How to Party Like You Love the Planet With Environmentally-Friendly Picnicware

It’s hard to predict what the Marin social scene is going to look like this summer, but chances are that any parties will be smaller—and held outdoors. Unfortunately, almost all of those kids’ birthdays, picnics, potlucks, and barbecues produce a huge bag of plastic trash. While the memories might last a lifetime, the plastics will last even longer. The cute matching forks and plates you used for 10 minutes will still be in the landfill centuries from now. 

Seems crazy, right? Fortunately, trendsetters right here in Marin have figured out how to party without the plastic hangover. They’re part of a larger movement of creative bloggers, instagrammers, and Pinterest posters eager to inspire with their zero-waste party ideas. No matter what your party theme, make sure you start with these zero-waste fundamentals and (of course) protect them from droplets and handling until you’re ready to use them.

Compost your plates 

Serve food on napkins or paper plates and toss them, food scraps and all, in the green cart to make compost. Just make sure you buy the right plates! Smooth and glossy paper is plasticized and can’t go in the green cart. Use Chinet 100% recycled paper plates. Available at most Marin supermarkets, these are stiff enough to hold with one hand and sturdy enough to last through a party.

If your guests can handle china plates responsibly, even better. You might prefer melamine or some other unbreakable dinner ware, though some prefer to avoid any plastic products. Bonus points for getting plates from a thrift shop! That way you’re keeping them from landfill.

Clean your utensils

Single-use plastic utensils (whether “bioplastic” or not) can’t be composted or recycled in Marin. Your options? You could use compostable bamboo utensils, but reuse is better. Don’t want to hand out your set of flatware at a kids’ picnic, or don’t have flatware for forty?  No problem: you can inexpensively create your own stash of party cutlery that you just run through the dishwasher afterwards. Three choices: reuse “disposable” plastic cutlery; buy used cutlery at one of Marin’s thrift shops; or buy inexpensive flatware from webstaurant. Some of the options feel unpleasantly cheap, but “Acopa Midland” delivers acceptable quality for just $.19 a fork (cases of 25).

Have a drink

Juice boxes, plastic water bottles, “paper” cups, or those red cups fill up a bin fast. Reduce instead: serve tap water, homemade lemonade, or punch in a large dispenser with a tap on it. Borrow or bring out a sodastream if you want to add a little sparkle. Ask people to bring their own drinking bottles or bring out your own reusable plastic cups, glasses, or even your collection of cleaned jars (everyone has those, right?). If you’re worried about breakage of irreplaceable sets, you can rent: At A Party Center in San Rafael, renting 9-ounce all-purpose glasses will cost you just $12.40 for 36, which comes to $.34 a glass. Renting 16-ounce Mason jars without lids is a cool, Boho look but costs three times as much—and the larger size probably encourages your guests to drink more! Cleanup is easy: just put the used glasses back in the rack at the end of the party and return!

For hot beverages, brew pots of coffee or tea. Ask people to bring their coffee cups, rent a nice matched set of cups, or offer your own mugs (bonus points if they don’t match so any breakage won’t matter). Don’t buy “paper” cups. Whatever sweet-talking words you might see on the packaging, these are all lined with PLA, which is just plastic in denial. You can’t compost or recycle it here in Marin.

Dress it up

You can easily find compostable (and recycled) paper choices for napkins and tablecloths. Especially if there are kids involved, you’ll welcome the convenience of just rolling it up and throwing it in the compost bin. But you can take your party up a notch with cloth napkins and tablecloths. Maybe you don’t want to bring your best lace tablecloth for a picnic table, but you can bring an old sheet or pick one up from a thrift store. Cleanup is simple: just put it all in the washing machine.

But wait, you say. Bioplastic can be composted, right? 

Nope. Here in Marin, composting facilities are committed to only producing high quality organic compost, which means, no bioplastic. So treat all plastics alike: reduce and refuse any single-use plastics. 

Get tips on hosting a zero-waste picnic from Mill Valley’s Ambatalia.

San Anselmo’s Wild Minimalist offers tips on kids’ parties.

This article originally appeared on

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