people talking at christmas party in candlelight.

How to Plan a Low Waste Christmas Party

Christmas parties are a staple of any business calendar. They’re a great way to get employees feeling festive and reward them for all their hard work over the past year. Whether you run a small start-up or a national firm, it’s inevitable that your celebrations can create one problem – Christmas party waste.

Even if you’re just throwing a Christmas party for friends and family at home, it’s amazing how much rubbish it may produce. But there are plenty of ways you can have a sustainable, low waste Christmas party at work or home with a bit of preparation. Planning helps avoid less eco-friendly last-minute purchases and decisions.

Discover how to plan and throw a low waste Christmas party this year with our guide.

Decorate with minimal waste

Decking out your space with tinsel and festive plastic ornaments is a quick and easy way to transform your office or home into Santa’s grotto. But it can generate lots of hard or impossible to recycle waste. Careful planning creates that classic Christmas vibe without filling Santa’s sacks with rubbish. These are some low waste decorating ideas:

  • Rent a Christmas tree – if you can’t decide whether a real or artificial tree is more sustainable, consider a zero waste Christmas tree by renting one. Various companies offer services that deliver a real tree you decorate and look after, before they remove and replant it. For businesses that only need a tree for a few days or weeks, it’s a sustainable and affordable option.
  • Use seasonal flowers – amaryllis, poinsettia, and holly wreaths all introduce traditional Christmas colours of reds and greens and a nice natural aroma to your party atmosphere. Plus, you can repot them later or add to compost or garden waste for sustainable disposal.
  • Choose reusable Christmas decorations – if you must buy new Christmas decorations, avoid those that include the year on them so you can reuse them. Ensure anything fabric is washable and that you have storage space for everything.
  • Avoid plastic tablecloths – Christmas tablecloths provide an easy way to bring the festive spirit to your party. Go for washable cloth and fabric ones you can keep and reuse, as plastic tablecloths are hard to recycle and less likely to last as long.
  • Encourage collaborative decorating – throwing a workplace Christmas party? Rather than buying new decorations, encourage your team to bring in any spare ones from home to decorate the space. Then they can take them home for the holidays, eliminating Christmas décor waste.

Carefully plan catering

If you’re having a Christmas party on your business premises or at home, you have more control over any food and drinks waste. Estimate how much food you need based on a head count to reduce the chance of leftovers. Choosing dishes that keep well for a few days helps any leftovers go to good use too.

Bake and cook as much food as you can where possible – or ask guests to bring a dish each. This significantly cuts down on the amount of plastic and packaging waste Christmas food creates. Buying food and drinks in bulk also reduces packaging waste – just avoid any individually wrapped goods.

You don’t want to under cater, so it’s likely you’ll have some food leftover from your Christmas party however carefully you plan. Ask guests to take any leftovers home or donate to a food bank or animal shelter so it’s put to good use.

christmas party food and drinks being prepared.

Avoid disposable cups, cutlery, and plates 

It’s estimated that 300 million plastic cups and straws are used at Christmas parties around the UK every year. These are tricky to recycle, and many are thrown away, ending up in landfill where they contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. That’s not very Christmassy.

Avoid disposable plastic cutlery, cups, and plates – even those with Christmas designs. You might intend to wash and reuse them, but many get caked in food and drink then end up being thrown away anyway. Instead, use the cutlery and cups your home or office already has. Add a few Christmas stickers to any glasses for a festive touch.

Use no waste Christmas crackers

Crackers are a tradition at any Christmas party, but they create a big waste problem. While the paper hats are often easily recycled, it’s the plastic or foil coating, glitter, and plastic prize inside that aren’t recyclable. Thankfully, there are now many no waste Christmas crackers available as an alternative.

Search for recyclable and eco-friendly crackers in the shops. These are normally made from pure cardboard or fabric that’s reusable or recyclable. You can also make you own no waste Christmas crackers. Use some old Christmas cards, wrapping paper, kitchen roll tubes, and bunting or string and get creative – you can even recycle or reuse them again.

Set a sustainable dress code

There’s always a worry about being over or under dressed for the Christmas party. Strict dress codes mean many people buy a new dress or suit just for the occasion. In fact, Oxfam found that 61% of Brits don’t reuse their Christmas party outfit. This creates an abundance of avoidable waste.

To tackle this, have a low waste Christmas dress code in place. It could be as simple as asking guests to wear second-hand Christmas jumpers, or just preloved items decorated with festive accessories (such as badges, patches, lights, or dyed Christmas colours).

If you really want a smart dress code, ask guests to rent not buy their suits and dresses this year. As well as helping the planet, it’s often a more cost-effective option. The freedom to rent means people might be more adventurous in their style choices too.

woman in sparkly dress touching bauble on christmas tree.

Light up the room

Illuminate your party with LED Christmas light strings to form a warm and energy-saving atmosphere. These can use up to 80% less energy compared to traditional incandescent bulbs. Plus, they’ll last longer so you can use them for many Christmas parties to come. Some subtle varieties can be reused for Easter, summer, and Halloween parties.

Another eco-friendly lighting choice is to use candles. Create a cosy environment and cut lighting costs at the same time. Reusable candle holders are a greener option than tealights as they create less waste. Just ensure you have a safe setup to reduce any fire risks (especially when the beer and wine is flowing).

Give green gifts

If there’s going to be gift giving at your Christmas party – whether exchanging presents between friends or it’s the Secret Santa finale – keep it low waste. You could set some rules in advance, such as insisting all gifts are wrapped in old newspaper to eliminate wrapping paper waste.

If you’re doing a Secret Santa at your work Christmas party, it’s likely there’ll be a spending limit in place. Introduce some further rules, like no plastic gifts or only second-hand or homemade presents allowed. This should help reduce waste, leading to some more sustainable, unique, and thoughtful presents.

Set up recycling stations

Completely eliminating Christmas party waste is almost impossible, but you can at least divert as much as possible away from landfill with the right recycling bins. Place these in easily accessible places to encourage guests to recycle a variety of waste. Have recycling bins for the following:

  • Cardboard recycling – packaging waste and recyclable Christmas crackers.
  • Paper recycling – Christmas party hats, paper used for games, and recyclable wrapping paper.
  • Dry mixed recycling – drinks cans, food trays, and food packaging.
  • Plastic recycling – plastic drinks bottles, containers, and recyclable plastic cutlery.
  • Food waste – any leftover food that can’t donated or eaten elsewhere.

Learn more about how to have a sustainable festive season in our guides to a low waste Christmas.

Read our guides to Christmas waste
christmas crackers.
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