Practical tips on how to host a single use plastic-free children’s party.
My Pledge for Plastic Free July was to try to hold a birthday party without using any single-use plastic items or as little as possible! The little guy turned 4 on the fifth of July. It was only last year that I first heard about plastic-free July. It got me thinking as I organised his birthday, just how much plastic waste is generated by a party that lasts just two hours! Do we want our children growing up thinking it’s ok to use disposable items for parties because it’s slightly more convenient or colourful? One thing is for sure it’s definitely not convenient or fun for our wildlife to be choking on the stuff.
Make a List of plastic-free items you don’t need!
Before I could decide what we needed I made a list of what we didn’t! What typical party items were not going to feature; Balloons, straws, disposable plastic cups, plates, cutlery, plastic party bags, and the plastic party toys and bags of sweets that go into them, all the typical party food that tends to come wrapped in plastic, sweets, crisps, biscuits and not forgetting the cake which usually comes in a cardboard box with plastic window if you buy ready-made in a shop, plastic juice containers or bottled water, not to mind all the cooked food that comes raw in plastic too, Literally everything comes wrapped in the stuff, it’s a minefield, party shopping is depressing when looking for plastic-free items.
To begin with party invites: text and phone and email if possible, but if you need to send invites into school make your own if possible, I had some left from a previous year so used those instead, they were actually for a surprise party, but I don’t think anyone really noticed or cared!
All Parties including a plastic-free one, need to be fun!
I hired a bouncy castle for the entertainment, it’s minimum waste, unlike many party games and children’s’ entertainment that require some degree of waste, it’s always a favourite and it was requested by the little guy. It arrived the night before, so it was also the perfect babysitter whilst I was getting everything ready and on the day, it did its job perfectly and kept 16+ preschoolers occupied and happy for the duration of the party! For children who wanted some downtime, I had a look in my crafts box and I found some cardboard butterflies on lollipop sticks that doubled as fans, that could be coloured in, I left these on the table for any child that needed a break from the bouncing!
Bubbles and Bunting instead of Balloons
Decorations are important for a party to feel like a party and not just a glorified playdate. However, I didn’t want to use any plastic banners, tablecloths, balloons or party hats etc. Instead of hanging a balloon on the door to let people know where the party was, I already had nylon ‘Happy Birthday’ wind spinner (ironically in the shape of a balloon) that I hung from our tree on the driveway, I also hung a string of cardboard stars on the door so there could be no confusion over which was the party house.
I decorated the garden with cardboard bunting and tissue paper coloured stars, that I’d also saved from the previous year. Best of all a fellow zero waster friend made us the most fabulous bunting, made from repurposed cotton material. What an amazing gift, they will be treasured and used for celebrations and parties for years to come! The only decoration I actually bought was a happy birthday banner made from felt and ribbon in Tiger for a couple of euro again this can be used and reused time and time again! I also had a bubble machine, which was just as much fun as a pack of balloons. By the time I’d everything up, the garden was definitely looking very festive and ready to rock!
Tableware proved a little more difficult, besides using just my normal PVC tablecloth from the kitchen table, cups and plates were proving to be the bigger issue, due to the young age range of the children, using breakable plates and glasses were out, too much of a hazard, especially with bare feet running around and onto a bouncy castle. I obviously had some reusable plastic plates and cups but not enough to feed the masses! I attended the zero waste festival the previous week, one of the vendors said there were some paper plates she’d brought along to the festival for people to use for food, apparently they had been gathering dust in her mothers for years and I was welcome to take them. Now I know these have a plastic film on them to prevent them from disintegrating, however, I justified their use, as I wasn’t buying them new, and they may well have ended up getting disposed of anyway! As for cups, I was thinking of borrowing some, but a friend suggested I ask parents to bring their own! Brilliant idea, thanks, Louise! Although not everyone remembered enough people did so that my own supply of beakers and cups were enough!
For table decoration I put out some paper and hard plastic party poppers and some paper streamers I’d kept from the previous year, one or two of the poppers disintegrated and some of the children brought them home, but I saved most of them for use for next year, after giving the plastic mouthpiece a clean! Same for the streamers, besides the ones that got trampled on the ground, there was still a good few left over and in perfect condition for use again.
Is it even a party without something to munch on?
One thing you can’t do without is party food. I wasn’t sure how many adults were going to stay and how many would just drop the kids and go, so I made hummus (easy peasy recipe my cousin sent me) and bought cucumber, carrots and mixed bell peppers for crudités! For the kids, I got popcorn kernels from Bring your Own pay and weigh stall at the recent zero waste festival in Dublin. Took all of five minutes to make it, the morning of the party. I also got 3LBs of cocktail sausages from the butchers Super Valu Maynooth, (ordered in advance so straight from his stainless steel tray to my container and into the oven to be devoured by kids and adults alike!
There was an excess of sweets from the party bags, so I divided these up into little bowls and placed them on the table, needless to say, they didn’t last long! We also baked chocolate chip cookies together on Saturday (which was the little dudes’ main contribution to the party prepping) Chocolate chips did come in a foil bag, however, they were sent to us previously as a gift from the states as I love Ghirardelli chocolate and their chips are the best! For drinks, I had water and elderflower juice in jugs with ice and slices of orange and lime as well as mint from my garden.
My Plastic Free Fail
Before I shine my plastic-free halo too much there was one major plastic fail I’ll admit to, with the day so hot and the kids being so active on the bouncy castle, I wanted to provide them with a refreshment to cool down, no time to make ice-cream or source bowls for it, ice pops was the obvious choice. I had some molds so I made 6 with fruit juice however that wasn’t enough for the army of hot sweaty kids, I’ll admit I got a box of mini twisters and a box of mini calypsos, yes annoyingly individually wrapped in plastic and purchased for the purpose of the party, but they were a serious hit, by far the most welcomed of all the treats on the day and allowed a calm down period whilst being devoured. So I felt it was worth it. I did try to get the box of tetra packed ice suckers Lidl were selling a few previous but with the good weather, unfortunately, they were totally sold out! In fairness, you could easily leave them out of most parties or if you had the time make up your own molds to make enough for everyone, but I had run clean out of time to do this.
Let them eat cake
It had always been a tradition that my mum made a novelty cake for my birthday when I was young and this is something I’ve continued on with my own son, last year it was a space rocket cake, this year after a lot of research on google, evaluation and debate the pre-schooler decided on a Batman cake, his version was a very spectacular 4D sculpture of Gotham City, we compromised and settled on a simple round cake with city silhouetted around the edge and the Batman symbol on the top, mammy is no superhero! In terms of flavour I settled on elderflower and lemon, I already had most of the ingredients, all of which came in paper packaging all I needed was the lemons which I bought loose and the butter. The elderflower cordial was bought previously in a glass bottle from M&S (the best option that isn’t homemade) Butter was the only culprit in its foil wrapper, however, I reuse these for greasing baking tins over and over, so technically not single-use, nor plastic just can’t be recycled. My aunt is the professional baker and master cake decorator, she very kindly gave me the icing, food colouring, and tools I needed to decorate the cake, eliminating the need to purchase them!
Plastic-Free Party Favours (yes they are possible)
According to my son party bags for our guests are “super important” besides the bouncy castle and cake, it was his only other request so I felt it was necessary to have them, but I was determined to avoid the plastic variety at all costs! Thankfully my friend Louise had a brilliant zero waste option at her sons’ party a few weeks previous, she’d come up the genius idea of getting our local sweet shop in Maynooth to provide a paper bag complete with a large cola bottle and a little sachet of pumpkin seeds to be planted for Halloween! I loved this idea and I totally stole it! Instead of pumpkin seeds I got a selection of flower seeds, most can still be planted in August for bloom next year. Besides the benefits of being plastic free, the flowers encourage bees to pollinate and planting flowers is a great skill and activity for children to learn at this particular age.
A plastic-free party is not difficult it just takes careful planning!
Holding a single-use plastic free birthday party wasn’t difficult it just took a good bit of planning and I’ll be honest a little bit extra work, as to avoid plastic packaging on food you pretty much need to bake/cook from scratch. But for the most part, it was about cutting out unnecessary items like Balloons, party hats, and disposable plates, cups, and cutlery. Believe it or not the kids never missed any of these items, they enjoyed it as much as any other party! Entertainment, food and a cake are probably all that’s really needed to make any party rock especially for children! I know not everyone likes to bake and cook so it may not be practical to take all of the points on board, however, we all have the capabilities to reduce our waste by cutting out unnecessary extras even when we celebrate a special occasion.