Tips For Hosting A Low Waste And Drama Free Children’s Birthday Party
I love parties. I love to plan parties. I love to host parties. I especially love being a guest at a great party. But… I am also all too aware of how extremely wasteful parties and social events can be. Of the gatherings that I attend often, children’s birthday parties can be especially wasteful!
Truthfully, I usually get pretty overwhelmed at kid parties. Too much junk food. Too much mess and trash. Too much screaming and chaos. These parties often end with a whole lot of tears (usually the guest of honor’s), which is a real bummer considering the parents hosting the party spent a small fortune trying to create a magical and memorable experience for the kiddos. So, when the time came for me to start hosting birthday parties for my own babies, I decided I wanted to make an effort to avoid both the tears and the trash that are typical of these gatherings.
This year, for my son’s third birthday, I asked him what theme he would like for his party. He has only seen two movies, Pixar’s Cars and Wall-E. Naturally, he is obsessed with both of these movies. We decided to go with Cars because it would make for a fun theme. The problem is that using a theme based on television or movie character makes sticking to my environmental-friendly and healthy party goals a little more challenging. Here are my tips for hosting a low-waste and drama-free children's party:
Having plenty of time to prepare is key. I pick my party date, time, location and theme at least a month in advance. This gives me the opportunity to collect supplies and work on making decorations here and there over several weeks. Waiting until the last minute to throw a party together is guaranteed to result in a rushed shopping trip to Target where I will leave with a cart full of junk food and plastic garbage. The plastic garbage will probably be super cute and all perfectly matching the theme, but at the end of the day, it will still all end up in the landfill or worse.
Host At Home Or At A Park
Along with being far more affordable, having the party at home or at a neighborhood park allows for more control. When a party is hosted at a business location, the venue usually restricts what food and supplies can be used. Most likely the amount of garbage produced will be greater and there will be little opportunity for separating out recycle and compost.
Make The Food Yourself
This also allows for more control over food options. (Yes, I know I am a control-freak.) By making my own food I can guarantee that the kids are eating real, organic and nutritious food. I can also significantly limit the amount of package waste by purchasing plastic-free produce and bulk bin goods. I like to try to stick to foods that do not require utensils to eat. That way I don’t have to buy plastic cutlery (not recyclable) or have a ton of real cutlery to clean after the party.
I have noticed a trend with children’s parties where the amounts of sweet treats served has amped up. I understand that this is because candy and baked goods can be super fun and colorful. Sweet treats also tend to be a lot easier to get creative with than healthier food options. Unfortunately, I believe the sugar is the main culprit behind the birthday party burnout. When young children start to act hyper and spastic, this is not because they are having so much fun that they cannot contain themselves. This is actually a sign that their brains are screaming for help. First, there is the over-stimulation from all the party excitement. Then, combine that with their bodies trying to deal with the toxins from the processed sugar and additives. The result is that their little systems become totally overwhelmed. Finally comes the crash, the meltdowns and the tears. (To read more on this, check out the book Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne M. Ed. )
I broke my own rule this year with the sweet treats. To go with the Cars theme, I served chocolate donuts to look like car tires. The donuts were local, vegan and organic. That makes up for the sugar content, right? Hah! I ended up really regretting that decision with the birthday boy had the biggest meltdown ever at the end of his day.
Avoid Buying New Things
For decorations, supplies and activities:
o Be creative and make use of what you already have in your home. I made most of the decorations from old craft materials I already had collecting dust in the closet.
o Get crafty and make your own decorations using compostable and recyclable materials – Pinterest will be your best friend. My husband built the racetrack using scrap wood from past house projects.
o Borrow supplies and decorations from friends, neighbors and family members. We borrowed all of the little Cars characters and the race car themed decorations. After a party, I always offer my decorations to neighbors on my neighborhood Buy Nothing. The recipients are always thrilled and happy to continue passing the decorations along once they are done with them.
o Shop your local second-hand stores. You never know what kind of gems you might find. Like a Lightning McQueen power wheels toy!
Avoid Plastics and Non-Compostables
o Use reusable / washable cutlery, plates, napkins, table cloths, etc.
o Or, chose to use compostable paper goods. I like to use World Centric paper goods. Even the packaging their products are wrapped in is plant-based. (The fancy graphic plates and cups like you find at the party store are neither compostable nor recyclable.)
Provide Compost and Recycle Receptacles
Make sure to label your bins with big, noticeable signs or else the party guests won’t think to separate their items. Labeling what items go in which receptacle may be necessary. I have discovered this reality the hard way…
Lower Your Expectations
Kid’s parties should not be a competition. Don’t get carried away. The only person whose opinion matters is the birthday boy or girl. They are usually pretty darn easy to impress. Instead of spending your budget on over the top party decorations and gifts, save that money for a fun, family adventure to celebrate the occasion. We skipped buying our son any gifts and opted to take him to a professional soccer game the day before his birthday. Even the grandparents got on board this year and are contributing to a trip to California Adventures so the birthday boy will get to experience the "real" Radiator Springs!
Things To Skip:
Free online invite options like Evite , Paperless Post or Facebook Events help save on time, money and waste. They also make it easier to keep in communication with your guests. I have a soft spot for a beautiful paper invite but, unfortunately, the reality is that they just end up becoming clutter and/or trash.
With the invite, I always request that guests please do not bring gifts. My boys have more than enough toys. The last thing I want is for my friends and family members to feel obligated to run down to the local big box store and waste their money on more plastic toys. Plus, new toys always seem to come in a ridiculous amount of packaging. Then there are the gift bags and tissue paper. So much garbage! This year my nephews arrived to the party with an old cigar box for the birthday boy. In the box they had collected their old Cars lego sets that they no long played with. It was the perfect gift and my son was thrilled. Second-hand toys make great gifts!
For some reason parents feel obligated to hand out bags to their guests full of little cheap plastic toys and individually plastic-wrapped junk food. The kids are interested in the items in the bag for maybe an hour, if that, and then they break, or the parents just end up tossing them in the garbage. The last thing any of us parents need is more little pieces of plastic floating around the house to step on. The last thing the kids need is more junk food.
Themes Based On Movies Or TV Shows
Obviously, I didn’t take my own advice for this party… and it made sticking to my low-waste goals a lot more challenging. At first, I was planning to hand-draw a bunch of the Cars characters myself on card stock to cut out. I decided that was far too much work. Even just trying to recreate the “Radiator Springs” signage was time consuming. I was also far more tempting to make unnecessary purchases for the sake of the theme. When I came across the orange traffic cone shaped candles and the packet of Disney Cars themed scrap-booking paper, well, I caved. Both were unnecessary, and both came wrapped in plastic packaging.
I know, I know... This is a real bummer but the reality is that these guys are really horrible for our planet. Not only are they made of non-biodegradable plastic, they also are extremely deadly for wildlife who often mistake balloon waste as food. I highly recommend this blog post that goes deeper into this topic.
Glitter and Confetti
Itty, bitty pieces of micro-plastic that wreak havoc on the environment, are deadly to animals and toxic to our own health. Plus, super annoying to clean up. There is no need for these.
If you are needing some extra motivation to help you back away from those adorable party supplies at the store, watch the documentary A Plastic Ocean on Netflix. The staggering amount of plastic waste that is piling up on our planet's land and in our oceans is truly horrifying. The best thing we can do as individuals is try our best to be more aware and try to start minimizing our own personal trash whenever possible. I promise that an awesome and memorable children’s birthday party is still totally achievable without all the excessive garbage and toxic treats. If you are needing some help coming up with alternatives for your own party plans, please reach out to me. I would love to help you brainstorm some creative solutions!
Please know that I am totally guilty of all of the things I mention here that I am now trying to avoid. These blog posts do not come from a place of judgement. I simply want to share what I’ve discovered through research and personal experience in hopes that I can encourage others to consider alternatives that may help improve their own experiences as well as help preserve our planet for future generations.