How to Organize a Zero-Waste Lending Library for Parties and Events

By Entertaining, Zero Waste

How to Organize a Zero-Waste Lending Library

How many times have you attended (or hosted) an event where the plates, cups, utensils, and decorations are disposable – as in used once, for a few minutes or a few hours, only to be tossed when the party is over?

Unless you can shell out the big bucks for event rentals, this seems to be the party-planning mentality of the modern age: single-use everything.

Luckily, there is a simple solution: a zero-waste lending library for all your celebrations’ needs!


The purpose of a lending library is to offer a collection of reusable supplies that can be shared within your community, be it a group of friends, a church, school, business or the neighborhood.

They are perfect for:

  • Thanksgiving
  • Birthdays
  • Holiday Parties
  • Baby Showers
  • Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties
  • Bar/Bat Mitzvahs
  • Small Weddings
  • Block Parties
  • School Events
  • Community Potlucks
  • Company Parties

When we moved into our home 5 years ago, we just so happened to land three doors down from a zero-waste lending library that was created as part of the incredible eco events company, Green Mary, which helps all kinds of Bay Area events go low-to-zero waste.

The Green Mary lending library contains about 500 place settings, along with most small things you would find at a party rental store: linens, water dispensers, vases, baskets, galvanized buckets, etc. 

But you don’t have to create anything nearly that large! Even a group of 10 friends or families can build a library together to be passed around from event to event.

Choosing reusables is ideal, as very few of the disposable items are recyclable or compostable anyway, so they end up in the landfill when the celebration comes to an end.

With a zero-waste lending library, there is no need to set foot in a party store and no need to grab paper plates and cups and plastic utensils.


Here’s what you might put in your lending library:

  • Dishes
  • Bowls
  • Forks, knives, spoons
  • Serving utensils
  • Platters
  • Wine and beer glasses
  • Unbreakable cups for kids (and certain adults!)
  • Ice buckets
  • Pitchers
  • Table cloths
  • Napkins
  • Signage for dirty and clean dishes and linens, and for compost, recycling, and landfill bins
  • Reusable decorations like twinkly lights, pompoms, pinecones, candles, or fabric bunting


  1. Find a place to store your items. You’ll need a friend or relative with some storage space if you don’t have any. This person will likely be the “librarian” who checks the items in and out, so be sure they are up for the job!
  2. Gather or buy a set of place settings. 20-50 sets is a nice number to start with. If you prefer that everything matches, you may want to buy new at a home goods or restaurant supply store, otherwise, estate sales, flea markets, and thrift stores are great for collecting your items.
  3. Design a basic form that borrowers read before picking up the items. It should include a list of things that are offered, rules about when to return them and in what condition they need to be in.

(Items in our neighborhood lending library come in crates lined with plastic garbage bags to keep out dust and dirt. Everything must be returned, bagged in the crates, in the same condition it was borrowed in: clean, DRY, and like items grouped together. Be sure to have a policy about broken or lost items before loaning them out!)

  1. Create a group calendar that folks can see but only the librarian can edit. This way, anyone can look at the calendar to see if items are available for the date they need, but they must contact the librarian in order to claim the open dates.
  2. Decide about whether money will be exchanged or not. Remember, this is a lending library – as in a community asset to be shared – not a rental operation. That being said, asking for a small donation is up to the organizers. Perhaps you might throw a few bucks at the librarian for her or his time, occasional deep cleaning, or for any broken pieces or unexpected incidentals. Regardless, to keep things kosher, consider it a “donation,” never a fee.

Your zero-waste lending library is also a great place to donate half-used party supplies. If you want to stop using disposables but still have half a bag of paper plates or leftover paper Spiderman napkins, don’t toss them, donate them instead!! These can be stored for occasions where reusables just aren’t an option. This works great for themed kids’ party decorations or games like pin the tail on the donkey that can be used again and again.


Creating a zero waste lending library is an easy way to make less waste and build community without skimping on the overall awesomeness of your event. So grab a few friends and start organizing!


Looking for more ideas? Check out this post: How to Throw a Zero-Waste Kids’ Birthday Party That Doesn’t Disappoint




How to Throw a Zero-Waste Kids’ Birthday Party That Doesn’t Disappoint

By Entertaining, Family, Zero Waste

How to Throw a Zero Waste Kids’ Party

Ah, kids, those little lovers of all things bright, shiny, plastic and disposable. How do you throw zero-waste kids’ birthday parties that they’ll love and remember while staying true to your values of sustainability?


Here are some ideas that have worked for our family over the past 10 years of throwing sustainably-minded, (mostly) zero-waste kids parties.

LOCATION: This is the first step in planning a party of any kind. Where will you be posting up for a few hours? If you’re choosing a place that is all-inclusive, such as a pizza parlor, trampoline park, or laser tag spot, be sure you check in with them about how they do things. Make it clear that unless theirs is reusable, you will bring your own decorations and plates, utensils, etc., and be sure to negotiate a price accordingly. 

Many places offer different price points and rules for various party styles. Some have rules about what you can and can’t bring, and that can help you choose the right location. They might offer their own food and drinks instead of letting you bring your own. This is something to ask about upfront, as you have the choice to vote with your dollars, and not every venue will be worth voting for.


INVITATIONS: Skip the paper and go digital with platforms like evite, or Paperless Post, or send a good old-fashioned email.

FOOD: Finger foods are easy and eliminate the need for cutlery and plates. Some kid-friendly  ideas include:

  • veggies and dip
  • deviled eggs
  • cheese cubes
  • homemade trail mix
  • watermelon slices
  • grapes
  • olives
  • bite-size PB&J squares

For bigger meals, pizza is always a hit, and conveniently comes with a crust to hold while you eat it, so technically, it’s a finger food too. Be sure to compost the box, as you can’t recycle cardboard that has been contaminated with food residue!


PLATES, NAPKINS, ETC: We are lucky to live in a neighborhood that has a “lending library” for plates, bowls, glasses, cutlery, and linens, so if we serve a large group food that must lay on a plate, we borrow a set of whatever items we need, wash it, and return it to the neighbor’s garage where it is stored until the next party! 

For napkins, we use our collection of hand-dyed mechanic rags and ask our guests to place them in a “dirty” basket to be laundered after the party. These, along with a large amount of thrifted silverware, first came to be at our wedding nine years ago and are still going strong! They double as to-go bundles in the kids’ lunches and as part of the zero waste kits in our cars as well.

At our last zero-waste kids’ birthday party, I asked everyone to bring their own bowls and spoons to use for a DIY ice cream sundae bar. Needless to say, it was a huge hit! I brought a set of enamel bowls we use for camping and some empty, wide-mouth mason jars for anyone who forgot to bring their own. 

Be sure to have clearly-labeled receptacles for recycling, compost and any reusable dishes or silverware that have been used.


DRINKS: We serve store-bought drinks that come in cans or glass bottles. For cups, I provide small, glass mason jars, and for water, I point people to the water fountain. There’s usually a growler of some sort of local brew hidden in an adult cooler, and folks who know about it BYO cups to refill.

Nature is the ultimate decorator, so most of our parties happen at the local park. We put up the same decorations for every party, which we also used for their baby showers: colorful fabric scraps tied to a rope and strung around like a bunting of sorts (see above pictures). We hang the same homemade “Happy Birthday!” sign up for every birthday, every year, and no one complains. Kids love predictable traditions! Its hand-cut, paper letters are attached to a long ribbon with mini clothespins. Sometimes we will buy one balloon for the number of the age they are turning and reuse it for whoever turns that age next. (This works great for number candles as well.)

Parents can also pass party decorations onto other parents instead of tossing them when all is said and done. We are looking forward to inheriting a collection of Pokemon decorations from a party we went to last month to use at our son’s zero-waste birthday party next month.


CAKE: Our secret family cupcake recipe is printed on the side of the Hershey’s cocoa box (shhh!) I save the box just for the recipe and refill it with bulk cocoa powder. We bake cupcakes over cake to avoid plates, and either use reusable silicone or compostable parchment cupcake holders. You can get bulk candy to put on top for fun. Birthday candles are reused over and over and over until they are too small to light. Our collection is impressive, as I’ve been known to rescue other people’s birthday candles out of the trash to reuse for future parties. 😬


FAVORS: This is a tough one, especially with kids’ love of colorful, pointless, plastic things. Sometimes I just skip the favors. Other times, I offer pencils, candy, thrifted ping pong balls, even stickers. It’s not zero waste, per se, but I am conscious not to include new, plastic junk that will be broke or forgotten immediately. I wrap them in fabric scraps leftover from craft projects or scooped up at our local crafting thrift store (I know, amazing. I love where I live.)


GIFTS: Some parents ask for no gifts. I can’t say I’ve ever done that. But I do give parents ideas for experiences instead of things (trampoline park, batting cages, etc.), and gift cards (ice cream shop, iTunes, book store), or cash is always a big winner. When they were babies, I asked for second-hand gifts, and everyone obliged. This tends to be harder to get people to give as they get older, but it’s worth a try! Be sure to save the gift bags, ribbon and intact wrapping paper for the next gift-giving occasion, so you never have to buy these items new again. 

Basically, if you keep things colorful and entertaining while still making conscious consumer choices, chances are, your kids will remember their party for what it was: a perfect day, filled with friends, fun, and some much-needed birthday love!

What about you? Any other thoughts on lessening waste when throwing kids’ birthday parties?

Easy DIY Glass and Mirror Cleaner

By Cleaning, Zero Waste

Keep your glass and mirror surfaces clean of fingerprints, dust, spots and anything else that doesn’t belong! This cleaner is inexpensive and super fast to make, especially in our Glass Cleaner bottle, but you can reuse any empty (and cleaned out) spray bottle you may already have. A streak-free shine for mere pocket change? Yes, please!

TIME: Three minutes
MAKES: 1 16oz bottle Glass Cleaner
COST: 25 cents

3oz rubbing alcohol, or try it with vodka, it works well too!
3oz distilled white vinegar
1 ½ c filtered water (if you’re using the Unfettered Home Glass Cleaner bottle, just fill it to the top)


1tbsp corn starch
20 drops of your favorite essential oil

Spray bottle, like ours, for example

1. Combine all ingredients in your spray bottle.
2. Shake well before each use.
3. Spray onto all glass surfaces, and wipe clean with crumpled up newspaper, or a clean, dry rag.

Source vinegar or vodka in glass bottles and rubbing alcohol in the largest bottle you can find.
If you are using crumpled up newspaper as a rag, be sure to toss it in the compost instead of the garbage bin when you are done!

Make Your Own All-Purpose Cleaner

By Cleaning, Zero Waste

Gain control of what you spray on just about any surface of your home. This multi-use cleaner is safe even on granite and marble countertops and requires a few easy to find, simple yet effective ingredients.

TIME: 3 minutes
MAKES: 1 16oz bottle All-Purpose Cleaner
COSTS: about 30 cents


  • 2 tbsp liquid castile or dish soap
  • 1 tsp borax*
  • 1/2 tsp washing soda*
  • 2 cups (16oz) warm water
  • 20 drops essential oil

*Borax and washing soda can be found in most grocery and hardware stores. You can also buy them as a set here.

Spray bottle ~ we’re partial to this one ; )

1. Fill spray bottle with dry ingredients first, followed by warm water, soap, and essential oil.
2. Swirl to combine ingredients completely before your first spray.


  • No washing soda? Use baking soda, it’s close relative, or leave it out completely and be amazed at the cleaning power you’ll still have. (We’ve even had sparkling results with the bare-bones version: dish soap and water!)
  • All essential oils have antimicrobial properties, so choose your favorite scent and feel confident that you are helping rid your home of heeby geebies, regardless of what oil you choose. That being said, here are a few of our favorites:

Lavender = Relaxing
Tea Tree = Antimicrobial
Lemon = Uplifting, Degreasing
Orange = Degreasing
Thyme = Antimicrobial — Goes perfectly with orange oil!

Borax, also known as sodium borate (NOT boric acid), is a naturally occurring mineral powder used in everything from cleaning supplies to pest control to beauty products.

Washing soda, aka, sodium carbonate or soda ash is made from minerals such as trona or limestone.  Its high alkalinity allows it to lift stains and grease with ease. You can even make washing soda yourself by heating baking soda in the oven to change its chemical composure, but that’s a story for another day.

*Like many household cleaning ingredients, these should not be ingested or come in contact with your eyes but are otherwise safe to use as a cleaning agent. Your safest bet is to wear gloves when mixing either of these ingredients.


  • Dish soap bottles can be easily refilled in the bulk section of your local natural foods store. Next time you run out of soap, instead of recycling your bottle, refill it!
  • Do recycle your cardboard borax and washing soda containers, and if you find either ingredient in bulk, let us know!