Kids birthday parties are wonderfully fun for all, but in the way that they are traditionally celebrated, they are the enemy of zero-waste living. The average child’s birthday party generates vast quantities of waste. From streamers, balloons, cake, ice cream, pizza (all on disposable plates), presents stacked in one corner, plastic goodie bags stocked with cheap toys for all the children to take home, all of which eventually get thrown into a landfill by the end of the afternoon.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. A little planning well in advance will also take away the stress of trying to organise something a little different this year…or maybe it’s baby’s 1st birthday and you’re going green from the get-go. Throwing a zero-waste birthday party is absolutely possible, nor does it require a lot more work, but you’ve got a year to prepare.
The important part of a zero-waste birthday party is having the birthday-being involved and excited to make their special party zero impact. Make it an excuse to spend quality time with your child planning and making decorations. Here are some ideas on how to cut down on unnecessary waste, save money and have a fun celebration that won’t damage our planet.
For decorations, skip the balloons – as pretty as they are, they are also incredibly destructive to wildlife and the environment (See Balloons Blow or ENC for info and visuals). There are many great reusable alternatives to help accomplish a festive appearance. Some of our favourites include:
- making your own Happy Birthday banners by printing a personalized one at home.
- bunting! Nothing says party like bunting, upcyclable or check out a fabric store for a unique pattern in an ‘end of roll special’. It does take some time to make, but you’ll use it again and again in the years to come.
- crafting streamers from fabrics or recycled paper.
Simple finger foods, cupcakes, fairy bread, fruit platters, and a pitcher of juice, coconut water or water are just as nice, easier to prepare, and you can get by with just napkins or recycled paper towel if you want. When it comes to birthday party snacks, avoid plastic-packaged foods and disposable dishes – instead, opt for:
- shopping at local grocers, markets and small businesses in your area
- loose plastic-free produce
- snacks that can be bought in bulk (using your own containers), like nuts, pretzels, popcorn, candies
- homemade items, like muffins, hummus, cookies, bread
- a pitcher of orange juice or water with reusable cups, instead of juice boxes or bottled water or kombucha, non-alcoholic mixers and alcoholic beverages which are all available in glass bottles.
- a container for food scraps. There’s always a few half-eaten plates leftover and have something to transport everything home without making a mess is essential.
- asking guests to BYO their favourite plate and cup. Everyone knows whose drink is whose too.
Ask the other parents to encourage their kids to bring their own plates, cutlery and drinking cups. Most kids will have a baby or kids bowl at home they use, depending on their age of course. Once arranged on your party table, it will give a bit more flair to the event by being somewhat more formal than your average get-together. If dishes, cutlery or straws are needed for the adults attending, stick to reusables, like bamboo cutlery and metal straws. Rather than disposable napkins/paper towel, use reusable cloths/towels and have a damp cloth ready for spills.
If you’re planning games for the kids, make your own instead of buying new. Use pieces of used cardboard or biodegradable tissue boxes and tissue wrap to make a pinata, pass-the-parcel or Pin The Tail On The Whale. It’s a great way to get the kids involved and a fun craft activity for a rainy afternoon.
If your kid has a fair-weather birthday, go with some sort of DIY outdoor activity – which not only saves money but also encourages nature appreciation and creativity. Obstacle courses (whether in a yard or local park), scavenger hunts (like a ‘trash hunt’, a.k.a. garbage pick up), sports (set up games of cricket, soccer, tennis, etc.) or a picnic in the park are fun family-friendly activities. Musical chairs, duck duck goose and hide and seek are all winners too.
Make your own digital card and send to those invited or to their parent’s email. There are over 300 000 customisable cards available on Etsy.
Or get creative and make a little video to send out or privately on Youtube to keep between friends, which will make a great memory.
Skip the goodie bags. How long does your kid actually play with those cheap plastic items in a goodie bag? Usually, about the time it takes to drive home, and once you’re there they then move on to playing with their toys. Right?
If you want to offer something to your guests, try pre-loved books, pencils, paper face masks, seed packets (of herbs or wildflowers) or homemade snacks like cookies or granola bars in recycled fabric bags.
At the end of the day, nobody is perfect and you will probably make a little waste, but that’s ok; think about how much you have saved. Savour those memories, compost your food scraps and start planning for next year!