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!)
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.
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.
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.
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?