little boy blowing out birthday candle on cupcake

When I was a child, birthday parties were big affairs. Plastic and paper ornaments and balloons adorned the party room. The birthday girl donned a new dress and a “crown” made of plastic or paper. Guests brought wrapped gifts, wore party hats, and received little toy party favors. And of course, everyone got a piece of cake after the guest of honor blew out the candles.

I really enjoyed spending my special day with family and friends and I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. But I realize now that a lot of what made those birthday parties memorable was not good for the Earth.

After the party, we threw out the plastic decorations and balloons. Even the crepe paper garlands and the paper tablecloths went into the trash; there was no recycling and we didn’t even save the decorations for reuse.

But there are a lot of ways to capture the fun and the magic of a child’s birthday party without creating a lot of waste.

Use a linen tablecloth (covered with a reusable plastic sheet) instead of a paper one. Instead of disposable plastic plates and utensils, use your reusable plates and utensils. If you must have disposable, look for plates made of paper — or sustainable plant fiber — and eco-friendly alternatives to plastic utensils.

For decorating, make paper garlands and party hats out of upcycled paper. Save them for next year or recycle the paper after the party is over.

Instead of traditional paraffin birthday candles on the cake — do you really want petroleum by-product burning over the cake — maybe use standalone soy or beeswax candle to make a wish.

For party favors, skip the cheap plastic toys and trinkets that will eventually end up in the landfill. Consider treats like popcorn balls or bags of mixed nuts (always ask parents about food allergies). Or small puzzles, books, or even a set of colored pencils and a coloring book instead of cheap plastic toys that will eventually end up in the landfill.

There are so many ways to make birthday parties special without creating a lot of waste!

Feature image by Thanh Tran on Unsplash

By Joanna Lacey

Joanna Lacey lives in New York and has collected thousands of ideas from the frugal habits of her mother and grandmother. You can find her on Facebook at Joanna the Green Maven.