The party bags, the food, the wrapping paper, the balloons, the decorations – children’s parties are full of plastic. Deflated balloons, plastic party favours, glitter, confetti, discarded party bags and throwaway tableware.
We decided that there had to be another way, we want to celebrate and mark our children’s birthdays with a really enjoyable day for them, but without compromising our principles of low waste living.
Making a children’s party plastic free may seem like the impossible, but once you have done one and have figured out what works for you, then next time you’ll have some things ready and know what to do. (For instance, if you make some decorative bunting, you can hang it up every year). So in the long run it will likely work out cheaper and easier, plus its more personal, and you’ll be helping the planet too!
It’s also an opportunity to educate your children – if they observe all the throwaway items at a party, they grow up with an expectation that this is what a party looks like, you can show them that there can be another way. Most guests will be supportive of your low-waste choices and many may not even notice the difference. After all the kids still get cake and treats, and they still get to do the activity – be it swimming, party games, picnic, bbq, etc.
Here’s some ideas and tips you can use to minimise the waste at your next children’s party.
If you want to avoid paper completely, then you can use email, text, or messaging apps rather than sending hard copies (to the parents not the children themselves, depending on the age of your child).
Instead of opting for plastic wrapped mass produced invites, why not try making your own, you can choose recycled paper, Kraft paper, print them, handwrite them, get the kids to decorate them, paint them, whatever you want.
P.S If you wish you could include a note on the invitation that this will be a low-waste party and why, so everyone’s onboard from the outset.
- Bubbles: stretch a coat-hanger into a circular wand, dip it in a tray of detergent and water and wave through the air for giant bubbles
- Hang large sheets of paper/ an old bed sheet for a finger painting wall
- Bring colourful rugs and cushions
- Fresh flowers in old jars
- make your own bunting, from fabric or paper.
- And if your party is outside, perhaps you don’t need decorations at all.
Plates, cups and cutlery
One of the changes a lot of people make is to switch from plastic to paper tableware, but dirty paper plates can’t go in the recycling bin. A better option would be to invest in a set of bamboo or stainless steel crockery that can be reused each year.
If building your own kit is out of your budget, there are options to rent party kits or you could ask family/friends or even the guests to bring plates and drink bottles.
Table cloth and napkins
Bring a fabric tablecloth and napkins — if you don’t have any, try repurposing old sheets and towels.
If you have to use a disposable cloth, look for some butchers’ paper which can double as a canvas with a few art supplies thrown on the table.
- some plastic free snacks could include: Melon slices, fruit platters, baked goods from the bakery (these usually come in paper bags, or you can use your own containers), chopped fruit and nuts from wholefood store/ refill shop
- serve finger food
- bring food from home to the party or store in reusable containers until the party – no clingfilm needed!.
- try and make as much as you can yourself, using raw ingredients you can purchase plastic free and turn them in to yummy home made cakes/treats, breads and desserts.
The Party Bags
Let’s be honest, it’s usually a bag of plastic tat that is lovingly played with for each of the nine minutes of its lifespan. An additional source of stress and expense for parents, but a firm favourite with most children.
One option is to simply not do them, but if your children cannot compute having a party, and not having party bags, then here are some ways to avoid buying and giving out plastic bags of plastic bits.
The bag itself – instead of plastic bags, opt for paper bags – you could decorate and customize these to the theme of the party, or for each child. You could select fabric wraps and give Furoshiki a try, or if you want a simpler option use recyclable cardboard boxes.
If you’re feeling crafty you can make bags from newspapers or magazines. (This is something my mum used to do if we didn’t have gift bags for someone’s birthday.) And if you’re a whiz with the sewing machine, then making your own your own fabric bags from old t-shirts or pillowcases could be an option.
gifts – this is not an exhaustive list but you could include any of the following;
- mini pencil or chalk packs in carboard packets,
- wooden pencil boxes (customised for each child)
- mini jigsaws
- washi tape
- silicone straws
- fabric finger puppets
- activity books
- seeds (add a mini terracotta plant pot they can decorate)
- playing cards
- fabric pencil cases/purses
- second hand books or small reading books
- jars of homemade playdough
- melt down old broken crayons and use silicone moulds to reshape them in to animals or initial letters
food gifts – usually a slice of the birthday cake and a selection of sweet packets, with the plastic count even higher than the sugar content. Some alternatives or some more sustainable ways to buy can be:
- wrap the cake in a paper bag instead of plastic wrap
- you could also include homemade treats to avoid plastic packaging
- If purchasing edible goodies from a shop, you could try your local refill shop and put them in separate paper bags or celllose food bags (which are biodegradable) mini jars or tin foil, which is at least recyclable (basically anything but clingfilm or plastic food bags!). Our local refill shop has vegan fizzy sweets,.
- If your shopping in a super market or want something a bit healthier, look for snacks without plastic packaging, such as Bear YoYos (which come in paper packets in a cardboard box) raisins are also almost always available in cardboard boxes too.
Gifts might be the hardest part of a plastic-free party. If you do want to reduce waste with gift you could:
- ask for money instead, or get guests to contribute towards one substantial present for the child (eg. bike or climbing frame), or ask for donations to a charity instead
- suggest some more sustainable toys – such as wooden or bamboo, and ethical/sustainable toy brands.
- suggest preloved gifts, or a toy/gift swap
- ask for experience-based gifts, like a trip to the zoo or ferry tickets, or a contribution to one substantial present.
- let guest know that no wrapping is necessary, or suggest fabric or recyclable paper wrap.
Balloons – Sorry to be the fun police but balloons are a no-no, whether they’re ‘biodegradable’ or not.
If they break free and fly off when they come down they are a risk to wildlife, as birds or marine animals can eat them. And even if they don’t, they will spend years sitting in landfill.
Instant landfill– Please think twice before doing a sweep of your local Pound Shop or the ‘tat’ section of a toy shop. These toys break within minutes and there is nothing that can be done with them other than put them in the bin.
Slime – This is such a ‘thing’ right now and I know kids love a pot of slime, but most commercially available pots are just stretchy slimy blobs of plastic. If you have to have it, then have a go at making your own (recipes can be found online – pinterest is your friend!)
Glitter – Glitter is essentially a micro-plastic and when you can finally get it off your hands/face/every conceivable surface of your home and even some inconceivable places, it gets washed down the sink and passes straight though the filtration systems and on out into our waterways. If glitter is a must, then there are eco-friendly glitters available.
Remember, going zero waste might take a few attempts, but the key is to do what you can in the time you have, then refine your approach next time.