HomeThe CSWD BlogHolidaysHow to plan a waste-free holiday party

How to plan a waste-free holiday party

Three men wearing Christmas-themed outfits sitting at a dinner table.
Photo by Tom Godber

Planning your holiday party can be stressful! Between figuring out who to invite, what to cook, and what ugly Christmas sweater to wear, you’ve got enough to worry about without thinking of all the trash your fun will create.

This is where we come in to help! With just a little thought, you can make things a lot easier (and cheaper) for yourself AND feel good about reducing your party’s impact on the landfill. That’s a win-win!

A little pre-party planning

You’ll likely start with a trip to the store to get the supplies you need for your party. Before going, you can make the most of your time by creating a list of things you need. This will save you time in the store, and can save you return trips to the store to grab the things that you forgot.

While making your list, consider following the famous 3 R’s to make things easier for you:


Coordinate with your guests before going shopping. There’s almost always some repeat dishes that happen if people don’t check in with each other ahead of time to see who is bringing what. (If someone is bringing a dish, ask them to bring it in a reusable container so they can take it home with them.)

Once that’s established, only buy what you need. Think about all the different dishes that will be out, and if it’s possible, cut certain recipes in half. Less cleanup and leftovers at the end!


Sure, picking up a bunch of paper plates and plastic silverware makes cleanup simple, but you might as well throw a party in the landfill!

Want a better option? Use what you likely already have in your kitchen – metal cutlery, hard plates and cups, and fabric napkins. You’ll be amazed—and likely quite proud—at how little trash you’ll be left with.

Feel your stress level rising at the thought of washing all of those dirty dishes? It can be easy if you plan right. Put a well well-marked dish station with buckets for guests to separate their silverware, plates, and cups. Add hot soapy water to the buckets to let them soak while the party is going on. Gather a few close friends to help after.

Teamwork makes chores feel like fun—and brings friends even closer together!

Recycle (and compost!)

Still not convinced washing the dishes is the right option for you? Getting compostable plates, napkins, cups and cutlery can work. Compostable items are great because food scraps do not need to be scraped off—they can all go right in the compost bucket.

Plastic plates and cups are a next-best option; they can be recycled, but only if guests rinse food off the plate first. And try to avoid plastic cutlery altogether—it can’t be recycled.

At the party

Once you’ve picked up what you need, be sure to clearly mark your containers with what goes where before your guests arrive. Clearly identify what is compostable, recyclable, and trash (see our printable event signs).

Once most of the guests have arrived, make a quick announcement—well-meaning guests often make assumptions about recycling and composting that will require someone to sort again after the party.


After your party is over, the last step is either arranging your curbside pick-up, or dropping off your party’s leftovers yourself. If you have curbside service, and space in your carts for the party’s landfill waste & recycling, go for it!

Depending on where you live, there just might be a compost pick-up company that can drop by. If your curbside pick-up isn’t able to pick it all up, you can always bring all of the compostables, recycling, and landfill waste to any of the CSWD Drop-Off Centers around Chittenden County.

Do you have some waste-reduction tricks up your own party sleeves? Send us an email. We’d love to hear about them!


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Marketing Specialist at CSWD