How to Throw a No-Waste Party

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No-Waste Party

This past Saturday we threw a big backyard party, and we didn’t even have to set out a trash can. Yep, that’s right, our party generated no trash – not a single piece. Want to throw your own no-waste party? Here’s a look at my set up.

Instead of buying a bunch of disposable cups, I just pull a few cases of Ball canning jars off the shelf. If I’m having a big party, I just pull a few more. This allows me to have matching glasses, no matter how big our parties get.

White Restaurant Dishes

I pieced together a set of white dishes at thrift stores, and use them at every party. They’re loads sturdier than any disposable plates that I could buy, and they look a lot classier, too. After a party, we just throw them in the dishwasher, and store them away until our next party.


To get around buying plastic utensils, I started picking up odds and ends silverware from thrift stores and yard sales. I now have a large set that I can pull out for parties. This beats using our everyday silverware for this purpose because I don’t have to worry that a piece will accidentally get thrown away.

Cloth Napkins

I have a large collection of white napkins that I bought second-hand. I pull them out whenever we’re having a party. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I bought paper napkins – it’s been years.

Glass Drink Jug

I paid $20 for this beverage jug at a yard sale a few years back, and it’s been worth every cent. It holds five gallons, so I can fill it once before the party, and be done with it. This one usually gets filled with lemonade. I have a couple more that I fill with iced tea and water. Making up bulk batches of drinks saves me a ton, and eliminates all of the waste that you’d normally have from serving soda or other store-bought drinks.

Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

These ice cream cone cupcakes have become my go-to for parties. There are no cupcake wrappers to throw away, and no dishes to wash. Kids go nuts when they see them.

Ice Cream Cone Cupcake with a Scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream

You can even serve them with a scoop of ice cream on top, if you like to do cake and ice cream.

Dirty Dishes

To make clean up a snap, we just stick a couple containers out for guests to deposit their dishes in when they’re done. Recognize this container? It’s one of the trugs that we rescued from a curb pile a couple weekends ago!

Solar Canning Jar Lanterns

Since our parties usually continue long after dark, I place one of these solar canning jar lanterns on each table. By the time the sun sets, they’re fully charged and ready to light up the night. Get instructions for my solar jars here.

Trying to cut down on your trash? Check out my no-waste lunchbox set up for more ideas.

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  1. This is so cool! Do you ever have guests give you a hard time about using cloth napkins? We use them for our everyday eating, and I have one friend who always asks for paper napkins. I believe she thinks using cloth ones is gross for some reason.

    1. I usually have a few people that are worried they’ll stain our cloth napkins. Once I assure them that they’re there to use — and abuse — they’re good with it 🙂

      1. We have found using patterned fabric napkins has helped people feel more comfortable about using them and staining them, presumably because any marks would be hidden within the design. I’ve had one guest candidly explain she wanted a paper napkin in case she wanted to spit out unliked food! Not sure how common that is but it might shed some light on a potential “why” paper napkins are prefered

  2. What is the biggest party you’ve done this with? I’m considering making this a winter project to be ready for spring farm day. Do you have any hesitations for a group that size? I can make the napkins. Thanks for your wisdom! The Farmers Wife

    1. Hi Val,

      My biggest no-waste party to date had around 40 guests. I have enough plates and napkins to accommodate around 100 people. I’m still building my silverware collection. I think it would be a lot of fun to do for spring farm day. You’ll have more dishes and laundry to deal with, but less cost and trash. I say go for it!

      1. The Senior College I belong to has a great solution for “green” parties: Make it Pot Luck so everyone brings a plate to share (and takes it home) and each person brings a place setting (plate, fork, knife, spoon, glass, napkin) so takes it home. Some people also bring candles!

        1. We’ve done this for school and girl guide events. Every guest brings their own ‘ditty bag’ with plate, glass, cutlery, napkin, etc. Love it!

  3. This is awesome, I wish I could do this too, but I am Mexican and I have lots of friends that think I am just being cheap for trying to go zero waste in my house, my husband likes the idea of not spending too much on some things but hates the idea of taking time washing what has to be washed, but I’m so into reusing and repurposing

    1. I think you could totally do this–what’s classier than using real dishes and silverware for a party? Not to mention cloth napkins–that’s what wealthy people do! Only they spend a fortune to rent them. It doesn’t take any time at all to throw things into the washing machine.

  4. I replied earlier about bring your own utensils to events. That was a while ago. A new colleague in the non-profit world I am connected to congratulated me on my ferocious
    attention to this at every meeting we have and encouraged me to keep at it. My feeling is that is way to late to be polite!

    1. I have been collecting inexpensive stemless wine glasses for about 5 years and have loaned them out to people who want to have 60? more glasses available. They are a cinch to wash. I have used cloth napkins for years. It is really easy to find them. I do try to iron them, but still think they are better wrinkled than paper!

      I am still trying together people to bring their own place settings. It is hard, but worth the effort! I am on 3 local committees to solve these “green” problems. What is very exciting is that four 8th graders in one of our schools took this on last year. They are now at the High School and their Ordinance has inspired their Selectmen to create a Special Town Meeting to vote on this.

  5. Hi, Thank you for sharing this awesome idea! I don’t quite get what you use for cups. Are those mason jars? Thank you!

    1. Yep, I usually use mason jars for cups. I have some with handles, but even regular mason jars work great. They look festive; they’re cheap; and they can be used for other things in between parties.

  6. I’m trying to plan a no-new-waste wedding. We are having it small 30 – 50 guests but travel a lot and haven’t set up a home yet. Not sure how much I can ask people to bring (silverware that might go amiss for example)? Still working through the plan phhheeewww might take a while.

  7. One thought is to purchase bamboo silverware and have it be your wedding favor too. They have cute sets that come
    Complete with carrying pouch. Or diy the pouch and buy the utensils at thrift stores.

  8. I also use Mason jars or wine glasses, depending on how fancy the get together is. We write names on them with a sharpie just like most people do with disposables. The sharpie washes off very easily since it’s glass. I have silverware that I have picked up in a similar fashion and use for packing my kids and husband’s lunches, I love the idea of expanding my collection so I don’t have to use my everyday silverware for parties. Thank you

  9. Do your guests find that ceramic plates are too heavy to carry around at a party? I plan on buying some thin, hand-washable plastic plates when I run out of paper plates. Since they aren’t thick, you can stack more of them where you store party gear.

  10. This is such a great idea! I’m having my family around at my house for the first time and I didn’t think about enough cups and plates. There is a lovely set I remember being for sale at the op shop that I think I’ll go snag tomorrow, in time to wash them up before next weekend!
    Thanks for all the great practical tips!

  11. I would add some water and soap to the tote for dirty dishes – that way they don’t have stuck on gunk when you are trying to load the dishwasher. Also, I would consider some nicer outdoor plastic plates and glasses if there is a concern of breakage – I know it’s evil plastic, but you don’t have to worry about sharp bits of glass or ceramic cutting people’s feet. If people are worried about staining the napkins, you could also have a tub for those to soak in, maybe with a little detergent to help keep stains from setting. White is intimidating but it’s also bleachable – a lesson my mom, a nurse, taught me when I asked why she wore such an easily stainable color to work everyday.

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