baby girl sitting on grass beside bear plush toy. Image courtesy of Singkham at Pexels

If, like me, you have the exquisite joy of sharing your home with a tiny, screaming dictator, and he/she is about to celebrate a birthday, you may find tears springing to your eyes in the days and weeks leading up to the celebration.

Yes, that’s due to the inexorable march of time that has, seemingly overnight, transformed a chubby newborn into a surprisingly human 2-, 4-, or even 10-year-old. But you also might find yourself weeping due to the sheer amount of waste involved in the production and execution of a child’s birthday party.

And while, unfortunately, it’s not possible to stop time, it is most definitely within the realm of possibility to host a waste-free party. Here’s how:

1. Online Invitations

Start off on the right foot by avoiding paper invitations. Sites like Paperless Post and  Punchbowl make it a snap to create gorgeous, waste-free invitations and help you keep track of your guest list.

2. Reusable Decorations

Instead of balloons, choose big paper pom-poms or colorful lanterns. Better yet, make your own upcycled T-shirt pom-poms or DIY paper lanterns. Both create the same festive party atmosphere with far less waste. Make (or commission someone crafty to do it for you) a fabric “Happy Birthday” banner rather than buying a disposable one each year.

3. Reusable Tableware and Napkins

Nix the paper plates and plastic cutlery in favor of assembling a set of cutlery and dishes from your local secondhand store. With each plate costing you between 25 cents and $1, collecting enough to serve your party guests won’t cost much more than a package of disposables, and you can reuse them for all future parties, too. You could even make your own cloth napkins out of leftover fabric. Let your friends and family know about your party stash so they can reduce waste at their kids’ parties, too.

4. Donations vs. Gifts

Teach your child the benefit of giving by accepting donations to a local charity or animal shelter at the birthday party, instead of presents. Kids will feel incredibly important handing over the money themselves and explaining where it came from. Each year that they grow older, they will grow more compassionate, too. (And isn’t that infinitely better than receiving 18 more boxes of LEGOs to impale your tender feet upon?)

5. Skip the Party Favors

Free yourself from the tyranny of party favors. Look, as a parent, you probably don’t even get time in the bathroom by yourself. Why are you wasting precious moments of your life hauling your progeny around a dollar store, mindlessly stuffing eight bouncy balls into your cart while muttering “these’ll do”? Most treat bags are filled with inexpensive mass-produced plastic trinkets — or unhealthy junk food — and they’re simply not necessary.

If you feel like your young guests might miss taking something home with them, consider offering a parting gift of a slice of cake, a healthy homemade granola bar treat, or one of the decorations instead. And of course, a cheery “thanks for coming!”

A waste-free party needn’t be drab, spartan, or dull, and by choosing to celebrate in an eco-friendly way, you’re ensuring a healthy world for our children for many birthdays to come.

Feature image courtesy of Singkham at Pexels

Editor’s note: Originally published on October 2, 2014, this article was updated in September 2018.

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.