Life: Throwing a Low-Waste Birthday Party

We are not a zero-waste family but we are always striving to produce less waste. In our daily life I think we are doing okay though there is of course room for improvement. When I started attempting to make changes to reduce our plastic-usage and our general garbage creation, I noticed one major source of garbage. Parties. More specifically, birthday parties. I love celebrating birthdays and I love gathering friends and family together. But at the end of a birthday party, I would find myself going around the house with a garbage bag and in one afternoon we seemed to produce as much garbage as our family of four was creating in a week. So I started to think about what we could change.

(I like sharing posts like this because I always get great feedback and new ideas in return. So please share your own tips and tricks!)

Pearl’s Weasel Party (February 2020)

The first and biggest thing I did was I went to the thrift store and started looking for spare dishes. It didn’t take long before I was able to buy a set of ten matching dessert plates and an assortment of mismatched forks. These go in a box in our little storage room and get used for parties. Because they were 50 cents each I don’t stress about little kids using them. We also use our regular plates and cutlery of course but this ensures we always have enough for larger gatherings. This has effectively eliminated the need to buy paper plates/plastic cutlery for parties, which was a huge part of our garbage at the end of the day.

This year at Pearl’s party we served waffles and then cake. Even using all of our plates, we ran out of clean ones and had to wash dishes in the middle of the party. While I’ll keep looking for more dishes to stash away, I didn’t mind this. Friends pitched in without asking and standing in the kitchen, drying dishes and chatting to a good friend while she washed was a nice quiet moment for me in the midst of the chaos.

Rose’s Beaver Party (September 2019)

I’d like to do the same with cups but have found this slightly trickier with little kids. Our kids are two and five and so are their friends. That means we usually serve juice boxes. Juice is a treat for our kids plus there is less trouble with spilling. (And with a group of little kids, someone is going to spill their drink.) At least we can recycle the juice boxes. For adults we use the cups and mugs we already own. I bought a few paper cups as well but made sure that they were recyclable.

Pearl’s Weasel Party (February 2020)

Similarly, I try to use cloth napkins as much as possible. I’d like to build up my stash of cloth napkins so for now I do have paper napkins on standby. Cloth napkins are our go-to for family dinners and when we have dinner guests. This time I put out both cloth napkins and paper napkins (I didn’t buy any new ones but had them left over from previous parties) and I noticed that very few people reached for the cloth napkins. After sticky waffles I also ended up bringing out the wet wipes for the kids.

The other major waste-maker I noticed was goody bags. My kids love goody bags. In my experience, most parents do not. While I love the opportunity to remind the birthday kid that it’s not just about them and receiving presents, I know no one needs a bunch of tiny plastic stuff. I try to be as thoughtful as possible when it comes to goody bags and think about the ones my kids have really enjoyed and the stuff they’ve played with long-term.

Pearl’s Car Party (February 2019)

For Rose’s Beaver party, each child got a book that featured a beaver, a finger puppet, and stickers. For Pearl’s recent Weasel party, I found a bulk package of weasel charms on Etsy and Pearl and I made necklaces for her friends. We’ve done colourful notebooks, hot wheel cars, and pens. I use small paper bags that can (hopefully) be re-used or recycled. Is it still stuff kids don’t need? Probably, yes. But my goal is that it can be a few things the kids can enjoy and that won’t break as soon as they get home.

As you can see from the pictures of our birthday parties over the year, it’s a work in progress. (Also, it’s very clear that I’m saving the leftover paper napkins/plates/whatever from one party to the next!) There are still ways we can do better. But when tidying up after the party, we had one shopping bag worth of garbage to throw out and that felt pretty good.

Any tips or tricks to share about reducing garbage when it comes to throwing a party? What do you love and/or hate about kids birthday parties?

9 thoughts on “Life: Throwing a Low-Waste Birthday Party”

  1. We’re so used to disposable stuff now that it’s hard to get out of the habit so well done for attempting it! My tip for avoiding having to clean up waste after kids’ parties is simple and foolproof – hold the part in someone else’s house and leave before the end… 😉

    1. Hahaha, great tip! It is my great disappointment that no one in my family has a spring or summer birthday so that we can hold a party outdoors. Rose’s September birthday can almost do it but it’s also just as likely to rain.

  2. I use our regular plastic kid plates and forks for parties too. We already have the convenience of a dishwasher…are disposable plates that much more convenient??
    There’s also reusing decor and getting good quality balloons that last from one birthday to the next without deflating between. But maybe that’s my laziness speaking. Haha!
    A year ago I got for Christmas one of those little printers that prints mini photos directly from your phone, so now I take pictures of the birthday child with each friend during the party then take a moment to print it off as a party favour along with something like a fun multi-coloured pencil or something else useful.

    1. That’s how I feel – I already have a machine that washes my dishes for me! I’ve never had balloons last that long but my kids’ birthdays are quite spaced out; I’m not sure I’d want balloons hanging around that long!

      I love the idea of the photos! You could even make picture frames as a party craft too.

  3. Great post! I really like the effort you are making to also set a good example for your kids! Something nice for easy decoration and the goody bags might be flower confetti. It is confetti made out of recycled paper which contains some seeds, so if kids throw them around they will only plant some flowers in the garden or in the street in the process. Keep up the great work! All small steps make a difference 🙂

    1. Thanks a lot! I love the idea of seed confetti. I’ve thought before of giving out little plants instead of goody bags and that way kids could take them home and plant them in their gardens etc. I agree that even small steps can be good steps in the right direction.

  4. I really like the fact that Pearl made the goody bag present for her friends when she crafted necklaces. Maybe to avoid goody BAGS, the kids could make their own necklaces at the party and wear them home? No bag required! Any other crafty project would be both an activity and a way to send the kids home with something that doesn’t require packaging. What each kid decorated their own cupcake instead of making a cake. That’s abnormal, but it’s another fun activity.

    1. I really like to include her in the prep and planning where possible. Especially with goody bags as it helps keep the focus solely off her and what she’s going to get. I love the idea of the kids decorating their own cupcakes and making crafts. So far the idea of having half a dozen pre-schoolers doing a craft has seemed kind of overwhelming but I think as the girls (and their friends!) get older, we’ll do more of that.

    2. When I was in Girl Scouts in elementary school we decorated these small heart-shaped cakes on Valentine’s day, and for some reason that activity still sticks out to me. Here’s to cake decorating in the future!

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