Parties Gaining Ground
By Matt Chevalier
With July 4th just around the corner, block party planning is in full swing. Several SwarthmoreWith July 4th just around the corner, block party planning is in full swing. Several Swarthmore bblock parties have begun a tradition of going – or trying to go – waste free, with the help of the local environmental group aFewSteps. Mary McTernan, organizer of ”tthe Bbig B” block party, formed by Benjamin West, Garrett Avenue, and College Avenue between Swarthmore Avenue and North Princeton, says going waste-free is “easier than you think. We try to find the right balance between being good environmental stewards and being hospitable to our guests.”
McTernan and co-organizer Stacy Clements are preparing for their third waste-free event., “Our 4th of July block party goes back more than ten years. From the beginning, the organizers tried to make good choices in the best 'reduce, reuse, recycle' mindset,” says McTernan. “Last year, we cut our total waste by two-thirds, and hope to do even better this year.”
For many block party planners, the switch is simple enough, “and, frankly, not much different from what we’ve done in prior years,” says Monica Kruse. “The only changes we made for our block party were to ask our guests to bring their own plates and cutlery. At the end of the night, they pack them up and take them home to be washed.”
Clements, in charge of decorations for her party, began using old sheets as tablecloths last year, and put out fabric markers “so folks could write messages on the cloths year after year.” This presents an environmentally-friendly, cost-saving, and neighborly alternative to disposable vinyl tablecloths, which, according to a study reported by the European Commission, can take up to 700 years to decompose in landfills. If buying fabric for tablecloths, “I’ve discovered you can usually get a discount if you actually purchase the fabric on July 4th,” says Kruse.
Block parties that take the Waste-Free Block Party Challenge are given a “Waste-Free Party Kit” from aFewSteps, which includes recyclable clear plastic bags for collecting recyclables and laminated signs to label trash and recycling receptacles.You won’t find any bottles or cans in their recycling bins either. “Many years ago we moved away from plastic water bottles and beer cans. We provide ice water and lemonade in large five-gallon coolers and beer in kegs,” explained McTernan. In doing so, Block Party B cuts back on the total amount of plastic bottles and dinnerware which ends up in landfills, where they can take up to 450 years to decompose as reported by the U.S. National Park Service. Styrofoam cups and plates are even worse, as some studies find that these products might never decompose at all. Even more disheartening, these materials usually find their way to incinerators in Chester, where they are burned, releasing greenhouse gases which are attributed to global climate change.
Clements is in charge of table decorations for the party. Last year she began using old sheets as tablecloths and providing fabric markers “so folks could write messages on the cloths year after year”. This presents an environmentally-friendly alternative to disposable vinyl tablecloths, which, according to a study reported by the European Commission, can take up to 700 years to decompose in landfills. Furthermore, reusable decorations will save you money in the both the short and long run. “I’ve discovered one can usually get a discount if you actually purchase the fabric on July 4th” says Kruse.
McTernan admits their party is not 100% waste-free. They still have food scraps and the occasional plastic wrappers. To collect whatever waste is generated, McTernan and Clements create waste stations with clearly label trash and recycling bins placed right next to one another. “Research shows – and we’ve found it’s true,” says Clements, “that - if trash and recycling bins are located more than six feet apart, everything ends up as trash,” says Clements.” Cecily Venkatesh, an organizer for the Elm Avenue block party, concurs. With about 50 people attending her party on Sunday, June 22,What trash is collected, however, usually ends up being very minimal. “We filled only two-thirds of a The regular kitchen trash bag, filled about 2/3 of a kitchen trash bag and was primarily with chicken bones, some plastic wrapping, and paper dessert plates.” says Cecily Venkatesh, an organizer for the Elm Avenue block party, which took place last Sunday, June 22. This is especially surprising, considering that about fifty people attended the Elm Avenue block party.
Venkatesh has plans for reducing waste even further in future events. “I thought about dessert dishes earlier in the week and would have loved to have found bowls made of pizzelle wafers like ice cream cones. So there’s a business idea: edible dishes.”
Though waste-free parties and events are a relatively recent phenomenona, the public has been very quick to embrace them. Non-profits such as RecycleMania, a North American non-profit organization established in 2001, (est 2001) hasve been working with colleges and universities in an effort to minimize garbage at sporting events, by turning the effort into a fun competition between schools. Last year, RecycleMania’s website notes that while recycling is commonplace in many communities, “a surprisingly high amount of recyclables still go in the trash. Many colleges and universities have extensive recycling collection and education programs, yet are challenged in motivating students and staff to participate…the program works to reinforce the practice of recycling at an age when many college students are forming the habits and values they will carry the rest of their lives.” Antioch University Seattle won the 2014 championshipompetition, with a recycling rate of 93.3%.
If readers are interested in making their own block parties waste-free, the local environmental group, aFewSteps is offering waste-free block party kits that can be picked up at their township buildings. and a poster you can download here to hand out to your neighbors. Throwing a waste-free party is as easy as taking the time to communicate with your neighbors, saving both trash space and money.
Matt Chevalier is a rising junior at Temple University and an intern with aFewSteps