5 ways to reduce birthday party waste
I had my first child in my early 30s and being the first in the family to have kids, the classic children’s birthday party was a distant memory to me. I’d forgotten the format, the protocol and all the stuff needed to make it an event.
There’s the venue, the presents, the gift wrap, the card, the cake, the invites, the food, the drink, the entertainment, the room decorations, the balloons, the party bags, the candles (don’t forget the matches!), the rsvps ….aghhhhh.
And I quickly realised how single-use they are. Other than the gifts themselves, and maybe the candles (if you save them), almost everything is thrown away and bought again the following year. It’s exasperating, expensive and wasteful.
So, on a mission to reduce how much I spend and make my life easier the following year, here’s 5 ways I reinvented the birthday party to make it better for the environment, my conscious and my pocket.
1. No more balloons
With most venues allowing minimal set up time, the majority of that time is used to blow up balloons. It probably ranks my least favourite job and leaves no time to do anything else. Balloons are also terrible for the environment and a hazard to wildlife. Bits of shredded plastic, usually tied with a long, plastic ribbon. Plus, if you want a dramatic helium display, they’re expensive. The average helium canister is around £20 and should be disposed of responsibly – not just chucked in the bin.
So this year I used tissue paper balls and paper fans. They come with a cardboard casing which protects the decoration when collapsed. And they are assembled in 1 second flat. All 30 balls were up in 5 minutes and when tied around the room, create such an impact. Then, at the end of the party, just collapse and store, ready for next year. Plus, they come in a range of amazing colours and designs.
2. Invest in cotton bunting
This is also a time saver and looks awesome when up. I got myself some brightly coloured, fabric bunting. Simple to put up, easy to take down, then can be folded away for next year. Store it flat and you won’t even need to iron it the following year.
3. Make an entrance
If you’re holding the party at home and usually hang a wreath on your door over Christmas, reuse that hook to display a birthday wreath.
Made from brightly coloured pom poms, they make a statement and as an alternative to balloons, they are a fun way to welcome your guests. A 2 second job to hang on the door and a 2 second job to take down. Store is in your new ‘party storage box’ and bring it out with everything else the following year.
4. Paperless invitations
Invites are usually the first thing to go in the bin. There’s lots of online invitation templates on the internet, some free, some paid. And if you like keeping invites as a momento, get one printed just for you.
5. Paperless gift wrap
Wrapping paper is ridiculously wasteful and to ensure it is strong enough, it is lined with plastic. So even if you pop it in your recycling, it is likely to be destined for landfill. There’s also the sticky tape to consider, which adds to the plastic waste.
So this is a big step, but wouldn’t it be great if we wrapped our gifts in fabric? In Japan they practice furoshiki.
A cloth folding technique that makes even wrapped wine bottles look great (I’m not for one second suggesting a wine bottle is an appropriate gift for a child, merely that tricky shapes are easier wrapped in cloth!). Fabric is far easier to reuse than paper and if it gets a bit crumpled, get the iron out and it’s as good as new. Then when you receive a gift, you keep the cloth and use it to wrap one of your gifts. The fabric doesn’t have to be bought – it can be made from recycled fabric such as unused children’s clothing, charity shop scarves, or tea towels. It definitely takes a community to get the cyclical act of sharing and reusing each other’s fabric, but how amazing would this be if it was adopted by the mainstream.
So there you have it. I achieved tip 1 and 2 and 4 this year. Next year I may make myself a pom pom wreath and I’m considering fabric wrapping.
It’s also important to remember this isn’t about banning plastic. It’s about choosing things that can be reused. Plastic is especially hard wearing and is a great material to store and bring out year after year, so don’t dismiss it if it is the best option. But we do need to get out of this cycle of single use – whether that be plastic, foil or paper. So the next time you’re planning a birthday party, think about what you’re buying and if you’ll be throwing it away in a matter of days.
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