- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Imagine throwing a picnic for 2,000 guests. Now factor in their ages — mostly 18 and 19. Clean-up would fill a Dumpster, right? Wrong. When the University of Puget Sound held its annual freshman orientation picnic in the fall, 2,000 meals produced one small bag of garbage.

“Environmental responsibility is part of our university’s overarching mission, so we’ve incorporated green practices into everything that happens on this campus, including event planning and parties,” says university spokeswoman Melissa Rohlfs.

The university chose compost-ready plates made of cornstarch and sugar cane as well as reusable flatware and glasses from the dining halls. Food scraps were gathered to compost, and volunteers manned waste containers, separating recyclables, compostables and garbage.

The sober news about global warming hasn’t dampened party spirits. It has greened them. Events across the country — most visibly the 79th Academy Awards, which went eco with hybrid limos, recycled paper and organic chocolate — are partying responsibly.

“I used to make green suggestions and [clients] would say, ‘Next time,’ ” says Risa Feldman, president of New Leaf Events based in Manhattan Beach, Calif., who has produced events for sustainability organizations. “In the past two years, they’re better received. Clients think it’s a great idea.”

Greening your next party doesn’t mean forswearing electricity or preaching to your guests. “It could be just purchasing locally grown food or using a caterer who uses local food,” says Paul McRandle, deputy editor of the Green Guide, a newsletter devoted to environmental lifestyles. “You don’t have to make a big deal out of it.”

Experts offer these tips for greener home entertaining:

• Invitations: Paper-free invitations like those offered at evite.com are greenest. However, there are special occasions for which the cyber-card just doesn’t cut it. In that case, look for recycled paper. “You can’t tell the difference, and it’s a better choice,” Miss Feldman says. “If it’s a baby shower, look for flower seeds embedded in the paper. Print at the bottom, ‘After you read this, please plant. This sheet of paper will sprout wildflowers.’ ” She recommends printing your own invitations on Plantable Papers by Bloom (www.plantablepaper.com). If you are having the invitations printed professionally, ask for vegetable-based ink, advises the Green Guide’s Mr. McRandle. Many standard inks are petroleum derivatives.

• Flowers: Shop local at the farmers market, if possible. Amy Stewart, author of “Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers” (Algonquin Books), says 78 percent of the flowers sold in the United States are imported and often grown with harmful pesticides or on farms with poor labor practices. She advises looking for flowers with VeriFlora certification, a new eco-label certifying that flowers are grown environmentally. Ask for them from your florist or buy them online at www.organicbouquet.com.

• Candlelight: Go with soy-based or beeswax candles. Miss Feldman says soy candles “are nontoxic, clean-burning, and they don’t pollute. They’re easy to get and not more expensive. It’s a no-brainer.” Soy candles are widely available in home stores, online and at specialty grocers such as Whole Foods. Aroma Naturals offers a line of soy- and vegetable-oil candles scented with plant oils (www.aromanaturals.com). Beeswax candles, such as those from Candle Bee Farms (www.candlebeefarm.com) may be slightly more expensive than petroleum-based paraffin candles. Danielle Venokur, owner of DVGreen, a sustainable-party-planning service in New York, recommends battery-operated LED “candles” that flicker for thousands of hours within glass votives (www.partylytes.com).

• Plates: If you can’t use regular plates, look for eco-friendly paper plate replacements such as those made with corn, sugar cane or soy that are biodegradable. Earthshell makes biodegradable disposable plates and bowls from potatoes, corn and limestone and is available at major retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart (www.earthshell.com). Simply Biodegradable sells sugar-cane-based plates and cornstarch utensils (www.simplybiodegradable.com). Clear Creek Compostables sells paper plates made of 90 percent sugar-cane pulp and 10 percent paper. They can hold boiling water (www.clearcreekcomp.com).

• Napkins: If you can’t use fabric napkins, look for recycled napkins. “With recycled materials, look for a high-percentage use of ‘post-consumer materials,’ ” Mr. McRandle advises. Those are papers that otherwise would be put in a landfill. Most producers that use a high ratio of recycled materials indicate this on their packaging. Seventh Generation, for example, uses a minimum of 80 percent post-consumer recycled paper, including napkins that are naturally brown or bleached white without harmful chlorine (www.seventhgeneration.com). If you have more time and want more impact, scour thrift shops for vintage dresses and cut and hem them into unique cocktail napkins, says DVGreen’s Miss Venokur.

• Water: Look for bottled water that comes in biodegradable bottles. Biota spring water in bottles made from corn was offered backstage at the Academy Awards (www.biotaspringwater.com).

• Wine: Serve local wine or, if unavailable, organic or biodynamic wines that don’t use harmful chemicals during farming. New York wine expert Michael Green suggests several good and affordable biodynamic wines, including Chateau Maris “Minervois” 2003 from France (about $10), Badger Mountain Syrah 2002 from Washington’s Columbia Valley (about $13) and Frey Biodynamic Zinfandel from California (about $17).

• Glasses: “Where possible, use glassware, things that can be washed and reused,” Mr. McRandle advises. “You can rent them from a catering service if you don’t have them.” Throwing a bridal shower for 20 champagne sippers? Mr. McRandle suggests buying the glass champagne flutes and then giving them to guests as gifts or donating them to charity.

When greening your next party, choose one or two areas to go eco and build on the results. “Greening parties is a process,” Miss Feldman says. “Don’t do it all at once. I’d rather have someone ease into it. Doing a little goes a long way.”

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