As the sun emerges from hiding and temperatures begin to rise, the arrival of spring signals the start of dinner party season. Polish your glasses, narrow down your invite list and follow these simple rules to keep your next gathering green.
Make a meat-free meal
With the United Nations describing the meat industry as “one of the most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global”, serving a meat-free, plant-based meal is the healthiest and most cost-effective way to make your next dinner party eco-friendly.
Skipping meat – which drives climate change, the destruction of wildlife and the pollution of rivers and oceans due to its high-waste, low-yield production – is a win-win, helping to save the planet and reduce costs.
Serve seasonal, local vegetables
In addition to being fresher and often cheaper, choosing vegetables that are in season can help cut down on the demand for imported foods, supports local farming and result in less transportation, less refrigeration, less hot houses, and less food radiation exposure for your food. Many chefs also report locally grown veg tasting better because it's picked when it's ripe, rather than green, for easier shipment without waste.
Choose live plants over cut flowers
Buying flowers for your host or a bouquet to liven up your table may seem like a natural and organic-looking option for a spring celebration, but non-sustainably produced blooms come at a surprising environmental cost.
The majority of European supermarket flowers come from production greenhouses in South America and South Africa, where balmy temperatures make for ideal flower growing conditions. Unfortunately, these flowers can be covered in toxic and environmentally-damaging pesticides, and shipping and refrigeration requirements mean the associated CO2 emissions are high. Locally-grown live plants are a great alternative – but if you have your heart set on flowers, try sticking to organic, local blooms.
Say no to single-use plastics
An obvious way to cut down on party waste is to do away with disposable, single-use plastics. The biggest environmental offenders include plastic tablecloths, plates, napkins, cups, cutlery and straws, which fill landfills, pollute oceans, kill birds and marine life, and can take hundreds of years to biodegrade.
While the European Commission has proposed a ban on single-use plastics that is expected to take effect across the EU by 2021, get ahead of the curve and cut out these products out now. For dinner parties, consider investing in an extra set of dishes and cutlery from a second hand store. Costing only a few cents, they’ll keep you from reaching for the plastic if you run out of dishes if unexpected guests arrive.
Invest in reusable decor
You may be tempted to liven up your party with festive decorations, but don’t give in to the sparkly lure of one-time use items such as helium balloons, plastic banners or glitter, which is a microplastic. Like single-use table settings and cutlery, decoration waste clogs landscapes and oceans, killing marine animals and birds and taking hundreds of years to degrade. Consider fabric bunting, paper cut-outs or live plants as a green alternative.
Sip green alcohol
Breweries and wineries around the world have started going sustainable, meaning dinner party drinks don’t have to leave the environment feeling hungover. Look for producers that practice organic farming of hops and grapes, recycle wastewater for crop irrigation, or have committed to using recycled bottles. Spirits, including vodka, tequila and rum can also be produced organically, reducing the harmful pesticides that could damage the environment.
Cook just enough
It may be tempting to cook an extra course out of fear of leaving your guests hungry, but be mindful about the amount of food you prepare. Food waste is a major blight to the environment, with one third of all food produced globally wasted every year, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production number in the millions of tonnes, and that’s not including all the water, fuels and associated environmental costs of producing and distributing it.
Writer: Claire Lancaster