Plastic free parties, birthdays and other celebrations, seem to have struck a chord with so many of you. It’s such a difficult one as traditionally children’s birthday parties have just become a single use, plastic filled melting pot! The reasons for this seem to come down to two things, time and money (oh and energy), something as a Mum of three, I can completely relate to. We’ve done many a birthday party in our time. I do remember doing a lot of craft parties and completely exhausting myself in the process!
So when I reached out to my followers over on instagram, I was blown away by how many of you were struggling with this as an area to cut down plastic waste. I had loads of questions about things that you really wanted help with. I’ve picked the most recurring themes to research and (hopefully) give you some answers to!
How do we tackle?:
- Saying no to presents
- Party bag fillers
- Meeting expectations
- Plastic in catered food
- Helping others understand why
Let’s start with balloons shall we? Balloons are such a fundamental part of birthdays, they just seem to go together don’t they? But what if we changed that and started talking about the damage they can do? Many balloons are made from plastic which cannot biodegrade and therefore remain on our planet pretty much forever, on land and in the sea. They kill animals who think they are food which is pretty upsetting. Nothing ‘happy’ about that.
Even latex balloons can take between 6 months and 4 years to decompose which is a long time to do damage. Helium balloons are also using an important element, one which we need and cannot manufacture. It’s pretty wasteful using it on something that is essentially waste. Whilst our children love the bright colours and fun ways they can be displayed, balloons aren’t that interesting after the event has passed and they start to deflate.
Alternatives to balloons
In looking for alternatives I was thrilled to find so many different options. My favourite has to be tissue paper pom poms. These can be made in less than five minutes and you can choose to go big or small, so they suit every party setting. Plus you can still go colourful! In all honesty they take the same amount of time as blowing up a balloon, but you won’t nearly pass out making each one!! In my eyes they are more impactful than balloons. You can even use the tissue paper afterwards in craft activities or as wadding for sending presents and parcels.
I know it’s a difficult topic as children love balloons, even my 17 year old wanted balloons for his birthday this year, but for something used for one day I couldn’t justify it. So we went for pom poms instead. I think if your children are really young, you can redefine birthdays and they won’t know any different, so you’re on to a winner. We stock some lovely hack pack art packs, which you can use to make gorgeous decorations too, made from leftover papers from the printing industry and for each pack sold, one is donated to a children’s art group by our supplier.
Another alternative to balloons are card pinwheel decorations, again you can make these yourself, but there are also some fab businesses making them, plus if you look after them in between uses, you can reuse them for each birthday or celebration. If you wanted something that the children can take home with them after the party a smaller pinwheel or pom poms would be perfect, that way you’d have less tidying up to do too!
And on the topic of decorations, it’s really easy to make paper or card bunting, I use old birthday cards and at Christmas, the old Christmas cards (what else do you do with them?!) by cutting them into triangles, popping two holes in the top and then stringing them onto a length of string or ribbon. Easy. Get the kids involved in the making; a craft activity to keep them busy and a heap of decorations made virtually for nothing. You can put these away and bring them out each year too.
You can also make things like fabric bunting by using scraps of fabrics to simply tie onto some string, for a really colourful impactful decoration. That way you can use up old clothes, bedding, anything goes really. Easy to cut into strips and tie, get the family involved and keep them busy!
There’s a real misconception about being eco friendly or striving for less waste, that it is boring, brown and ugly and something other people do! But I definitely believe that eco friendly can mean fun, colourful, pretty, stylish and more; my range of products in stock on the website are ones which I would be very proud to show anyone, lots of colourful, beautiful things. It really doesn’t have to be dreary!! Plus you can make so much yourself, quickly and easily too.
I found a really lovely business with a range of plastic free decorations, so if you’re short on time to make your own, then buying in can be a lifesaver. The conscious party box sell a range of plastic free decorations, so well worth checking them out.
Party bag fillers
Another big one is party bag fillers, now this one is a difficult one too, as expectations are soooo high! You can never forget the look on a 5 year old’s face when the party bag hasn’t lived up to expectations! Again with this one, I think it’s all about thinking clever, if you’re doing the party at home or in a hall, then I’d definitely go for a craft activity as part of that and then that becomes the gift in the party bag, along with a slice of cake, to me, that’s totally adequate. But if you really want to send them home with sweets and toys, then try consider buying sweets either from your local sweet shop (if you’re lucky to still have one) and they might give you a bit of a discount if you’re buying in bulk, plus you get lovely paper bags.
You could buy in bulk, either online or in the supermarket, a pack of paper bags doesn’t cost much either, so you can cut down plastic that way. There are some great online sweet shops with an eco conscience too, and I highly recommend simply popping them a message telling them you’re looking for plastic free party bags sweets and asking what they could put together for you or recommend. I think for me it’s all about the personal touch, connecting with the retailers and getting them on board.
I also think that a simple colouring sheet and some pencils for small children is a lovely party bag gift, you can print off the pictures at home and buy pencils in bulk so that it is less costly. It still makes a lovely gift to take home. As my children have got older we’ve opted for craft parties, where we’ll make something during the party and then the children get to take it home as the gift, it can make it much cheaper by opting for this and gives them a real sense of pride. Something to be treasured, rather than thrown away.
A few practical ideas for plastic free party bag gifts
- colouring in sheets
- homemade play dough ~
How to make your own playdough, simple recipe:
• 250g plain flour
• 50g salt
• 140ml water
• 1 to 2 tablespoons cooking oil
• few drops food colouring (optional)
You can make it either cold or in a pan on a warm heat. You can also add cream of tartare, but this recipe works really well.
- seeds to plant
- sweets in paper bags
- mini colouring books
- mini notebooks
- friendship bracelets
- making kits
Convenience is a difficult one when we’re talking about eco friendly options, often the easiest option isn’t eco friendly and I think that’s something we all have to consider when we’re trying to be more eco. We have to limit our own expectations of having things now, fast and easy. Living a more sustainable lifestyle is about slowing things down, taking our time, making better choices and putting in a bit of effort. But I honestly believe that we can do lots of these things at no greater effort, it’s just that we perceive it to be more work! If you like planning, then plan ahead where you can, get the family involved and make it fun and it won’t feel like such a hard task. Plus once you’ve collected some great plastic free alternatives you can use them every year.
Another one of the other big barriers can be cost and again it can be perceived cost. So if we’re looking at decorations, then we can buy lots of plastic stuff for under £10, so I can see the appeal. But what if we changed the way we looked at it and set aside a budget for buying party stuff that could be used every year, for multiple birthdays, such as fabric tablecloth, fabric bunting, fabric napkins, and even fabric wrapping. This could cost as little as £50 which over a lifetime of a child or children, that budget actually works out cheaper than all of the single use ones. You can buy a few themed bits each year, there are some great paper/card options and things like a cardboard lunch box that the children can take home with them is a great way to combine a party bag with a recyclable option. No need to buy twice.
Also don’t be afraid to use plastic, if you’re using plastic cups or plates that you use all of the time or for every party then this is a great way to reduce waste, yes, it is plastic, but it’s also better to use something multiple times than to keep throwing stuff away. Something to bear in mind, is that there are companies popping up who will hire out plastic cups and plates for parties and I’ve also seen school PTA and pre-schools start up these initiatives as a way of raising funds. You could be onto a winner if you suggested this to your schools/pre-schools or if you got together as a group of parents to provide this resource for one another. Never be afraid to borrow either!!
Saying ‘no’ to presents
Saying ‘no’ to presents and how do we help others to care really comes under the same banner for me. The biggest thing is talking about it, talk to your children, talk to your friends, talk to the school or pre-school, clubs or other groups you and your children belong to, shout it from the rooftops if you can! The more we challenge what has always been, the more we can take everyone forwards with us, even if it’s one small step and one small change, it’s a win. I think we do have to understand that everyone is working in different ways, so there will be some people who will never understand how important it is to create less waste and use less, but most people will be willing to learn and try, once they know more or they can see why you feel that way. You could write ‘no presents’ on the party invite, or make a plastic free party banner on the invite! Make it cool, make it seen, make it clear and show it as the norm, that way others will be carried along with you.
Wrapping and tape
Wrapping and tape is the next most asked about element of a birthday, so I’ll share my really really simple swaps. Paper tape is now way more colourful than clear plastic tape, we stock a range of amazing plastic free paper tapes, with text saying ‘happy birthday’ ‘just for you’ with stars, hearts, dots and more, this tape is really sticky but it is completely recyclable in your paper recycling, so it’s really easy to make this swap. Or you can opt for string to tie the presents up with, really easy and even easier to open!
Wrapping paper is really easy too, just make sure it is made from recycled paper and can be recycled; if it can be scrunched then you can recycle it with paper, but if it can’t be then avoid it and no glitter paper. You can make your own wrapping paper by using a roll of paper and stamping, printing or painting onto it, this can be a great additional craft to do with the kids, so you get something completely unique.
You can also get eco friendly glitter, so you could make your own glittery paper if you really want to, and eco friendly glue also exists but there are so many great recycled wrapping papers out there now, including on the high street, so it’s just worth taking a look.
Or you could switch to something like our reusable fabric wrap, this is a really great swap again as you can make it yourself out of any fabrics you have, from tea towels to bed sheets, and clothing, plus if you simply buy yourself a pair of pinking shears (special scissors with a cerated edge) you don’t even need to sew it, and you can wrap it with or without ribbon or string by simply tying it into a bow. If you agreed with family and friends, you could simply reuse each time there is a birthday, between you, so that the same fabric wrap goes back and forth!
It’s worth mentioning cards here, as I know cards can seem wasteful, but I doubt many of us would want to turn up without something for the birthday recipient. You could choose to make your own, opt for a lovely badge or rosette. If you’re looking for birthday cards, there are some really lovely eco friendly options out there, we stock a few different ranges and there are so many great options now that it is an easy swap to make to a more sustainable choice. I reuse a lot of the cards we receive by turning them into bunting as I mentioned before, so you can find other uses for them and children find it fun to see old cards made into something that you get out each year for their birthday. It somehow makes the birthday decorations just that little bit more personal.
I’ve also started using PaperlessPost more for adult celebrations, as you can create beautiful cards which are then sent via email to your recipient. A lovely less waste option.
Plastic in catered foods
Now this is something that is difficult to tackle with the big supermarket chains. It’s much easier with your local stores or local caterers. Most local areas will have great local businesses offering party foods etc, so it’s well worth asking around to find yours. Otherwise you could ask the bigger stores to provide it without plastic or to take back the plastic afterwards.
The more we ask, the more they know what we want and don’t want! It’s really that simple. If we tell them we won’t buy it unless it comes without packaging or we send the packaging directly to them they’ll soon stop using it. I appreciate not everyone will want to or feel that they can take this on, so I can understand that you may just want to order the food and tick it off your to do list. That’s fine too, just cut down in other areas that feel more manageable.
If you’re catering yourself, there is nothing wrong with using plastic tubs if you are using and reusing. Consider using old biscuit tins as they work perfectly to store and transport food to the party venue. You can reuse things like bread bags or the bags from cereal boxes if you need to use plastic bags at all and if you have them at home anyway.
Like with anything, there really is no one size fits all approach to going plastic free or cutting down your plastic use, and some things can feel more difficult than others. I try to look at it as trying to reduce my single use consumption, because some plastic use can generate less waste, especially if it is something you already have. There’s definitely no need to buy new when you’re looking at reducing waste. Simply do what you can when you can.
- Create a network of like minded people. *
- Start keeping list of all those amazing suppliers who can help with your plastic free or waste free party needs.*
- Share it with friends, they’ll be looking too so you can all help one another out.
We’d love to hear from you, if you’ve successfully had plastic free parties, we’d love to share your successes!