think about using a designated three-bin system during the event which includes recycling, food scraps, and compostable materials, and landfill. This zero-waste system can be placed in your kitchen, in the back of the event space, or even in a location accessible to your guests. Not only will you save yourself time and effort sorting at the end of the event, but it will significantly minimize the amount of waste you generate.

Widespread change begins with us as individuals. I hope you will take the opportunity during this holiday season to think about the ways in which you can do things differently. Our future on this planet and the future of our children and grandchildren depends on the actions that we take today.

Simone Paz is a sustainable living and zero waste event consultant in Los Angeles, CA. She works with individuals, businesses, and communities to reduce their negative impact on the environment and align their lifestyles with their personal and environmental values. She is an accredited LEED Green Associate through the U.S. Green Building Council, a Climate Reality Leader, a Global Green Eco-Ambassador, and has a California State certification in Recycling and Resource Management.

For more information: simone@restorativehome.com; www.restorativehome.com

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