Using locally grown flora, this arrangement by Baltimore’s Local Color Flowers is stunning. Credit: Stacy Bauer Photography

Gearing up to start planning for holiday entertaining? Consider a few of the sustainably minded party-hosting tips below. From your invitations to party cleanup, small changes can yield greener results while helping you host a fabulous party, all with a nod to our planet.

Invitations: Less is More 

An online invite is a simple switch, and there are some pretty upscale digital options these days.

However, there are many events in which an online invite isn’t going to cut it. If you’ve decided to mail invitations, skip the foil decorations, as the shiny decor isn’t recyclable. Choose paper products made of recycled paper — also called post-consumer — instead of using paper made from new trees.

The online site Paper Culture offers stylish and sustainably printed invites and stationery. This mission-driven company also plants one tree for each order.

With the goal in mind to reduce and reuse, consider a postcard invite, which eliminates the need for an envelope and a two-sided card. No green change is too small.

Partying without Plastic

Given that entertaining’s big stressor is feeding and cleaning up for a large crowd, the disposable industry stepped in with single-use plastic and foam supplies. Disposables seem to solve a lot of party issues, yet their obvious downside is that a one-time event can generate a lot of trash that never breaks down.

The best way to lean into waste-free entertaining it to build your own party supply inventory. Invest in classic white plates (ceramic or melamine), glass stemware, flatware, tablecloths, napkins and mason jars for about 20 people. If you stick with classic white, it’s easy to decorate for just about every theme and occasion.

A fun idea is to go in with a group of friends and share the party supply costs, as well as hard-to-find storage space. Really want to buy sustainable? Support a Charm City business and buy sustainable homegoods from Baltimore’s own online retailer, Bambeco.

The energy and climate savings breakeven between real versus disposables is about 20 uses. Using your own party supplies does add extra party cleanup, but today’s dishwashers use only about 6 gallons of water and don’t require rinsing anymore.

Composting A Big Event

If your event is larger and requires single-use supplies, consider calling Veteran Compost and skip the landfill altogether.  Owned and operated by veterans, the Aberdeen-based business offers customers various levels of event food scrap and trash pickup. The compostable trash is taken to their 30-acre farm, where it’s turned into compost treasure and eventually sold.

Made from organic products like corn and cellulose, compostable party products are now widely available. The rub with compostables is that to gain their full eco-benefit, the used items need to end up in a commercial composting facility. Most home compost bins don’t get hot enough to fully break down the materials. Give Veteran Compost a call before your party to learn the best compostable supplies to buy, and you will be on your way hosting a waste-free event.

Need disposable, can’t compost

Sometimes it’s necessary to buy disposables. Try in vain to buy recyclable disposals. Offer your guests many recycling options so that reusable material doesn’t end up in the trash.

Biodegradable and compostable party supplies slightly edge out plastic and foam because the natural products are derived from renewable products, rather than petroleum-based materials.

When Sally Secola, the owner at 100 West Hair Studio, was helping to plan her daughter Ashton’s wedding, she made every effort to go waste-free and buy natural products.

“Ashton and Brandon had an outdoor wedding for almost 140 guests and we wanted a beautiful wedding that didn’t make a lot of trash,” Secola said. “We found beautiful palm leaf natural plates and corn-resin cups. We chose birchwood cutlery and used our own linens.”

Centerpieces at Ashton and Brandon Walsh’s wedding were handmade with natural materials.

Ashton and Brandon’s floral wedding reception centerpieces were handmade and grown during the spring by a close family friend. The pretty birch and greenery pieces were given away to guests and neighbors. Sally and her daughter made a real effort to recycle at the reception.

“Ashton and Brandon’s wedding was beautiful,” Sally said. “We think the sustainable choices that we chose made a big difference.”

Think Global, Act Local Flowers

If you’re not fortunate to have a florist friend like Sally, think global by acting local.

Cut flowers aren’t for the eco-conscious at heart. Most cut flowers are grown in South America and Africa on industrial-scale farms, and with heavy pesticides, fungicides and dyes. Coupled with questionable worker practices, it’s worth the trouble to buy local flowers and plants.

Take advantage of your garden’s flower bounty. What’s prettier than fresh flowers in a mason jar? Pinterest, the creative mother of all ideas, has some very clever and doable sustainable flower projects.

To support our local economy and buy eco-flowers and one-of-a-kind arrangements, check out Local Color Flowers in Baltimore. Butterbee Farm in Pikesville, Maryland sells sustainable cut flowers through their community supported agriculture (CSA) initiative, or you can buy a bucket of beautiful flowers for your event. Whole Foods also offers Whole Trade Guarantee cut flowers.

Lean Into Green

Shooting for sustainability in this modern world can be confusing. Many often wonder if it’s worth it. Stories and articles sometimes compare the exact lifecycles of using this versus that, with the “bad” choice coming out on top. So, what’s the point in composting? It’s a lot easier to buy the cheap disposables and party on.

In my humble opinion, with real intent to try and choose more sustainable choices in our everyday lives — no matter how big or small — it’s worth it. Small changes lead to bigger ones. It’s a learning process, and if we don’t try, nothing will change. So, have a glass of organic champagne and enjoy the party.

Simple and sustainable can be beautiful. Ivy and flowers from the garden and unscented soy candles make a sophisticated table.

Laurel Peltier writes the environment GreenLaurel column every Thursday in the Baltimore Fishbowl.