How to Throw an Eco-Friendly Graduation Party

by - Monday, May 29, 2017

Whether your baby is graduating from kindergarten, high school, or college, you are ready to celebrate. They did it! And so did you, so kudos. This is a huge accomplishment, and your once little one is standing that much more on their own feet, gaining the skills they need to go out in the big world on their own.

But just because part of your job is done doesn't mean you are finished worrying about what that world looks like. Every day, we get more information about the challenges our children (and their children) will be facing. A lot of this comes down to the environment- will they water to drink? Will the ocean be filled with plastic? What will they do with all that plastic?

These questions are huge and scary, definitely not the kind of thing you want to think about when you are trying to celebrate. But your grad's party is a perfect opportunity for you to take steps to solve and prevent some of these problems, so your graduate isn't burdened with our baggage later.

Grad parties are an opportunity to feed a huge chunk of people who you love (and are going to give your kid some money). So you can either end up with a big pile of new trash or an even more dramatic positive impact than your regular day to day. Either way, your approach to this party, as well as your every day life, is just another baby step toward the kind of world you are making for your child. Why not do something positive, thoughtful, and committed to good stewardship? Let's make the world better, not worse, so they are inheriting a healthy planet.

You don't have to do every little thing I mention to make a difference, but even picking one or two can have a positive impact, making the future that much brighter for your grad.

No! Stop! Don't! from Amazon

1. Skip those Little Confetti Pieces

 You know those little shiny graduation caps I am talking about. This is the devil's confetti. Good only for flicking at people and polluting the Earth. Who decided educational accomplishments needed marked with tiny pieces of plastic? Screw those guys. If you really want to add some school colors in the mix, check out this plantable paper instead.

2. Pick Finger Foods

Skip the silverware (or more likely plasticware) completely. Do the dignified thing and just serve pigs on a blanket. Tacos and burgers instead of pasta. Fruit slices not salad. Cupcakes (maybe with my favorite recycled liners) or cookies will be just as loved as cake. People won't notice the difference, and as long as they are fed, no one would dare complain. Have you ever heard someone holding pigs in a blanket and a cupcake complaining?

3. Take it Easy on the Meat

 I know when we plan menus for big parties, we start with protein picks and work our way outward. What if you picked mostly veggie main courses and only had one meat option? Crazy, I know, but a good chili or caprese sandwich in and people will feel happy, not confused. Americans talk about meat like there is nothing else, but we are surprisingly flexible to meals without it.

Eliminating or limiting mear is probably the best thing you can do to limit your impact and the impact of your party. When you are feeding 70 people, hamburgers add up. The production of beef creates as much greenhouse gases as your car and you waste tons of water as well. Poultry and fish have significantly less impact. Vegetables have even less. Switching it up will minimize greenhouse gas emissions and save water. Plus, it is the beginning of summer- everyone is still psyched about a really good fruit plate.

4. Make your Tableware Sustainable

 Where I grew up, grad parties are a deal, so most are basically open houses where at least 40 or 50 people blow through. I don't own 50 plates, and I bet you don't either. And no one has the desire to wash that many plates. So here we are at disposable. Just because you are doing disposable doesn't mean it has to be absolute trash for the environment.

Americans throw out a TRILLION plates a year, so picking something that will decompose, that isn't coated in plastic, is really important. Susty Party makes compostable plates that would be perfect for the event, but companies as mainstream as Chinet even have recycled and compostable options. And they are the same price. No reason not to do the right thing.

If you want something a little different, I love these Leafware plates (compostable, not recyclable) and made out of palm leaves. They are very sturdy and look gorgeous and modern. Plus, they will decompose, so they create no waste. Win! If they don't quite fit your style, check Thynk and CiboWares as well.

5. Have a Drink Station, Not a Water Bottle Graveyard

Oh the cooler of water bottles. You are a staple of every party and a blight on the environment. Splurge (or borrow) some drink dispensers (glass or a cooler one) and buy paper cups. This simple switch will save you money in the long run AND keep so many plastic bottles out of landfills. It makes no sense to do anything else. Want to serve a selection of pops? Always go can, not bottle!

6. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

 If you can throw a party in a group, it can be a great way to save money, split tasks, and it means supplies are being shared. When so many guest lists overlap, you can cut down on one time use disposables and decorations by just putting on one party.

7. Borrow and Share, because Few Purple and Yellow (or red and black, or green and orange) Occasions will Arise

If your kid;s party is smack dab in the middle of a string of them, talk to other parents about passing decorations around. Get on Buy Nothing and ask if any alum's parents are looking to unload some stuff. Check the consignment stores. Ask people you know with older kids if they have anything you could borrow. When you are done, gift to a junior you know (or his or her parents), so that what you get can keep getting use. It is easy to hoard this stuff, or to just grab some stuff you are never going to use again without asking around, but you can save money and create less waste by making those "graduate" signs and streamers work for more than one party.

7. Or Just Skip the Theme or School Colors

I will grit my teeth and mention this, because I honestly love a good theme, but you could just use whatever you already have and fill in the blanks with things you would actually use again. The less you have to buy, the better for everyone. And honestly, I may be the only one who cares. And if your pigs in a blanket are good, I will forget.

8. Use Memories as Decorations

By graduation, many students will have amassed t-shirts, jerseys, and other what nots. Hang them on a clothes line and you have instant decorations. If you want to make it super sentimental, start with some of their childhood clothes and work your way forward in time. If your child joined the Greek system (God bless them), then you should have enough letter shirts to cover your tables, your house, maybe the neighborhood.

Making a scrapbook? Don't just leave it on a table- you can hang the pages up for decoration at the party, and then combine them all into a book afterwards. You could even do this with photographs, and put them in a cool album afterwards.

Those packs of decorations are fine, but what are you going to do with them afterwards? Instead, start with what you already have, even if it isn't a traditional decoration. Then, what you can find a practical use for afterwards or make yourself. Then and only then, you can consider the banners.

9. Skip Balloons

Yeah, it hurts my heart too. I love a good balloon. But balloons do not love us back and they are terrible for sea life especially. Even if you live nowhere near the ocean, that may be where your trash lands, so I say stick to crepe paper and tissue paper puffs.

10. Butcher Paper Kicks Plastic Tablecloths' Ass

Buy one huge roll of recycled paper. Like this one- made here, 100% recycled, and biodegradable. Also, cheaper. Better on all counts. Line each table with paper, leave a handful of crayons on each table (maybe get things started with school mascot or a funny drawing of the grad) and just let it go. So much more fun.

You can recycle it when the party is over, you will have plenty left for future parties or gift wrapping or a million other things, and it is cheaper than the plastic you would just throw away.

Not your style? Then use real tablecloths that can be washed and reused for other things. If you want the school colors, check Goodwill and other consignment stores and see what you can pull off.

11. A Plastic-Free Party is a Green Party

When in doubt, just avoid toxic polluter plastic. No solo cups, no new plastic tablecloths, no plastic silverware. If you only set one goal for this party, set this one. It will be tough, but you will see a huge difference when you take out the trash later. Plus, you won't have to defend what the heck you were thinking to your kid when people know for sure just how terrible plastic is.

Ok, so these seem totally simple and totally different at the same time! You can make these changes and unless you point it out to them, people won't even notice what they are missing, they will just see a really fun and unique party. And trust me, no one will ever miss that confetti.

Want more shopping and holiday ideas? Check out my Giant List of Shopping Lists!

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  1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful ideas. I am going to implement many of them for my daughter's and son's college graduation open house this summer.



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