When my daughter celebrated her bat mitzvah this fall, we were incredibly proud of her accomplishments and poise, but also pleased with her choices to make the reception a sustainable one. Weddings, funerals and rites of passage like bar mitzvahs and confirmations can generate a tremendous amount of waste, but with a little forethought, these celebrations can be meaningful, fun and sustainable.
Here are a few extra steps we took to make sure that the event was more sustainable.
First, we issued our invitations to the event electronically through Paperless Post. Everyone we knew had an email account and was able to open the invitation without a problem, but we called a few of our less technologically savvy relatives just to be sure they got it. (They did.) This saved the paper that would normally have been wasted, as well as the fuel consumption for the postal service to deliver them. We also knew immediately who had opened the invitation and who was attending, which helped us put in an accurate catering order, reducing the potential for wasted food.
We hired a caterer in Stamford, which was about 20 miles away from the reception, who prepared the food onsite. Among the drinks we served was locally pressed, organic cider from The Farmer’s Cow. Admittedly, we could have done more in this regard. We could have insisted on a caterer that only used sustainably raised chicken or beef. We also could have used food that requires less energy to produce, served a vegetarian meal, or at least done away with beef, but at this celebration, with our relatives, we felt we couldn’t quite escape this requirement.
At the end of the event, despite our efforts to control portions, we did have ample leftovers. We arranged prior to the event for a “runner” from Community Plates, a local food rescue organization, to pick up the leftovers while they were still hot and take them to a local kitchen to feed the hungry in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In addition, because we purposely used edible pumpkins, squash and apples as our decorations, they were donated to make soups and baked goods.
The bar or bat mitzvah is a celebration of reaching a mile post of maturity. It reminded me that we are all on a journey working to be more sustainable every day. I am now working with my synagogue on a variety of other measures to help make it and the congregants who worship there more sustainable tomorrow than they are today. Below is a list of some of the things I will work to enact. I encourage you to reach out to your local place of worship or a community group you’re involved with and try to do some of the same things. If you would like our help, please let us know! And if these suggestions were helpful to you, please consider contributing to Sustainable America to help us continue our work. Your support is appreciated.
12 Sustainable Party Tips
1. Skip the paper invitations and use an online service like Evite or Paperless Post.
2. Recycle, compost and go zero waste!
3. Source your food from a sustainable caterer or work with your caterer of choice to incorporate: local, organic and humane food and drinks.
4. Donate extra food at the end of the event by working with a local food rescue organization or food bank.
5. Reduce paper wherever possible and always select post-consumer recycled content (30% or above) and Forest Stewardship Council certified paper for items you do have to print. Also, request soy- or vegetable-based inks wherever possible. Need a sign? Use painted and reusable chalkboards for instead of posters and printing.
6. Instead of giving little guest gifts, consider making a donation to a charity instead. This is often more memorable, reduces unnecessary waste and helps support a great cause of your choice!
7. Consider reusable or sustainable decorations. Can you make centerpieces out of reclaimed items? Can you use edible centerpieces that can be donated after the event? Consider potted plants instead of fresh cut flowers. There are tons of cool sustainable decoration ideas online. Just search “sustainable or green parties.”
8. Rent cloth tablecloths and napkins from a local service to reduce paper and plastic waste.
9. Skip the paper and plastic and go for reusable serving ware. If you must use disposables, make sure to select compostable or recyclable products and make detailed signs to help guests dispose of everything in the proper places.
10. Skip the balloons. These often end up in the atmosphere and eventually in the water or ground where they become a hazard to birds and other small animals.
11. Encourage the use of alternative transportation by providing bus and train directions or recommending carpooling.
12. Idling is a major problem at events. Post reminders outside of your event asking people in the pick-up line to kindly turn off their engines while waiting.