Once you have kids you soon realise that they are little wrecking balls desperately trying to get their hands on everything and anything. Oddly enough, their main intention always seems to be testing an object till they find it’s breaking point, they really are destructive little so-and-so’s. So it’s only practical that most kid-related things are made of plastic. Which of course is great for durability, but also not so great, as that piece of Lego will outlive us all!
Nothing is more plastic-dense and waste producing quite like a kiddies party. I never really gave it much thought the first few parties I did for my son, you want to go all out for their special day of course, but when you stop and tally up just how much “stuff” has gone into just a few hours your brain starts to hurt. Never mind the clean up afterwards! Bags and bags of “stuff” that’s just destined for the bin.
So now that my daughter has her first birthday coming up I’m going to try some simple swaps and change things up from the traditional party routine… I’ll let you know how it goes. But here are a few ways I’m making changes:
Ditch the decor
Not that I’m suggesting you go all scrooge-like, but most party decorations either become an entangled sticky mess stuck to the bottom of someone’s shoe, or you just end up throwing them away a few hours later. If you really want to have some decor (let’s face it, is it a party without a bit of kitsch?) Go for something that has a bit of longevity. For girls it’s a lot easier as you can go wild with flowers from the garden, paper-poms, material bunting – the works! But boys are a little trickier, and balloons and other plastic paraphernalia are often the only option. Exploring alternative party themes is one way to get creative and not fork out part of your mortgage to the Disney Channel. Themes like a jungle/farm/goblin/pirate shipwreck etc are all ways you can use things from the garden, second-hand shops and scrap yards. I also asked myself, would my kid really notice if I didn’t have the traditional things up? For Captain Chaos’ last birthday I deliberately didn’t have balloons, and it seemed nobody noticed. In fact I didn’t have any decor, not even party packs (which I’ll go into more detail about soon) and with the money I saved I hired a jumping castle slipery slide instead and the kids were too busy having fun to notice the missing streamers. Plus there was way less pre-party prep, and post-party clean up. Bonus!!
No more party packs
Am I really a bad mom? Or were there a few parents letting out a big sigh of relief that I was sending them on their way without round 2 of sugar-fuelled hysteria, this time taking place in the backseat of a moving vehicle! Instead I did platters of snacks at kiddy level so they could help themselves. A mix of healthy stuff and a few treats embedded amongst nibbles of more filling stuff like date balls, sausage rolls, veggie and fruit sticks, fun kiddy friendly dips, popcorn, chocolate nuts, pretzels etc. The amount of packaging I saved on leaving out the party packs with individually wrapped sweets was staggering. Instead I opted for bulk bags of chips, chocolates and sweets without wrappers and topped up the platters as I went. Any leftovers I could then keep for another social occasion. No unnecessary waste! Bonus!!
No more individual juice boxes
I learnt my lesson the hard way at my son’s first birthday party. I bought all these crazy expensive mini milkshakes that each came with it’s own straw, and by the end of the party there was a sea of opened mini milkshake bottles either spilling everywhere half-drunk or some that had only one sip taken out of them! I vowed there and then as I threw away bottle after bottle of hardly-drunk milkshakes to never buy them again. Instead, I now have a big juice dispenser and I invested in some reusable plastic cups that I wash and re-use at the next party or function. I make homemade lemonade weeks before the party, freeze it, and then just defrost and decant on the day. WAY cheaper, healthier and the kids can then help themselves which is a big novelty. This was a budget beater of note! Bonus!!
Ditch the single-use utensils
Of course paper plates and polystyrene cups are a breeze for after-party clean up. But if you stop and really think about it, are you really doing any less work? I find it takes just as much effort chasing down wind-swept juice cups and paper plates stuck to the wall with cake icing, as it does putting glasses and real plates into the dishwasher. If your party guests are still little and unruly and you can’t quite trust them with the good china just yet, cloth serviettes make the most versatile plate/wet wipe/tissue/juice mopper-upper/table wiper around. Then at the end of the party, just collect all the used cloth serviettes and dump them in a hot wash and they’re good to go for the next party! Kids tend to snack on the go at parties, and by the time they’re of an age that they need cutlery, they’re hopefully old enough to be trusted with the proper stuff. If you’re still not willing to risk a sword fight with granny’s antique cutlery set then invest in a very basic “party” set that you’re not too precious about and can be easily replaced. The same goes for straws, make the initial investment into a bulk pack of reusable straws and just wash and reuse them, they will pay for themselves in no time.
This is obviously very age-dependant. You certainly won’t be able to get away with asking all the guests to not give gifts if your child is 8, that may leave some emotional scarring. But for their first birthday, and even at a push their second, they really won’t know that they are even having a party let-alone who bought them what. So if you don’t feel they need anymore toys, perhaps put it out there that you would like to gift them with an experience rather and then everyone can pitch in with money towards that rather, you’ll probably find people will be thrilled to just give cash, as buying the right age-appropriate present can be a headache. If you really want to go full on zero-waste, you could even ask for hand-me-downs and gently used toys from guests who have older children. If you are on the giving end, consider buying wooden toys or arts and crafts that can be used again over plastic passage-fillers as I call them, especially when I stub my toe on them doing the 5am feed!