A Guide to Hosting a Zero-Waste Party for Children
When it comes to kids’ birthday parties, eco-friendliness often takes a back seat. We may do a good job with cutting down on waste and green living in our day to day routine, but when it comes to celebrations for our little ones, it’s easy to give up. Kids’ parties go hand-in-hand with disposable plates and cutlery, streamers, plastic goody bags filled with plastic toys, and piles of presents with paper wrapping, bows, and ribbons. All of it ends up in the trash.
For those who want to reduce their environmental footprint, the zero-waste movement has become increasingly popular. According to Going Zero Waste, the zero-waste movement aims to 1) send nothing to landfills 2) reduce what we use 3) reuse as much as possible, and 4) recycle or compost the rest.
How can party hosts incorporate zero-waste practices into their kids’ birthday party? It may feel daunting, but there are many achievable and easy ways to host a zero-waste kids birthday party. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Traditional paper invitations are harmful to the environment not only because they are immediately thrown in the trash, but because paper production is one of the most detrimental industries to the environment. In addition to being the leading contributor in deforestation, paper production also releases greenhouse gas emissions and chemicals that contribute to soil and water pollution.
An easy and green alternative to paper invites is online birthday invitations. Not only are online invitations cost-efficient, time-efficient, and eco-friendly, but parents can still send kids characters invitations starring their child’s favorite character from iconic brands like Disney, Nickelodeon, Sesame Street, and more. Additionally, you can use age-specific and milestone invites such as first birthday invitations. Finally, you can also encourage attendees to send free birthday cards online to replace paper greeting cards for the birthday boy or girl.
It’s estimated that every year in the US, 40 billion plastic utensils end up in landfills. Instead of disposable tableware, you should strive to use real plates, cups, and silverware if possible. Alternatively, you can serve guests on recycled or sustainable tableware (made from materials like bamboo), and save water used for washing or running the dishwasher. And be sure to ditch the paper napkins! Cloth napkins are an easy and eco-friendly alternative.
Decorations set the stage for a party so it’s important to keep fun children’s party themes in mind when planning. Unfortunately, most decorations for kids’ birthday parties are single-use disposable (hello, balloons!). With that in mind, here are some ideas about how to bring your kid’s birthday party to life with eco-friendly birthday decorations:
- Opt for a brightly colored linen tablecloth instead of a disposable plastic one. Reuse the tablecloth for parties, holidays, and dinners.
- Brighten the atmosphere with real potted plants and flowers. Set up a station for kids to paint their own ceramic flower pot to take home with them after the party.
- Get the kids involved and to help make birthday signs, hats, and more!
- If you’re crafty, sew a fabric birthday banner that can be reused for years to come.
Gifts are sometimes a touchy subject when it comes to kids’ parties. Some hosts kindly request “please no gifts” to reduce environmental impact and relieve an already overflowing toy bin. Others ask guests to consider making a donation to the birthday kid’s charity of choice.
If you do have presents, as the party host you can promote sustainability in gift wrapping. To get guests onboard with alternative green wrapping, make it fun! Encourage attendees to come up with creative ways to wrap gifts using items around their homes (think old newspaper comic strips, maps, calendars, posters, or fabric scraps). Here’s a beautiful video tutorial about how to wrap a gift in fabric. Guests can also decorate, color, or paint the box the gift came in. Remember: Most traditional gift wrap cannot be recycled so be sure to check before adding it to your recycling bin.
Don’t go overboard with food. Be sure to get an accurate headcount to appropriately plan and avoid waste. Think about kids birthday party food that little ones will actually want to eat! Here are a few more tips on sustainable party food ideas:
- If you can, serve eco-friendly organic food and drinks at your party and buy food from local markets.
- Avoid pre-packaged food trays that come with a lot of unnecessary packaging.
- Keep all leftovers and share with party guests or neighbors.
- Take any remaining food scraps and place in a compost bin instead of the garbage.
Keep in mind that kids are excellent at entertaining themselves and really don’t need a ton of activities to keep them happy. A few fun games are enough! Here’s a quick list of ideas for zero-waste activities to consider for your kid’s birthday party:
- Use what you’ve got! If you already own a mini soccer goal, bocce set, or a sandbox, encourage kids to get outside and have fun.
- Kids love arts and crafts. Get out the glue, colored pencils, and popsicle sticks for a fabulously creative time.
- Let the kids decorate their own cupcakes with different colored frosting & toppings.
- Simple activities like musical chairs, relay races, or a reusable “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” game are oldies but goodies!
Reduce harmful greenhouse gases from cars and encourage guests to choose eco-friendly travel options. It’s important to realize that some travel options will involve buy-in from other parents, therefore it’s vital to make transportation alternatives as easy as possible to implement.
Ideally, if guests are local and the weather cooperates, many can walk to the party. Be sure to include a link to your address on your invitation so attendees can easily get directions. Encourage guests to carpool. Start a thread on the message board for your online invitation to facilitate communication between guests who live near each other. Lastly, if you live near public transportation, include a link to local bus or train schedules and routes.
After the party, keep in mind how to best reuse and recycle items, and the most eco-friendly ways to clean. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Set up recycling areas throughout your party space. Arrange recycling bins for cans, bottles, and paper products. Recycle any paper plates at your local recycling center after the meal.
- If you use real plates and cutlery, pack the dishwasher to the brim before running it! Wash the cloth napkins only when you have a full load of laundry.
- Save those decorations! Reuse any decorations you can for future birthday or holiday parties if possible.
- Use non-toxic cleaning products to reduce environmental impact.
With just a little effort and imagination, you can reduce the environmental impact of your child’s birthday party. You, your child, and party guests will feel great about their contribution towards helping the environment and the earth will thank all of you, too!
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