On Low Waste, High Joy Celebrations

Celebrations are an integral part of life and rightly so – it’s important to celebrate the good people and good things! These days though, like so much in our modern, throw away day to day living, celebrating and in particular birthdays have come to be some of the most wasteful events of the year (along with conferences and festivals…) and we can find ourselves left with giant black plastic sacks of rubbish, uneaten food and unwanted gifts. And they’re pricey too! According to an article in the Guardian, some parents admit to spending £800 on their little one’s birthday bash, with £300 being the average cost. When broken down, it looks like this: extravagant parties include an entertainer for three hours at £435 (£145 an hour); catered food and drink for 30 at £3.95 a child (£118.50); hire of a hall at around £100; birthday cake £64.90 and party bags for everyone at £3.25 each add up to £97.50. Grand total: £815.90.

Whether it’s peer pressure from other parents or just wanting to please your child, I’d argue that it’s time to move (back) to a time when a game of pass the parcel and a homemade cake is enough, more than enough. This post aims to show how celebrating sustainably can be just as, if not more, joyful. Here’s some ideas to get you started…

Invitations

Paper invites just fill up other peoples’ homes and go straight in the bin immediately after the event (sometimes even before…). Yes, paper can be recycled (if free from glitter, grease, paint or dirt….) but I always opt for online invitations and thank you cards. I’m a big fan of Paperless Post where there’s a bunch of different options available – tick the ‘Free’ box option if you want something simple (note: you have to work quite hard to avoid creating a card that requires ‘coins’). If you did want to go for something tangible to send out, what about opting for plantable invites made from seeds? And remember, sometimes simple is ultimately what works best – for everyone. An email or a Whatsapp message with a sweet photo of your kid might just be the most efficient, sustainable option out there.

It’s time to move (back) to a time when a game of pass the parcel with a homemade cake is enough, more than enough

Location

Growing up, my parents always made us birthday parties at home – it’s all I’ve ever known and I – and my childhood friends – have fond memories of being sat cramped in my parent’s hallway, wishing the parcel would land on us and taking turns to have a whack on the homemade piñata. If you’re fortunate to have the space – and are OK with your home being overrun by small and often not so small people – nothing beats the intimate environment of a home. If this isn’t an option or if you don’t fancy the mess, why not support a local small business (here’s where I’ve got my eye on for one of our upcoming celebrations!), school or place of worship, or if the weather allows, take your party outdoors. What better location than the woods for kids to explore and run around in! If you are celebrating somewhere public, just be sure to check any legislation around this and remember to arrive early to clearly signpost your event.

Crockery

We have a set of these palm leaf plates, cups and bowls and have been bringing them out each birthday, year after year. Otherwise, it clearly depends on the age of your child but I don’t see any problem using proper plates, forks and knives – then just pop them in the dishwasher afterwards. cups and have a pen on hand to ask kids to write their name on it and keep it for the duration of the party – it’s incredible how otherwise they’ll just keep getting another one for every second slurp. Follow Food Bites for the cutest kid food inspiration. 

Decoration

I might make some very simple banners and string them up, plus we’ll use our staples of fairy lights, pom poms, painted paper chains and bunting that we bring out every year. Call me old fashioned but there’s something so lovely and nostalgic about packing up and bringing out the same decorations each year, almost ageing with your child. This year I also got some chalk paint and painted some boards to create more signs and we also have a simple white linen birthday crown we bring out each year that the birthday person gets to wear all day.

Balloons and party poppers are a no go for me, unless I’ve got some lurking at the back of a drawer from years ago. Ever noticed how toxic balloons taste when you blow them up? Plus, what goes up, must go down…Fresh flowers or greenery also make any party look pretty.

To Theme or Not to Theme

If you do want to go down the ‘themed’ route, then choose a theme that you think you can create easily with what you already own or can borrow – local Facebook groups are also great for acquiring some extra bits here. For me for example, being a crazy plant lady, makes a jungle themed party pretty ideal. Other ideas I come back to again and again are food related – breakfast parties or pizza parties are particular favourites around here. DIY pamper parties could also be a really nice idea.

Location

Gifts
Ever just watched your kid tear open gifts, without a thought who they’re from, before tossing it aside and moving on to the next? It’s not pretty. There are a few options when it comes to low waste gifting: if sharing a party, why not suggest to the children that they donate a few of their presents to charity. Alternatively, ask guests to bring only one gift to the party, unnamed and then distribute equally amongst the birthday children as a way to reduce quantity. Another option could be to ask guests to contribute to a meaningful gift or experience as a group or raise money for charities that are close to their heart – try Twish or Gudoo.

Entertainment
This largely hinges on the weather, the age of your child, what sort of space you’re in and your decided budget. First up, a banging kids’ party playlist is always great to play (we rotate this with ‘adult music’ too if adults are there). So far (and our eldest is 5), we’ve done the ‘entertainment’ all ourselves / with other parents. Most recently, we divided the children into different groups and had stations set up of different activities run by different parents; we’ve had races, a craft table, face painting, pass the parcel, musical statues, reading books, and cupcake making. Of course remember to keep all materials used from tablecloths to toilet rolls.

Food

Catering

Young ones typically don’t eat much, so don’t go overboard. Sandwiches, crisps and ice cream with a flake should be enough. Or ask family and friends to bring a dish and bake your own cake.

If you’re not a baker, and don’t know an enthusiastic amateur, buy plain fairy cakes and get the kids to decorate them.

Borrow a tablecloth and decorations from a friend. Or get a plain white paper cloth, scatter crayons and stickers on it and get the children to draw on it. Balloons are always popular, especially if you customise with glitter.

I’m not keen to serve up junk, sugar filled food but equally I knew that energy balls and hummus at a kid’s party won’t always hit the spot. As always, keeping things simple is my strategy. Cut up (plastic free) fruit and veg, cheese and salad sandwiches, diluted juice (I don’t normally give my kids juice but as a treat…), and then for dessert, I love the idea of cupcake decorating: prebake some cupcakes using this super simple recipe and prepare some bowls of icing and toppings. Freeze any leftovers or use up – leftover fruit whizzed up makes the best fruit smoothies. For plates, we use palm leaf plates which we bring out every year – I’m not sure how long they’ll last but for now, we just gently wash with soapy water, leave to dry and they keep on lasting

The Cake
Sorry for any baker haters out there, but it’s got to be handmade. It doesn’t matter how it tastes (honestly it doesn’t ), it’s just got to be made with love, and for me, that means

If baking really isn’t your gig, try and outsource this part? A homemade cake would make the most awesome gift, would it not. We were gifted this for one of our wedding gifts by a friend of my mum, and it was honestly lovely.

I’ve always been a bit of a nervous cake maker but my mum is amazing in this arena and in the past I’ve often asked her to contribute this and she’s always kindly agreed. I might also make my friend’s Johanna’s vegan chocolate olive oil cake – if you make it twice over (it’s SO crazy easy), it makes the perfect two tier cake. At this year’s party, one of the mums had the genius idea of getting the kids to decorate a cupcake each which cumulatively, made up a beautiful, very uniquely crafted (!) birthday cake. Oh, and always remember to keep and reuse candles – you won’t know the difference once they’re lit!

Going Home Presents
I have mixed opinions on going home gifts – part of me knows they’re not necessary, but on the other hand, they have become the norm and the kids seem to expect them. Something simple and plastic free like books or a small pack of seeds plus some Bear Nibbles snacks work a treat. Check out Plastic Free Party Bags for another option, and use the code MAMALINA to get 10% off any order you place.

A few final tips for hosting a fun, low waste kids party

-Don’t be afraid to go against the grain – you can be the parent to set a new way of doing things
-Get bins set up in a visible place – recycling, landfill and food waste – and label them clearly!
-Communicate clearly to anyone helping what they need to do to help make the party low waste eg. no mindless chucking out!
-Advanced preparation is key: love your freezer
-Accept it will be slightly chaotic and embrace it: there will be kids running everywhere if you’re indoors
-If hosting elsewhere, enquire what their efforts are to reduce plastic waste: it will make them think, if nothing else
-Ask kids to bring a reusable container to take home any leftover food
-Ensure you have nothing planned for that evening (and maybe even a good bottle of wine ready!)

Have you hosted a low waste kids party? What sort of thing did you do? Please share any tips in the comments below.

Emma xxx

P.S A Toddler’s Pyjama Party and a DIY Kids Party at Home

P.P.S  A super cute idea for a birthday

Or what about a simple BYO system? Kids can simply pack a plastic plate and cup – so long as you can wash them up at the party, and the kids go home with everything clean.

15 Comments

  1. August 28, 2019 / 10:24 am

    I really like your idea about the kids’ birthday party arrangement that can highlight their passions and hobbies. It makes sense that this could act as a good tribute and sort of things they enjoyed. Thanks for the post; it could also be helpful to arrange a grand birthday party and fulfills our kids’ requirements.

  2. June 27, 2019 / 10:56 am

    Here in Brazil the most popular card game is truco. But I don’t like it to much lol. My favorite one is called buraco. We have a drinking game similar to spoons, using 3 cards. Instead of grabbing the spoons when somebody get a 3 of a kind, we just drop the card on the table. Last person don’t quit the game, but instead drink a shot of some aloholic drink, then we deal another hand. After taking some shots, this game gets very funny lol.

  3. Anya
    June 23, 2019 / 10:16 pm

    Den building, treasure hunt in the woods, rock painting. Jar of our own honey instead of unnecessary plastic toys in party bags. Everyone loves our parties! Love what you do! Well done! Anya x

  4. June 14, 2019 / 10:23 am

    Hi! I just wanted to say I’ve just discovered your blog and I love it! These tips for reducing plastic and waste are brilliant and i’ll definitely be taking them on board for our next kids party. Thanks for the great content!

  5. Jenny
    June 3, 2019 / 2:20 pm

    Hi Emma
    We hosted my sons’ 3rd and 1st birthdays a couple of weeks ago. We sourced a big sheet of tarp, set it up on a hill near our house and sprayed water and kids shampoo on it. It kept all the kids (ages 1-7) entertained for hours so no need for wasteful party games with cheap plastic prizes! We also hid painted rocks around the area for a treasure hunt.
    We’ll be reusing the tarp again for more water slides and camping trips this summer so it will get a lot of use!
    Fresh Air Mum xx

  6. August 21, 2018 / 6:09 pm

    Hi Emma,

    I was searching for news of celebrating a birthday without using too many resources and that took me to your blog. I LOVE what you have been doing, especially focus on parenting. Thank you for doing this and sharing the idea. I just started running a Facebook page called “Birthdays for wildlife,” which I encourage people to help wildlife when celebrating their birthdays. Ways can be like organizing a park clean-up or having a zero waste party like what you’ve been doing.

    I studies sustainable tourism and am currently working at a local zoo. My passion towards wildlife conservation and a sustainble future led me to start running this page and encourge people to do a good cause while celebrating life.

    Would you mind if I share this article on my Facebook page? I left my page below and Please let me know if you are okay with that. Thank you.

    • Emma Ross
      Author
      October 9, 2018 / 12:40 pm

      hey mei, thanks for your kind words and LOVE the sound of what you do so i’ll definitely take a look. and yes pls do share away 🙂 (ps SO SORRY for the terribly slow reply) xxx

  7. August 20, 2018 / 7:39 am

    Thank you for these tips! I hate all of the tat we bring home from parties my daughter goes to. She’ll definitely want a party for her 4th birthday and this has given me some great starting ideas. Her birthday is in Jan…so I’ll start preparing now. Hehe!

    • Emma Ross
      Author
      August 20, 2018 / 12:48 pm

      ah so glad they were of use! and yes, i so hate that tat too.. happy planning mama! x

  8. Anna Midlane
    July 30, 2018 / 7:40 am

    Thanks for this article! Ive got my 6 year old sons bday in october and trying to plan ahead.
    Im stuck on ideas on cups for all the children…did you use paper cups? And papet plates? Thanks!

  9. Erin
    July 4, 2018 / 5:15 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to write a post on this! We hosted a zero waste birthday party for our 5 year old son, Benjamin and main thing I’ve learned was to plan far in advance (make cupcakes/cakes to freeze before).. A week isn’t enough time to prepare – especially for your first zero waste party. I spent time making reusable napkins (from leftover linen fabric) and a bottle of homemade face and hands cleaner, and noticed they weren’t used at all.. it was a huge learning curve for me. We did a big batch of homemade playdough in glass jars and bamboo troothbrushes as take home’s!

    • Emma Ross
      Author
      July 10, 2018 / 2:31 pm

      oh i love all these ideas and totally agree re the planning in advance – that was a gamechanger for me ! x

  10. Laura
    May 11, 2018 / 11:46 am

    Thank you for the lovely tips, we are hosting Willows 4th birthday party at home this weekend. We are giving away sunflower seeds, small bags of compost, tiny pots and stickers to decorate the pots. I refuse to give away plastic rubbish toys that end up as landfill or fill the kids with loads of sugary sweets !!!! fingers crossed the kids enjoy them. Will definitely be taking on the tip about the parents corner 🙂 thank you again, Laura x

    • Emma Ross
      Author
      May 11, 2018 / 11:56 am

      ah what gorgeous sounding ideas! glad you liked the post xxx p.s i adore the name Willow!

  11. Nicole
    May 3, 2018 / 9:30 am

    I always give books – often cheaply sourced Mr Men ones! – in party bags and I love it when others hand out books. The Book People is another good place to get them from.

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