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