How to Throw the Best Zero Waste Kids Birthday Party

Give your kids the best birthday party experience, while keeping it environmentally friendly!

Kids celebrating at a zero waste birthday party.

Image courtesy of Country Living

A traditional kids birthday party could be a total nightmare for anyone that follows zero waste practices. The single use streamers, the decorative paper plates, the useless party favors, and the plastic tablecloth. Really, what is the plastic table cloth even doing? Obviously, you want to throw a birthday party for your kids that they and their friends will enjoy, but you don’t want to be wasteful doing it.

Thankfully, you don’t have to be. From decorations to dishes there are plenty of ways that you can incorporate your zero waste lifestyle into a kids birthday party that will please everyone!

Here are a few of the areas you can focus on to create the best zero waste birthday party for your kids:

  • Fun Reusable Materials for Your Party
  • Kid and Eco-Friendly Food and Dishes
  • Zero Waste Gift Wrapping Ideas

Fun Reusable Materials for Your Party

From decorations to invitations, there are plenty of options to choose from.

The first place to start is the first place to start for all parties - with the invitations! Rather than sending out physical invitations, opt for simple digital invitations you can text or email out. There are tons of cute and customizable designs for digital invitations. Plus, most parents will appreciate the ease of having all the information right there on their phone.

For those that might not be as tech savvy or favor physical invitations, there are a few zero waste options you can opt for. One option is to cut up cardboard boxes and use them as invitations. You can also use paper bags, or even reuse paper that’s already been printed on.

As far as decorations go, there are quite a few options you can choose from. There are lots of things you can do to create decorations with stuff that you already have around the house. Recycled paper, cardboard boxes, and plastic grocery bags can all be used to create streamers or banners. While they may lose their ability to be recycled if you cover them in glitter, if put together with care, they can be reused in the future.

Don’t underestimate the potential of an upcycled shirt, pair of socks, or tablecloth as well! These can also serve as streamers or be used to create a banner. The possibilities are endless with what you can turn these into. Once again, these can be reused for many more parties to come.

If you aren’t a fan of doing arts and crafts for your decorations, there are still other things you can do. Mainly, ask your friends, family, and neighbors if they have any leftover party decorations you could use! Not only would you be reusing them, but you could also see if you can keep some of the decorations for future use.

String lights are another great option to help decorate! You most likely have string lights for decorating for other holidays, and if that’s the case, you can pull them out for your kids birthday party! Even if the party isn’t at night, it will still be a nice touch.

A DIY cloth napkin for a zero waste party
DIY cloth napkins will be a great asset in throwing a zero waste party, while also creating napkins that will come in handy beyond the party! Image courtesy of Hello Sewing.

Kid and Eco-Friendly Food and Dishes

Forget the decorative paper plates, and utilize what you already have!

Chances are that you want to avoid giving your kids your nice dinnerware for their birthday party. Paper plates and plastic utensils are quickly out of the question, unless if you're willing to save up the money to buy compostable plates - and actually follow through with composting them. Though, there is a more sustainable and cost effective way to go about this issue.

Chances are that you already own several plastic plates that are designated for your children to eat from. These would be ideal to use for a birthday party. You already have them, and they’re reusable. However, you may not have as many plates as you will need for the amount of guests coming to your party. If that’s the case, you can ask the parents if they’d be willing to lend you their reusable plastic plates for the party. Or even make it a B.Y.O.P. - Bring Your Own Plate!

As for silverware, there are a few options. One option is to primarily offer finger food in an effort to limit the amount of silverware that will be needed for the party. Then, for the silverware that you do need, you can utilize the several sets of silverware you have designated for your kids. And if you’re comfortable, giving them some of the grown up set. Again, if you end up needing more than you have, ask fellow parents if they have any they would be willing to lend you for the party!

Another option for silverware is to reuse plastic silverware that you receive when you eat out. More often than not, these utensils are good as new if you wash them off after using them. You can save up your take out utensils, and eventually you will have a whole set of silverware for your party. After the party, you can collect these and wash them off so they will be good as new for your next gathering!

Napkins are another issue that you have to tackle in creating a zero waste kids birthday party. The obvious answer is to use cloth napkins. However, cloth napkins can be on the expensive side, so it makes sense for you to save those for special occasions and keepy your kids hands off of them - even if they’re going to be washed afterwards.

There are a few different things you can do to eliminate the use of napkins while saving your cloth napkins from being used. The first thing you can do is upcycle old t-shirts to create cloth napkins. Not only are you upcycling what you already have and don’t use, but you are also creating something that you will be able to use more than once.

Traditional gift wrapping practices with tape and ribbons.
Traditional gift wrapping practices aren’t exactly zero waste. There are plenty of ways to wrap gifts without tape, and even zero waste alternatives!

Zero Waste Gift Wrapping Ideas

As opposed to saying “no gifts,” here are some eco-friendly gift wrapping alternatives.

Traditionally at zero waste parties, the host says “no gifts” in an effort to avoid your guests bringing waste with them. But let’s be honest, opening presents is one of the best parts of your birthday when you’re a kid. So, how can you give your kids this joy while keeping the party zero waste? Luckily for you, there are dozens of ways to get around the waste surrounding gift giving.

For starters, you can ask your guests to consider utilizing old gift bags that they have laying around. Even offer to provide some of your own gift bags you have lying around to your guests so they don’t have to stress about finding more. Gift bags immediately eliminate the need for tape and wrapping paper.

You should encourage guests to not stuff the bags with anything but the gift, but if you or the guest insists, consider using previously loved tissue paper, newspaper, or even plastic bags. The best part about using gift bags and the optional stuffing is that you will be able to reuse them for when it’s your turn to be the gift giver.

If you or your guests don’t have any gift bags to reuse, there are alternatives to wrapping paper that are easy to come by. For starters, you can utilize the newspaper to wrap your gifts. A similar alternative is utilizing paper bags. By cutting the bag so it lays flat, you are guaranteed to have more than enough to cover your gift.

If this idea doesn’t particularly appeal to you because it will require tape to hold the newspaper and paper bag together, there are actually ways to wrap presents without any tape! If that seems a bit too complicated for your taste, you can use string or ribbon that you have lying around. You can even keep it and use it for your own gift wrapping.

Other options that won’t require tape at all are scarves, old t-shirts, or old tablecloths. Simply tie them up, and they will be perfect. You can even embellish by adding flowers, plants, or pinecones.

However, if you are uncomfortable with the idea that a guest may not comply with your zero waste asks, you can request minimal gifts and cards.

A cloth napkin used as eco-friendly wrapping, completed with a plant for decoration.
Utilizing old scarfs or cloth napkins are great to use as zero waste wrapping options in place of traditional wrapping paper. You can even spice it up with a plant or flower! Image courtesy of The Daily Greens.

While the zero waste lifestyle doesn’t necessarily seem to align with the traditional idea of a kids birthday party, there are plenty of alternatives to explore to create a wonderful birthday celebration. And don’t be afraid to give into the pressure of your kids wanting to have their party somewhere that isn’t your house. You are still able to bring your own dishes, silverware, and encourage zero waste gift wrapping!

Dean Pinnell

Dean Pinnell is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh studying Communication and Fiction Writing.
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