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Our Oh-so-nearly Zero-Waste Birthday Party

Updated: Feb 4, 2021

Kids' Birthday Parties are notorious for producing a lot of waste.  Hands up who is guilty of holding open a great bit rubbish sack and proudly declaring: 'Just chuck it all in here!"?  I have been there, and I must confess that there is something mildly satisfying about being able to contain the entire remnants of a party in one bag, tying it up and throwing it in the wheelie bin.  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. 

We decided that for our daughter's fourth birthday we would see if we could 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.

As it turned out, it was easier than we expected.  The day was magical and we ended up with just one item in the rubbish bin!  Read on to find out how we did it, where we stumbled, as well as some other ideas for low waste birthday parties.

Invites:  Go homemade or send them out online.  We used Paperless Post, or you could simply send out an email.

Decorations:  On the morning of the party we collected wild flowers to fill jars down the middle of the table, we also used a hole punch to make leaf-confetti.  In lieu of balloons we bought some colourful paper lanterns, with the plan to keep them to reuse again and again.  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.

Table:   For something a bit special, we bought 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 piece of of history to the table.  Alternatively, save time and money by just using what you have and asking a friend to bring some extras.  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.  Or you could invest in a set of reusable stainless steel or bamboo ones (like these from theotherstraw. - you can even get them customised with engaving!) . Use or make fabric napkins - we just cut the extra bunting fabric up with pinking shears.  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!

Food:  Keep it simple.  Kids want to play more than eat!  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, marshmellow and sprinkles was a hit!  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 Store, the egg carton and butter wrapper were compostable, leaving only the milk bottle for the recycling bin.  Remember your beeswax candles too.  For drinks we again went simple: water with a bit of lemon and mint in a big glass drinks' dispenser. 

Be sure to have a compost bin handy for the food scraps.

Games and 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 (see pic).  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. 

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! Gifts:  This can be a tricky one.  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 foodbank, 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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