How to Host a Plastic-Free Holiday Party

What’s the best way to spread holiday cheer? By cutting back on single-use plastic!

We have partnered with the Conservation Team at Shedd Aquarium to bring you some tips for making your next holiday party more environmentally friendly.

Plastic pollution is pervasive in ecosystems, impacting animals big and small. Locally, some 22 million pounds of plastic are dumped into the Great Lakes every year — 11 million of which is dumped into Lake Michigan alone.

By reducing the amount of single-use plastic we use, we can help reduce how much is accidentally dumped into our waterways. Here’s how to green up your holiday parties this season.

How to Host a Plastic-Free Holiday Party
A recent plastic-free celebration hosted by Challenger Breadware owners Lisa & Jim Challenger at Blue Moon Farms in Northfield, IL. Photo by Jaylen Prater.

Party Prep:

  • Instead of sending out physical invitations, try sending out e-vites! There are lots of fun and creative e-vite sites available today.
  • Bring reusable produce bags with you to the grocery store when shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables. This will help reduce the amount of plastic bags needed to individually wrap items. Find some here!
  • Bring reusable tote bags to the store when shopping for party supplies or groceries. This will even save you money if you’re shopping in Chicago. If you don’t have any, you can use previously used grocery bags or buy a tote at the store.
  • Purchase meat or seafood from a butcher, who wraps your purchase in paper instead of plastic. Do the same for the deli and cheese counters.
  • Shop in the bulk section. Many stores have bulk bins for grains, nuts, spices, and even pasta. Bring your own containers and fill them up in the store. Just be sure you know the weight of the empty container so the cashier can properly tare your purchase!
  • When buying fruit, opt for the whole fruit and cut it at home, rather than buying pre-cut fruit in plastic containers. It will also taste fresher!

At the Party:

  • Offer your guests reusable beverage cups, plates, and cutlery. Glass, metal, tin, or bamboo are great options. Or, you can encourage guests to bring their own beverage cups!
  • If you absolutely need to have single-use cups on hand, make sure they are compostable or plastic #1, which are usually clear (not red or blue). This type of plastic can be recycled in Chicago.
  • Skip the straws! If you need to use straws, choose a reusable option like paper or metal.
  • If you’re doing apps with cocktail sticks, use bamboo or wooden ones instead of plastic.
  • Use durable dishes and platters in place of wasteful single-use options.
  • Serve water in large refillable dispensers or punch bowls, rather than single-use plastic bottles, and choose aluminum cans over plastic bottles for soda and juices.
  • Clearly mark bins for trash and recycling (and compost if you have it) so guests can properly sort their waste and reduce what is sent to landfill.
A Dickens Caroling Party at Blue Moons Farm. Courtesy of Challenger Breadware & photo by Jaylen Prater.

Party Cleanup:

  • Opt for reusable containers to save leftovers instead of using thin plastic wrap. Reusable containers are also an easy way to send leftovers home with your guests!
  • If you need to wrap or cover any items, try using Beeswax wrap instead of plastic. And if you need to bag anything, try these paper sandwich bags instead of plastic bags.
  • For dishwashing, you can also find refillable dish soap containers, or opt for a dish washing block.
  • If you’re sending your guests home with goodie bags, don’t forget to use a reusable option!