On Sustainable, Joyful and Affordable Parties

Maybe I’m getting old but it seems the more years that go by, the more I enjoy celebrating people and moments. Celebrations bring joy, connection and ritual, and help us raise up those that we love and allow us to see them for one whole day. It’s a special thing. And I know, I know. Birthdays can equal stress and stuff and bulging black bin bags and unwanted gifts and leftover stale sandwiches but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Whether it’s peer pressure from other friends or parents or just wanting to please your particular person, I want to share some ideas for celebrating sustainably and lovingly – without needing to spend a load of money. 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. It’s time to move (back) to a time when a simple game of pass the parcel, a homemade cake and a linen crown for the birthday person (basically our rituals) is what makes a day special. Here’s some other ideas to get you started…


Although paper can be recycled (if free from glitter, grease, paint or dirt….), paper invites can end up just filling up other peoples’ homes (or getting lost at the bottom of school bags). So long as you have folks’ email addresses, why not 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 (NB: you have to work quite hard to avoid creating a card that requires ‘coins’). If you did want to go for something tangible, what about plantable invites made from seeds or a hand painted little invite? Alternatively, go super simple and just send a Whatsapp message with a sweet photo – it might just be the most efficient, sustainable and practical option out there.

It’s time to move (back) to a time when a simple game of pass the parcel and a homemade cake is what makes a day special.


Growing up, we were fortunate to have space for my parents to host our 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 our hallway, taking turns to have a whack on the homemade piñata with a wooden spoon or lie on the floor playing ‘dead’ for Sleeping Lions. If you’re fortunate to have the space – and are OK with your home being overrun by small people and parents alike – 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, your school, a restaurant or a place of worship, or if the weather allows – or even if it doesn’t – take your party outdoors. What better location than the woods for kids to explore and run around in – just be sure to send proper instructions of any suitable clothing they’ll need to wear. If you are celebrating somewhere public, check any legislation and remember to clearly signpost your event – don’t forget the bunting!


It’s food that has the potential to cause most waste. Young ones typically don’t eat much so don’t go overboard – but make sure to empty some space in your freezer before hand for anything that is leftover. 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.

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.

Keep things simple is always my mantra – cut up (plastic free, whole) fruit and veg, make some basic sandwiches, for dessert, prebake cupcakes and prepare some bowls of icing and toppings, and get the kids to make their own and finally, say no to cartons of juice or small plastic bottles of water – water with some raspberry cubes is much healthier, more fun and more delicious. Follow Food Bites for the cutest kid food inspiration. 

Plates, cups and cutlery is where the waste generated can be colossal because unfortunately a paper plate smeared with cake or egg mayonnaise cannot be recycled. We use a set of reusable palm leaf plates and bowls which we combine with our every day stash of hardy bamboo plates, plus a few plastic and paper plates we have lurking at the back of the cupboard. It’s usually a total mish mash, but does it really matter? For cups, again, we use what we have which tends to be a combination of stainless steel and bamboo cups. Ask kids to write their name on their cup to keep it for the duration of the party to avoid more waste and washing up.

Check out Party Kit Network where you can borrow a box of everything you need for a party

Alternatively, use your proper ‘adult’ plates and bowls or another idea is to try out a simple BYO system – ask kids to bring a named plastic plate and cup to the party. This is my plan for next year plus I love the idea of giving kids’ responsibility to look after their belongings. And cutlery…whoever needed cutlery at a kids’ party?! Also, check out Party Kit Network where you can hire a box of plates and cups – after each hire, just return the equipment for the next family. And finally, if there is leftover food and you haven’t got space in a freezer, don’t forget to adults everyone to take some home 🙂


All our decoration tends to be reusable – there’s something so lovely and nostalgic about packing up and bringing out the same decorations each year, growing as your family does. We string up our staples of fairy lights, painted paper chains, bunting, cardboard signs and this year I also got some chalk paint and painted some boards. Sometimes I’ll also make something specific for a child’s birthday like some football bunting or jungle leaves, like the below. I also always get the kids involved in making their own signs – it only serves to build excitement in my experience. Finally, fresh flowers or greenery make *any* party look pretty.


Ever just watched your kid tear open a gift, without a thought who they’re from, before tossing it aside and moving on to the next? I’ve been there, on Jack’s earlier birthdays, and it didn’t make me feel good. But equally, I think receiving a few gifts is nice and part of the joy of the day. So I had a re-think and came up with a few different options when it comes to low waste gifting: why not ask for only pre-loved gifts or if sharing a party, how about suggesting 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. We did this with 2 other families and it worked really well – each child was left with 8 gifts which is more than enough in my opinion. 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 – for this, try Twish or Gudoo.


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 6), 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, Sam with a guitar.

Other favourite games include: pass the parcel – use old newspapers and dried fruit or loose sweets in between layers, musical statues, sleeping lions, musical chairs. What about making a pinata? These sound fancy – and they can be – but when we were younger my parents just used a sturdy brown paper bag and some tape, stuffed with loose sweets. Just pop a sheet down on the floor and ask for the kids to take their shoes off. Finally, it’s also worth checking in with your local toy library to see if they lend out toys or why not ask friends or neighbours if you can borrow any larger items they may have.

Unless I’ve got some lurking at the back of a drawer from years ago, we don’t use balloons or party poppers – ever noticed how toxic balloons taste and party poppers smell? Otherwise, check with friends to see what you could borrow. 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.

The Cake

It doesn’t have to look or taste (just add icing sugar – it makes everything look good) great, but nothing trumps a home made cake. 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 remember to keep and reuse candles – you won’t know the difference once they’re lit!

Going Home Bags

I have mixed opinions on going home gifts – part of me knows they’re not necessary, but on the other hand they’ve become the norm and kids seem to expect them. And I don’t want to be that mum that totally breaks the protocol. If you want to go down the party bag route, what about paper bags (or making some out of old newspaper) and filling them with a colouring book or a small pack of seeds plus some Bear Nibbles, or you could also check out Plastic Free Party Bags for another option.

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
-Embrace the chaos
-If hosting elsewhere, enquire what their efforts are to reduce plastic waste: it will make them think, if nothing else
-Ensure you have nothing planned for that evening (and maybe even a bottle of wine ready!)

Parties like these do require more planning and creativity, but they are just as fun, if not more fun because you get to reduce your waste, unleash your imagination and potentially save some money in the process.

Have you hosted a low waste party? What sort of thing did you do? Do 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


  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
      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
      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
      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
      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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