Zero Waste Outdoor Entertaining ~ you can do it!

solar lanterns for zero waste entertaining

Zero Waste Outdoor Entertaining ~ make all your backyard barbecues, summer garden parties, and family gatherings eco-friendly this season with minimal waste and maximum style!

zero waste outdoor dining

What is zero waste all about?

Zero Waste: The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of all products, packaging, and materials, without burning them, and without discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.

Basically it means putting as little into the trash as you possibly can on a daily basis. While I’m not a perfect role model for zero waste living, I do think it’s a worthy goal and I’m a firm believer in making small changes that add up to a big difference. I also believe that even if you’re no eco-warrior, there are a lot of reasons to integrate zero-waste principles into your life. Phasing out disposable products is healthier,  saves money, and saves room in the landfills! Here are my top picks for hosting a fabulous zero-waste backyard shindig without sacrificing style.


Outdoor Drinkware

There’s no excuse for disposable cups anymore, unbreakable glassware has exploded on the scene with new technology that gives you the same clarity and feel of glass, in a durable, re-usable form. Whether you’re serving up cocktails, wine, or fruit punch, Williams Sonoma has plastic glasses in just about every shape and size you’ll ever need. They’re eco-friendly, safe around the pool, and still cute. The best part? They can go straight into the dishwasher!

Domaine Shatterproof Outdoor White Wine Glasses ~ Williams Sonoma

plastic outdoor drinkware for zero waste entertaining


Beverage Dispensers

Try swapping out the ubiquitous styrofoam cooler full of aluminum cans for a pretty beverage dispenser that you can use for gatherings all year round. You’ll find them in glass, but acrylic versions like the one below are lighter weight, and perfect poolside. I like to fill them with fruit infused water for the non drinkers in the crowd. Think of how many plastic water bottles you’ll save! My Star Spangled Fruit Infused Water would be great in one of these for the 4th.

Note: if you’re serving lots of beer, consider renting a keg.

Acrylic Drink Dispenser ~ Crate and Barrel

large drink dispenser for zero waste entertaining


Pitcher cocktails are such fun in the summer months, so make sure you have a couple of non-breakables handy.

Picnic Pitcher  ~ Terrain

plastic pitchers for zero waste entertaining



Melamine dishes have come a long way, you guys. There are so many beautiful, food-safe versions out there that are dishwasher-friendly, pool-friendly, and environmentally-friendly alternatives to the paper plate! Plus they won’t buckle under a hefty burger πŸ™‚

Modern Melamine Dinnerware ~ West Elm

Melamine plates for zero waste entertaining



For larger parties where plastic or melamine dishes for all your guests just isn’t feasible, try looking for compostable plates, cutlery, and even straws! Just make sure you have a separate waste bin that’s clearly marked for your guests to dispose of their compostable items. And remember, lots of products made from bamboo or wood can be reused multiple times, just hand wash and dry.

Hay Straws ~ Amazon (yes, they’re made of hay)
all natural eco-friendly straw made out of hay for zero waste entertaining


BalsaCircle Compostable Natural Birch Wood Spoons ~ Walmart

eco-friendly wooden cutlery for zero waste entertaining

When you’re ready to clean up, consider using compostable food waste bags!


Food Covers

Leave the plastic wrap in the kitchen and keep your food protected from bugs, pool splashes, and the sun with a variety of reusable food covers. Beeswax wraps are a great alternative to plastic wrap ~ the natural wax infused fabric conforms to any shape bowl or platter and keeps your food fresh. You can find the original Bee’s Wrap at Sur La Table, but I like the fun patterns from Etsy, below.

Bee’s Wax Food Wraps ~ Etsy

Bees Wax food wraps for zero waste entertaining


Food-tents allow air to circulate while still protecting your food. One benefit is that your guests can still see what’s inside ( a boon when you need to keep the buffet line moving.)

Food Tent ~ Crate & Barrel

mesh food covers for zero waste entertaining



Paper napkins are a huge waste, and they’re not nearly as effective as cloth. High quality fabric napkins are easy to throw in the washing machine, and will last years.

Terrazzo Print Napkins ~ West Elm

cloth napkins for zero waste entertaining


And put down that paper tablecloth! Beautiful printed linens are practical and elegant. The one below is made from oilcloth, a fabric treated with special oils to make it waterproof. Just sponge it down to clean, no laundering needed!

Note: you can make your own custom tablecloth with oilcloth yardage from Etsy.

Summer Stripe Oilcloth Tablecloth ~ Williams Sonoma

oilcloth table cloth for zero waste outdoor entertaining


Bug Control

Keeping the bugs at bay is essential for any outdoor summer party. These citronella candles will last much longer than disposable tea lights, plus you can reuse the pretty glass containers.

Hanging Bubble Glass Citronella Candle ~ Terrain

glass citronella candles for zero waste entertaining



Why not score some extra points with festive solar-powered lighting? No matches, batteries, or recharging necessary! I think these pierced styles are gorgeous.

Lace Solar Lanterns ~ Terrain

solar lanterns for zero waste entertaining



Resist the urge to throw a theme party, that just encourages a lot of waste. Instead, let Mother Nature be your decorator and use what you’ve got around you to create simple tablescapes. I love to gather a combination of herbs and flowers in simple canning jars for a sweet look. See my post on Backyard Flower Arranging for inspiration.

Weck Canning Jars ~ Amazon

backyard flowers for zero waste outdoor entertaining


Menu plan

Do yourself a favor and pare down the menu. Cheeseboards, charcuterie platters, and grazing tables make perfect warm weather party food. Finger food is deliciously low waste and so chic! You can use all kinds of wooden trays or stone slabs for arranging cheese boards. I love this acrylic/rattan tray.

Summer Cheese Platter ~ Half Baked Harvest

summer cheese platter for zero waste entertaining



Check out my Outdoor Entertaining Pinterest board for even more ideas!


Zero waste entertaining pin.



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    Leave a Reply

  • Reply
    Karen (Back Road Journal)
    June 9, 2019 at 8:20 am

    A terrific post Sue and one well worth remembering. Melamine dishes are so pretty now…I use them for outdoor entertaining all the time and they never scratch. Some people don’t even realize that they aren’t some kind of ceramic. πŸ˜€

    • Reply
      June 9, 2019 at 8:25 am

      I’m obsessed with the beautiful melamine from Williams Sonoma!

  • Reply
    Anne Weber-Falk
    June 2, 2019 at 8:49 am

    This is a fantastic article. Thank you so much for the suggestions and the links. Your work is very good. Hope your weekend is wonderful.

    • Reply
      June 2, 2019 at 8:50 am

      Thanks Anne πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    2 sisters recipes
    June 2, 2019 at 8:39 am

    Love this post! Zero Waste is going to be the new mind set for everyone to adapt to when it’s comes to not adding waste to our environment. Pinning !!

  • Reply
    June 2, 2019 at 8:24 am

    Wow thanks for all the great ideas. Zero waste is so important now. I am really concerned for our world. thanks for helping us make a difference with style.

    • Reply
      June 2, 2019 at 8:50 am

      Every time I unpack my groceries and realize how much packaging there is it makes me crazy!

  • Reply
    Tricia | Saving Room for Dessert
    June 2, 2019 at 7:48 am

    Oh wow – now I want to have a party! All great ideas and a much needed change in our mindset. Great post!

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