How to throw a plastic-free party that everyone loves.
By Juliet Dale from The Great Eco Challenge
Balloons, plastic cups and plates, piles of wrapping paper, disposable decorations and cheap plastic party favours – combine all this and what do you get? A typical Kids’ Birthday Party, and an eco-friendly nightmare! I will put up my hand and say that I have been guilty of all of the above, and then once the party is over, holding open a great big rubbish sack and proudly declaring: ‘Just chuck it all in here!” Just like a magic act the sad deflated balloons, the gooey food waste, the plastic cutlery, cups and plates and the shredded wrapping paper all disappear! But with a growing awareness of the amount of waste we are producing, and the realisation that said waste will be here many years after we are, maybe it is time to re-think the high-waste way in which we throw kids’ birthday parties.
For our daughter’s fourth birthday party we wanted to try to dramatically decrease the amount of waste produced. We didn’t want to be pretentious or preachy, nor did we want to sacrifice anything that was important to our little girl. (She requested a ‘unicorn, mermaid, fairy-princess party; we settled on ‘Magical’}. We just wanted a simple, fun, low-stress day, but without the bulging rubbish bag to show for it.
It turned out to be a lot easier than we expected. The day was magical and we ended up with just one item in the rubbish bin! Read on for our top ten tips to throw a low-waste kid’s birthday party.
1. Easy Invites: Go homemade or online. We used Paperless Post, or you could simply send out an email.
2. Decorate Au Natural: On the morning of the party we went for a walk and collected wild flowers to fill jars down the middle of the table. Another cool idea is to make leaf confetti! Just collect some leaves and use a hole punch (ours was a butterfly-shaped punch) to create beautiful, natural decorations.
3. Bye Bye Balloons: In lieu of balloons we bought colourful paper lanterns. Our plan is to keep them to reuse for future parties. I also made a very long string of floral fabric bunting. A couple of other low-waste decorating ideas are flags or bunting made out of old/secondhand picture books, origami balloons, a photo board, homemade banners or reusable solar powered fairy lights.
4. Eating in style: For something a bit special, we bought little vintage plates from second hand shops; ours cost an average of $1 each and we will keep them for future use. We had a lot of fun finding them and I loved that every plate was unique and brought its own little story to the table. Alternatively, save time and money by just using what you have and asking a friend to bring some extras, or have a decent set of reusable kids’ plates that you can wash and pop away ready for the next party! Little glass milk bottle are great for drinks (this is the fifth party we’ve used ours for), and if you want to use straws then opt for paper ones that you can compost.
5. Fabulous Fabric: Rather than paper ones, use or make fabric napkins – we just cut the extra bunting fabric up with pinking shears, so easy! Afterwards we threw them in the washing machine. If you want to cover the table, opt for a fabric tablecloth. We found that not only was our tableware zero-waste, but it was actually really pretty!
6. Waste-free Food and drink: Keep it simple. Children are far more interested in playing than eating! We had popcorn with fairy dust (crushed dried raspberries), strawberries from the garden, fresh fruit and melon and homemade pizza, all served on our own platters and plates. As well as savory pizzas, my kids concocted some special dessert pizza creations: banana, chocolate, marshmallow and sprinkles was a hit! Be sure to have a compost bin handy for the food scraps. For drinks we again went simple: water with a bit of lemon and mint in a big glass drinks’ dispenser.
7. Have your Cake: Yup, even the cake can be low-waste! We bought all the dry ingredients as well as the vanilla essence, jellybeans and sprinkles from a Bulk Food Store, using our own jars and containers. The egg carton and butter wrapper were compostable, leaving only the milk bottle for the recycling bin. Remember your beeswax candles too.
8. Fun Games and Perfect Prizes: Our daughter chose a few classics; Musical Statues; Pass the Parcel (with fabric wrap rather than paper) and a Treasure Hunt. For prizes we had some gorgeous handmade Unicorn and Mermaid soaps from the Inspired Soap Company, as well as some lollipops with sticks made from rolled paper that we could compost. For the treasure hunt they first had to find a painted rock somewhere in the backyard. Once everyone had found their rock they got their first clue. The hunt ended with a treasure chest in which each child had their own little fabric-wrapped parcel; inside was a homemade lip balm, a small jar of lollies (from the Bulk Store) and a little unicorn soap.
9. Goodie bags: For us the Treasure Hunt prize was the party favour. They were also all pretty chuffed with their painted rocks! There is really no need to do party favours, within five minutes of leaving the kids won’t remember if they got one or not! But if you are searching for inspiration, avoid the $2 shop and go for something simple but quality; homemade playdough; a strawberry seedling in a tin can; a small book or a bag of marbles. Or get crafty and have the kids make something as a party activity; they could create a fairy garden, be-dazzle their own crowns or unicorn horns; decorate a flower pot; make a superhero mask; or create a kaleidoscope!
10. A tricky one…Gifts: It’s one thing to make your own decisions on how you host a party, but to ask guests to do things in a particular way can feel a bit controlling. On the other hand though, gifts, with all their wrapping, packaging and plastic, really can be the enemy of eco-friendliness! So if you do choose to take a stand when it comes to gifts, try gently requesting no gifts, eco-friendly gifts, second-hand gifts or instead, ask guests to bring a can of food to be donated to food bank, and a $2 coin for the birthday boy or girl. Then your child can use the money and choose a single gift that they really want.
So, after all the unicorns, fairies, princesses and mermaids had departed, what was the one item that ended up heading to landfill? About half an hour before the guests were due to start arriving my husband was filling up the drinks dispenser when our daughter accidentally jabbed him in the leg with her unicorn horn. He (not-surprisingly!) fumbled, the dispenser slipped from his hands and smashed into the sink! He had to race out to buy another one, which came packaged with… (dun dun DUN!) polystyrene. Oh well, it’s all about progress, not perfection!
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