How to Throw a Zero Waste, Socially Distanced Party

If you look up anything about having a socially distant, covid-safe party, there’s plastic everywhere. So when planning a small gathering for my daughter’s birthday I wanted to see if I could keep it plastic free. Here’s what I learned and some tips for hosting a safe, socially distanced, and low waste party! (These are my suggestions but make sure to only do what you’re comfortable with, the risks vary greatly depending where you live and your personal situation so these ideas might not work for everyone)

Keep it Small & Simple

Small is pretty obvious, the fewer people the less risk of infection and also the less you will need. Try to not see it as a negative, but instead embrace the intimate nature of a small gathering.

Also keep it simple! A few snacks and drinks, afternoon cake, or ordering pizzas are all great. The important thing is spending time together, the elaborate table spreads and platters can wait.

Hosting outdoors is safest and you’ll want to choose an area where you can space out chairs, picnic blankets or other seating.

Small, outdoor party in the evening

Clearly Communicate

It will work best and go smoothest if everyone knows what to expect.

Let your guests know if the party will be indoors or outdoors so they can dress appropriately and come prepared. It’s also nice to let everyone know how many are coming so you can make sure they are comfortable being around that many people. If guests are expected to wear masks or you don’t want people going inside to use the bathroom make sure everyone knows beforehand and can plan accordingly. Also include with the invite if people should bring chairs, their own cups, etc.

When guests arrive let them know where they can sit and also if there are any other things they should know about.


One of the best ways to keep things hygienic is have your guests bring their own stuff.

You can have people bring everything including their own food, or if you want to serve food (see some ideas below) then maybe have guests bring their own plates, cutlery, cups, etc. or maybe just have people bring their own chairs. However you want to manage it, don’t be afraid to ask your guests to bring things!

Food & Drink Ideas

Here is where most of the plastic comes from as you want everything individually portioned. Gone are the easy zero waste cheese, fruit, and charcuterie boards, and definitely avoid anything the involves people touching the same knife, handles, bottles, etc.

Also serving food that people can easily eat with their hands and a napkin or small plate are often best when you don’t have everyone seated at a table.

Here are some ideas of plastic-free food and snacks you can serve where most of the ingredients can be bought in bulk, without packaging, or with plastic free packaging:

  • Popcorn in individual paper bags or little bowls
  • Bake cupcakes with compostable wrappers (helpful guide to zero waste baking)
  • Homemade cookies
  • Naturally wrapped fruit such as mandarins and bananas
  • Homemade fruit popsicles
  • BBQ corn on the cob
  • BBQ veggie skewers
  • Ordering pizza can also be an option if you know of a local pizza place that deliver plastic-free and you can compost the boxes
Plastic-free party food ideas

Drinks are a bit trickier to avoid waste as you don’t want people touching the same pitchers and bottles. Either have drinks in recyclable glass bottles or cans (and support local breweries/drink companies if you can!), or have people bring their own drinks or water bottles.

Food Prep & Serving

It’s of course best to make sure whoever is preparing the food regularly cleans their hands and wears a mask while preparing and plating the party food.

You can space the food out on a serving plate for easy, minimal-contact grabbing or even better, set up multiple serving plates around the space. You can also pre-make individual plates if you think that would work well, but this can also increase food waste.


For zero waste decorations, I think going natural is always lovely. Depending on the season you can decorate with flowers from local farms, squash and leaves in autumn, or pine branches and holly in winter.

Zero waste natural decorations

Candles are always loves for ambience. Some DIY bunting using scrap fabric or paper is also a great re-useable option and adds a special charm for birthdays.

You can also often find themed decorations, candles, lights, decorative serving platters, and party supplies secondhand at thrift stores and through “buy nothing groups”.

Also set up a…

Sanitation Station

It’s best if there’s an easy and obvious place for people to sanitize their hands. Set-up a pump or spray bottle of sanitizer for guests to use when coming into the party and during the event.

You might want to also set one up by the door, bathroom, or anywhere people will be touching handles or the same items.

Green tip: Many distilleries are now selling cans of sanitizer which you can use to refill your bottles and avoid more plastic!

Compost & Dirty Dishes Bin

Label a bucket for guests to put any paper, food scraps or compost.

If you’re using dishes, cutlery and cups it can be helpful to have a large bucket or bin where people can put their used items, and you can add hot water and soap after the party for easy cleanup.

Those are my socially-distanced and low waste party tips and please share yours in the comments too!


2 Responses

  1. Arun
    | Reply

    I loved every detail mentioned in the blog and what made me even happier is the effort spent by the author to detail every requirement conforming to the COVID protocols. Yes, it isn’t easy to socialize during COVID times, and it is vital to take the utmost care when you are hosting a party.

  2. Mark Ward
    | Reply

    So many great ideas! Thanks for the information. Trying many of your ideas for our next gathering will allow for some great conversation to get others to think about being more green and aware of waste.

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