A lovely aspect of the Christmas season is the impetus to spend time with those we care about. I often think it’s strange that we wait until the busiest time of the year to do this. It’d be nice if we started the new year with a plan not to leave it until next December to repeat this tradition. If you’re hosting a soiree over the next few weeks here are some tips on how to make it a tad more sustainable.
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Nowadays most people use text or Whatsapp to circulate invites, which is a great way to avoid waste but if you need something a little bit more impressive consider using a website to craft a digital invite. Some website offer a free service or you can choose to pay for more advanced features.
If you do need to print opt for recycled paper and envelopes and don’t embellish them with materials that make them un-recyclable like jewels, glitter, plastic tape. You could also seek out a more sustainable printer who uses vegetable oil-based inks and eco-friendly solvents on recycled paper, although the only one I knew of has closed down.
There’s nothing worse than working hard to avoid plastic only to have it descend on you in the form of gifts. I’ve found that even if you tell people you don’t want gifts most feel compelled to bring something so a more sustainable option. When I hosted an afternoon tea during the summer I asked guests to bring some homemade food or items that I needed for the lunch like jam and lemon curd. If this doesn’t suit turn your event into a fundraiser and invite people to donate to a cause close to your heart in lieu of a present. A win, win all round.
Most of us recycle our Christmas decorations every year so there is little reason to generate more at this time of year. If you do want to buy new decorations make sure to visit your charity shops first. The last thing this planet needs is more plastic frippery that will end up in the attic for 48-50 weeks of the year.
Balloons – As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, there is absolutely no excuse for having balloons in this day and age. These bad boys are terribly polluting, lasting for decades after use and the performance of biodegradable ones has yet to be established. Also helium is in finite supply and is running out and personally I’d much rather keep it for medicinal use than waste it on a party.
DIY – Pinterest is awash with ideas for homemade decorations to up cycled jars to fabric bunting and I’ve pinned a few on a my Christmas Board. Lose hours perusing them but be sure to avoid any that use copious amounts of glue or glitter, are simply plastic in another form and makes materials un-recyclable. I’ve featured some of my favourite ideas on my article Stunning Sustainable (and Easy) Christmas Decorations.
Hire – If you’re hosting a particularly special event maybe consider hiring a prop from companies like. There are some great prop hire companies in Ireland, just google them.
Aim to use real crockery and cutlery instead of disposables if you can. If you don’t have enough at home consider borrowing from friends and family or hiring it from companies like Select Hire or Cater Hire.
If real crockery isn’t a runner consider borrowing reusable plastic tableware from friends and family. Or if you’re at the start of your ‘party career’ maybe it’d be worth investing in some reusable hard-wearing plastic or ceramic tableware. You might even be able to buy them with friends or family, cutting down on expense and waste even further.
If you can’t avoid disposable then consider compostable cups and un-coated paper plates and when buying try to buy the largest packet available to limit packaging. For something a little bit more up-market you can get compostable paper plateware from Klee Paper in Dublin 8 or palm leaf and sugarcane tableware from Down to Earth or Zeus Packaging. Just be sure to explain to your guests that cups and plates should go into the brown bin and not the dry recyclables bin.
Napkins -Some zero wasters use cloth napkins instead of paper ones and it might be worth investing in some organic cotton, linen or hemp ones if you intend on having quite a few parties. If paper napkins are more your scene then just avoid leaving a large stack out. Large quantities of anything encourage waste so by limiting what’s on view you’ll limit what’s used.
Straws -This is a no-brainer. Don’t let the blighters make an appearance if you can avoid it but if you feel you need them for some guests, offer reusable metal or glass ones or paper ones instead. As always with zero waste buy the biggest box you’re going to need to reduce packaging.
Nibbles – I love crisps but hate that they only come in non-recyclable foil-lined plastic bags. Although not quite as lip-smacking as MSG coated potato crisps or tortillas, home-popped popcorn is a great low-waste alternative, particularly if you buy it from your local packaged-free store or market stalls like Bare Necessities or Minimal Grocery. You can have it straight with just salt, or sugar, or both, or dress it up with Parmesan cheese, truffle oil or chilli flakes. Personally I like to pour homemade caramel over it to make sweet popcorn.
Another options is to get loose nuts and dried fruit from these market stalls or Nutty Delights in Georges St Arcade, D2 or in some Holland and Barrett stores. A friend makes the most delicious salted almonds for parties, they’re to die for.
Canapes – I adore canapes but the ones you buy in the supermarket come with a tonne of packaging and palm oil. Much better to buy your own. Not only will they taste better but even if the ingredients you buy come in packaging it’ll most likely amount to less than if you buy ready-made canapes.
When making canapes ingredients go a long way so be careful not to over buy as this is wasteful. I try to choose canapes where I can use the same ingredients in different combinations. This helps reduce waste. I also choose ingredients that my family like to eat so we can consume any leftovers.
Aim to use reusable metal skewers instead of disposable bamboo ones and serve mouthfuls on reusable metal or ceramic spoons and single servings in reusable shot glasses with metal or ceramic spoons. I also like to drizzle dressings on canapes rather than do dips, for two reasons, it’s avoid the spreading of germs and it creates less waste.
I like canapes that you can make well ahead of time so I avoid fried canapes that need to be kept warm or ones that go soggy if left too long. My fav canapes include
- crostini – toasted slices of bread topped with cheese, meat or fish and fruit or veg
- roasted cocktail sausages or chicken wings coated in honey and whole grain mustard
- gruyere choux balls
- rainbow goats cheese balls
- homemade crackers with cashew butter and sundried tomatoes
- Roasted squash & chorizo skewers
- Lamb koftas with mint yoghurt drizzle
- Seared beef with horseradish sauce
- Roasted pepper and feta (or goats cheese) filo tarts
- Pear and Gorgonzola rolled in prosciutto
- Rice paper rolls stuffed with tuna, duck or avocado, spring onions and cucumber
- Fish cakes
- Baked arancini
- Puff pastry stuffed with shredded chicken or pork flavoured with middle eastern spices.
- Dates stuffed with goats cheese, crushed pistachio with grated orange
- Cerviche served on a spoon with chilli and spring onion
- Pan fried scallops and black pudding on a spoon with minty pea puree or dressed rocket
- Portuguese custard tarts
- Banoffee / tiramisu / crumble served in shot glasses
- Brownie or cheesecake cut into squares
- Sweet pancakes filled with pears and caramel sauce
- Crispy-bottomed Steamed Dumplings
Cling Film -If you’re laying out food self-service style you may want to protect it before serving. A few years ago I invested in some reusable food cover umbrellas and they work brilliantly for this but if you don’t have such a thing there’s no need to reach for the cling film, just pop a plate over the bowl of salad or an upturned bowl or tea towel over the plate of bread rolls and you’re good to go.
Food Waste – It’s so easy to over-buy or over-provide at parties so if you’re serving full dishes try to cook from fresh so that you can freeze any leftovers.
Also goodie bags for guests to take home can be a great way to deal with any leftovers, assuming they want them of course. I use uncoated paper plates and paper lunch bags for this, which are available in most supermarkets in Ireland. If you’re looking for something more impressive most of the companies that do compostable tableware also do compostable cardboard takeaway containers.
Beer – It is now possible to get growlers (beer containers) filled by tap in Ireland and I’ve listed the places I know of on my Map of Eco Businesses in Ireland. If that’s not an option for you then aim to buy beer in cans, they are lighter to transport and easier to recycle than glass bottles meaning lower carbon emissions. Alternatively you could contact a local brewery and organise a returnable keg a beer for the party.
If you opt for cans try to buy loose in order to avoid the plastic wrapping or plastic rings that accompany packs. We’ve sourced loose cans in Lidl, which my husband thinks is the best flavour for the price.
If you buy 500ml cans or bottles instead of 330ml ones you will invariably create less packaging overall, but only do so if you don’t think this is going to lead to excess consumption which is wasteful in itself.
If you’d prefer to treat your body as a temple, Munster Brewery have an organic beer on the market called the 12 Towers. You can also treat yourself to beer made from Irish grown hops from the Wicklow Wolf brewing company.
Wine – As with beer there are a few places the offer wine refills now so check out my Map of Eco Businesses in Ireland to see if there is any in your area. If not and you have to buy bottles of wine consider bottles with screw-tops as this doesn’t run the risk of accidentally buying plastic corks or being left with foil, which although recyclable is no longer accepted in green bins in Ireland.
We also have a locally made Irish wine from Wicklow Wines, made from the juice of Irish berries!
I am gutted at the closure of the Organic Supermarket chain in Ireland. They were retailers of two very desirable, and well priced, organic wines. Thankfully Supervalu still sell a lovely organic red Tempranillo by Clearly Organic for €8.50 and Molloy’s sell a reasonably priced organic prosecco by Fascino for €12.95, which I’ve tasted and heartily approve of!
Recently I’ve gone looking for alternative organic wines and have been scoffed at, quite rudely I might add, by two independent wine shop owners. According to them ‘Natural’ wine is where it’s at and organic wine is irrelevant. Why? Well when certification schemes for ‘organic’ or ‘biodynamic‘ are only concerned with how the grapes are grown, they don’t concern themselves with how they’re processed into wine. ‘Natural‘ wines on the other hand are made with minimal intervention. On a practical level this typically translates into the grapes being hand picked and destemmed, the juice/must not being subjected to any machine pumping (including pumping over), no mechanical separation of must from pomace (it is only hand-pressed), and finally, nothing being introduced to the tanks (or amphoras, or concrete eggs) or barrel other than the wine must. That means there are no rectifications in the form of added acid or sugar to control alcohol content, no enzymes, and it is fermented with only indigenous, or naturally occurring yeast that appears on the grape’s skin for what is referred to as ‘spontaneous fermentation’. ‘Natural’ wines generally do not have added sulfites, though there are naturally occurring sulfites in wine production, which can help stability.
The problem for me is that the term ‘natural wine’ is not legally defined and not certified so any Tom, Dick or Harry could label their wine as ‘natural’ and hop on the bandwagon. So I’ve decided I’m will give ‘natural’ wines a go but only those that are labelled organic or biodynamic, because I knowing that a producer has gone to the trouble of being certified for these labels gives me greater confidence that they’re being genuine when they use the term ‘natural’. But I won’t be revisiting said arrogance independent wine shops to buy them.
I strongly believe that sustainability lies in buying local so thrilled to find raspberry, blackberry, strawberry wine made in Wicklow.
A hop across the pond and you have a biodynamic and organic vineyard in Wales called Ancre Hills.
The 12 hectares of vines at Ancre Hill Estates are inspected by DEMETER every year to ensure all cultural practices in the Vineyard go above and beyond Organic standards in line with the full Biodynamic accreditation achieved by the vineyard in 2014. Their building on site has walls constructed from straw bales and a living, green roof, both providing temperature and humidity regulation. Waste water is treated by a series of ecological pools and plantings which also provide many of the plants used in the tisane treatments in the vineyard.
Whisk(e)y. I am equally delighted to report that we can now buy biodynamic whiskey from an Irish distillery in Waterford. My hubbie and Father in Law did a tour of the distillery and raved about it! Nc’nean in Scotland make certified organic whisky from organic Scottish barley and natural spring water, in stills powered by biomass boilers run on timber from their own land. Their whisky is bottled in recycled post-consumer glass bottles with a natural cork stopper and wood top, sealed with a compostable tamper seal, uncoated paper labels (with a small amount of plastic) and a gift tube made from 90% recycled materials. The company minimise waste and pollution wherever possible, diverting by-products to feed cows and fertilise land, and using natural cleaning products on site. They use rainwater to cool their stills, which they recycle back into a pond on site.
Gin. In Northern Ireland, on the shores of Lough Erne The Boatyard Distillery make gin and vodka and from organic ingredients, while across the pond you can also get certified organic gin from Fatty’s Organic Spirits in bottles printed with organic inks, and sealed with cork and wax by had. On the Isle of White the gin distillery of the same name has successful been certified as being carbon neutral and their packaging is plastic-free. Cooper Distillery, in York offer carbon negative gin, flavoured with local ingredients and packed in recycled card boxes, made locally and FSC certified paper. They use a 100% green energy supplier and have planted a native trees on their site. They’re also members of 1% for the Planet, meaning they donate a minimum of 1% of Dry and Herb Gin sales to the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, offsetting the carbon emissions generated by production.
Vodka. Sapling Spirits in the UK has one made from British grown wheat, and if you’re not vegan you might be interested in Black Cow vodka, made entirely from grass-grazed cows milk on an organic farm in West Dorset. They even do a strawberry infused one!
Brandy. Irish company Highbank Orchards, mentioned above make certified organic apple brandy, and the aforementioned Killahora Orchards produce apple port and apple ice wine on their 200 year old estate. Over in Normandy Avallen Spirits, a 1% for the Planet company, is focused on making apple brandy in a manner that supports local bee populations.
Grain Spirit – Falling outside all of the categories above is the spirits from boutique Highland Boundary, who infuse their alcohol with locally foraged botanicals. Their electricity comes from solar panels on their farm roof. Their offices are heated using biomass and the cooling water of their still is by way of a natural spring that is recycled through a wildlife pond once it has cooled. They state that they are committed to using only biodegradable (wood, cardboard and paper) and recyclable glass packaging for their products.
Soda – As far as I can tell fizzy drinks can only be bought in plastic bottles and if you need to have Coke Cola or 7-Up then it’s going to be impossible to avoid the plastic they come in. If your guests aren’t hung up on a brand perhaps you could make your own orange cordial, fruit-infused water or lime & mint cordial, or fruity lemonades. There are a few high-end cordial brands on the market now and readily available in most Supervalu stores, such as Longford based Richmond Cordials and Waterford based Naturally Cordial or the UK brand Belvoir offer a few organic options.
If fizzy drinks are an essential then another option is to borrow a soda syphon or soda stream for the event. The air comes in recyclable and sometimes refillable canisters.
Cocktails – There’s nothing that says party like a cocktail and I love trying new ones. If you’re going to serve them at a party I’d suggest selecting two that can be pre-mixed so that you don’t have to fuss over them when guests arrive. Alternatively make up a Christmas cocktail syrup that you only need to add to gin or vodka to make a festive drink. A simpler, but so on trend, idea is to flavour some gin with botanicals like rosemary and orange rind or cucumber and lime slices.
The Clean Up
At parties I frequently see everything put into the same bin meaning everything ends up in landfill. To avoid this provide as many bins as you have waste streams and label them accordingly. For example in our house we have compostable waste (food, napkins, compostable tableware), dry recyclables (paper and some plastic) and glass, and then the landfill bin for everything else. I’m a waste nerd and so relish the opportunity to educate (annoy) guests about waste, explaining what goes into which bin and why.
If you are having a get together this Christmas just remember to focus on what’s most important, spending time with people who’s company you enjoy. You can’t do that if you’re stuck in the kitchen or refilling people’s glasses so set out a drinks table and a food table and let people help themselves. You deserve to enjoy yourself just as much as everyone else.