A Greener Party 

Backyard summer fun minus the environmental guilt.

click to enlarge JUSTIN FOX BURKS

No one likes to be a nag, but that cookout you're enjoying may not be that great for our planet.

Don't fret. You can keep on barbecuing and having people over because greening your party is simple.

Margot McNeeley, executive director of Project Green Fork, says that the first thing to remember is that reusable trumps disposable. Some hosts simply utilize their regular plates and glasses and deal with the extra load of dishes after the occasion ends.

Having dishwasher-safe recycled plastic plates and cutlery on hand is another option. Whole Foods Market has a selection of Preserve plates and cups, which are made from recycled plastic and can be re-used.

For one-time-use plates and cutlery, look for plastics marked with a "1" or "2," which are accepted for curbside recycling here in Memphis. Place a clearly marked, recycling-only bin in the party's vicinity rather than leave it up to your guests to find the one hidden away somewhere inside the house or garage.

Sustainable partyware is biodegradable and often compostable. Bare by Solo bamboo/natural fiber plates are available at Fresh Market for $2.99 for a set of 15, and a full eight-piece place setting of TerraWare earth-friendly plastic-alternative cutlery made from cornstarch resin is $1.99 at Whole Foods. For large events, ordering in bulk online is a good option, and McNeeley's go-to site, ecoproducts.com, has everything — even compostable straws.

To deck out the table, think about what you already have around the house. Refashion an old cotton window panel or an interesting piece of fabric to use as an outdoor tablecloth. Get some cloth napkins (available for as little as $1 apiece), and after the party, just throw everything in the washing machine.

Danny Seo, eco-lifestyle expert and green-living contributor for Better Homes & Gardens, gets creative with unusual materials. "I use a paint-splattered canvas tarp as a heavy-duty tablecloth and colorful bandannas as napkins," he says. "They're fun and reusable."

Seo offers another idea that can add to your party's green atmosphere: "I think solar lanterns borrowed from the driveway make great lanterns on the table."

For centerpieces, turn to your own yard for flowers or ask your neighbors' permission to thin out what they've got. Flowers that are fair-trade-certified are gaining in popularity, but many are still shipped from far away; however, here in Memphis, Jill Forrester of Whitton Farms offers gorgeous Arkansas-grown flora at the Memphis Botanic Garden Farmers Market on Wednesday and the downtown Farmers Market on Saturday.

Now let's get cooking. Contrary to popular belief, grilling out may not be as harmful as people think. McNeeley asserts, "The carbon footprint of grilling is nothing compared to what people do in their everyday lives." However, she points out that there are a few steps that can help us grill greener. While propane and electric grills are more efficient, those who prefer charcoal grills can purchase environmental charcoal or wood briquettes and use chimney starters in lieu of fluid. Using Cowboy Charcoal is also a better choice because it's natural and sustainable. A trick that Seo recommends is using "lint from the drying machine as a natural firestarter. It is slow-burning, natural, and free."

For the food, it's a good idea to use what's offered locally and in season and to be sure not to overestimate what people will eat. Seo says, "I think the biggest mistake people make is that we worry we won't have enough food for family and friends, so we overcook and overserve everything. What happens? We end up with garbage bags full of spoiled potato salad, snacks, half-full beverages, and perfectly good corn on the cob. Instead, plan ahead and stick to a handful of quality side dishes and entrées and one very good dessert. Serve everything in resealable containers so it can easily be sealed back up for leftovers."

McNeeley advises hosts to turn off any unnecessary inside electricity when everyone's in the backyard but also says to take your iPhone outside — there are applications that can help repel mosquitoes. Sandalwood incense is another natural repellent that's widely available.

Going green doesn't mean the party's over. It's simply about being more responsible.

"Do the math," Seo says. "The amount of trash and waste you generate in your own backyard times the number of Americans who are entertaining equals a lot of trash. I'm not advising against enjoying the warm summer air for dining al fresco. I just think we can significantly cut down on waste if we just make a few changes."

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