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Sustainable Summer Celebrating

July 3, 2024

By Jolene Poet, Park Interpreter

As summer continues to warm the air and the sun shines well into the evening, the season of outdoor festivities in fully underway. From graduation parties to backyard barbeques, the goal is always to have a good time. However, amidst the excitement, its often easy to overlook the environmental impacts of our celebrations. Things that we may think of as commonplace party essentials may be the biggest threats. Thankfully, there are lots of alternatives and ways to have a good time without being detrimental to the environment.

One of the first steps to take towards a sustainable celebration, is rethinking the way we decorate. Our go to, no matter what the occasion, are balloons, glitter, confetti, and streamers. Unfortunately, they pose some pretty significant challenges to the environment. Balloons are often released or just float away after an event, and they can end up miles away from their original location. They get caught in trees, pop and fall into our waterways, and they may even end up in the mouth (and stomach) of some wildlife. Glitter and confetti are often made of plastic and once they take flight in the wind, there’s no cleaning it up. It will go off to pollute the ecosystem and potentially harm wildlife. The thing about plastic is, it never biodegrades. It will remain long after the party is over, and even long past the next one.

Everyone can appreciate a well decorated party, but at what cost? Streamers, confetti, and glitter are often made of plastic, which will never decompose.

There are eco-friendly options for decorations, with some creative thinking and mindfulness, you may even find a new favorite decoration. Try to opt for items that you can reuse in the future. An inflatable birthday cake works great instead of balloons, and it can be reinflated every year. When releasing balloons as a form of honoring your loved ones, consider blowing bubbles instead. Confetti or glitter can be replaced by natural elements such as leaves or flowers. If you’d like to hang decorations, choose items made from paper or cardboard which can be easily recycled. If you’d like to add some creativity to it, make your own decorations. These alternatives have a lesser impact on the environment and they look really great too!

It doesn’t end with decorations, there are a few other party staples that threaten the natural world around us. Single use plastics can be found at nearly every celebration. They are something that often gets overlooked, because they’re so often used. Plastic silverware, plastic cups, and plastic tablecloths all get thrown away after the event. Reusable is always an option, of course it leads to more clean-up. If doing dishes isn’t your thing, there are compostable or biodegradable options available. Bamboo plates and silverware can be of great quality and aren’t as costly as you may think. Paper cups and paper straws break down more readily than plastic and Styrofoam. Tablecloths can actually be rented and returned, that way they look nicer, and you don’t get stuck with the laundry.

Furthermore, the proper management of any waste you create is imperative to maintaining our natural surroundings. Allowing your napkins to blow in the wind,or leaving items behind can cause harm to wildlife or the flora growing nearby. Ensuring you have proper waste disposal helps prevent this. Having a separate receptacle for recyclables such as cans and bottles helps cut back on what is being sent to the landfill.

Whether you choose to celebrate at a local park or your own backyard, be mindful of where your trash ends up. If you’re in a public space, don’t leave your garbage behind for someone else to clean up.

Arguably the most important part of any celebration, is the food. You may be wondering, how can the food I serve impact the environment? Well, there are actually many ways. Eating foods which are out of season in your area means that item had to be transported in. The further away it came from, the larger impact it has. This also includes foods that aren’t grown in your region, looking at you avocado. Eating foods grown locally this season can actually be more cost effective for you. Visit local famer’s markets and produce stands to not only help your community, but also get the most bang for your buck. Stacking your menu with a lot of meat options can also have an impact on the environment. Animal farming can be a significant contributor to deforestation, water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. I’m not suggesting you make your guests eat vegetarian for the day, I’m not sure they’d attend your events in the future if that were the case. When planning your menu, opt for more vegetable-based dishes than meat-based. You can still have your fried chicken or hamburgers on the grill, but instead of doubling up on meat options, add side salads, mixed vegetables, fruit and veggie trays and a carb.

The food we choose to eat can have big impacts on the environment. Serving foods at your event that are sourced locally and thoughtfully will minimize these impacts.

In conclusion, celebrations of any sort are meant to be fun, but making a few changes can reduce their impact on the environment. There must be a balance between the traditional party staples and making more sustainable choices. By being a little more mindful of the decorations you choose the food you serve, and what you serve it with you can still make your event fun and memorable but also environmentally friendly.

If you’ve been following along on our articles about sustainability, you should start to see some overlap. The food we choose to eat, the products that we buy, and the way we manage our waste products all have big impacts on the environment. by being mindful about some of the daily choices you make, you can be sustainable with minimal effort.

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