I recently graduated from college and my undergraduate journey was a struggle at times (to say the least). I went into college unsure of what I wanted to study or what I wanted to do for a career, I’m sure this sounds familiar. I transferred twice before I fell in love with the journalism program at Rutgers. After 5 years and 3 schools, I learned so much about the world, other people and most importantly about myself. I met incredible professors, survived a few terrible ones, made great friends, finessed Shakespeare term papers, cried through math and I made it out alive! I graduated with honors so I wanted to celebrate with close friends and family but I didn’t want to have a party I would feel guilty about since I committed to doing my best to avoid single-use plastics a year ago. So I aligned my graduation party with my lifestyle values and threw a plastic-free party.
This is a guide for anyone who is trying to be environmentally friendly in today's plastic world. Even the smallest changes can have a profound positive impact. I wanted to prove by example that it is easy to throw a plastic-free party for 50+ people, you just have to get a little creative.
With some research, I easily found eco-friendly alternatives for plates, cups & utensils.
My graduation party consisted of 70 people and I held it outdoors in my backyard. We had appetizers, a buffet for dinner, and I provided drinks as well of course. So I will give you a break down of how I avoided single-use plastics and threw a great eco-friendly party.
Cups- So drinks take up a great amount of waste at a party where single-use plastic cups are the standard item to drink from. At first and unknowingly I thought ‘paper cups should be an OK alternative’ but I was wrong. Paper cups are lined with plastic to make them stronger so they are not biodegradable and can take 20+ years to break down. So, after doing some research and getting lost on Pinterest for a few hours, I found an eco-friendly option that also worked as a party favor- mason jars! I bought 50 mason jars from Walmart for about $31 dollars (with an online coupon) and found 100% biodegradable and compostable 8 oz cups on Amazon (a pack of 50 for $10)
I purchased 3 packs so overall on cups I spent about $60. In the end, a lot of people left their mason jars behind, allowing me to reuse them for oils, leftovers and more. But one tip I have is, it's not necessary to buy the exact amount of party favors to the amount of guests, so save yourself the money and headache.
The cost of the mason jars was worthwhile to me because the mason jars were the ideal size and the perfect party gift. They are reusable, versatile and can serve multiple purposes, like a food container for leftovers, to hold coconut oil, pens, or simply used for a drink. Plus, I feel better knowing I’m not adding to the plastic waste filling up our landfills and oceans. Lastly, I bought brown paper labels on Amazon so people could tag their cups and write their names on their mason jar so as not to mix them up with someone else's and it was a nice, personal touch.
Cutlery/utensils- Another common item at parties that creates a great amount of waste is single-use plastic utensils since they are used once for each meal and immediately thrown away. I found biodegradable wooden cutlery made from Birch Wood on Amazon, a set of 100 forks, 100 spoons, 100 knives for $19 made by ‘Zenniah’. They were stronger than plastic utensils, a good size, and the guests liked them as well.
Plates- The third most wasteful item at parties is, yes you guessed it, plates. I found 9” biodegradable plates made from sugarcane on Amazon from ‘Earth’s Natural Alternative’, packs of 50 for $6 so for 200 plates I spent $24. The plates were strong and large enough to fit rice, pasta and salad comfortably. They were the perfect size and they became a conversation piece with my guests.
Unfortunately & ironically, these biodegradable alternatives came wrapped in plastic -.-
Straws- I have not used a plastic straw for some time now since I learned they were not recyclable and that 500,000 are used on a daily basis in the U.S so I absolutely was not going to have them at my graduation party. I found paper straws from Five Below, a pack of 10 for $1 so I bought 100 straws for $10. I later found them even cheaper on Amazon but I didn’t mind since the paper straws I bought were festive and held up pretty good.
Drinks- I had to give my guests something to drink while avoiding plastic and I was lucky enough to find two large pitchers at home that I used for water and sangria. I used a 3 gallon pitcher and filled it with filtered water from my refrigerator but since I had to bring it downstairs and it was time consuming and cumbersome to bring up and down for refills, I bought gallons of Poland Spring as a backup, which I made sure to recycle.
Tables & chairs- I rented several round tables for the guests, 3 rectangular tables to hold the food and mason jars, 50 chairs, and a dance floor from a local rental company that had really reasonable pricing after doing some research in my area. This option was ideal because who wants to buy a bunch of equipment they only want to use once and the equipment was dropped off right in the yard and picked up two days later. All I had to do was fold up the legs on the tables and chairs.
Centerpieces- I wanted a centerpiece that was aesthetically pleasing and also provided light as it got dark into the nighttime. I bought green glass jars from Five Below and filled them with deet-free citronella candles I bought from Amazon (60 tealight candles for $12) to ward off mosquitoes. To add more light, I found mini lanterns at Big Lots for $6 a piece.
Plastic that was hard to avoid-
The biodegradable cups and plates, as well as the paper straws unfortunately and ironically came wrapped in plastic -_-
I was on a budget for the party that I had already exceeded and so I had a hard time finding table covers made of cloth that were not expensive and so I had to give in to plastic table covers :( but I salvaged a few to reuse for future parties.
12 plastic cups for beer pong from past parties and will they be reused for future parties :)
3 gallons of Poland Spring water to refill the pitchers
My graduation party was even better than I imagined it would be, everyone had a great time. The eco-friendly alternatives I purchased were so worth it. They were conversation starters and they raised awareness to my guests of our plastic consumption and that the alternatives are easy to come by, they are not harmful to the environment or to us and are overall just better. I hope this guide helps you plan your next get together to be plastic-free and helps you promote sustainability with your friends and family.
Let’s ditch single-use plastic and live #plasticfreeforlife !