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My goal was simple, to have as little waste as possible at the end of my daughter's birthday party. The hardest part, was convincing my daughter to let go of a few things she felt she needed. She had to make some choices, which she did...and it turned out great! Here's what I did, and how I followed the 5 R's of Zero Waste:
THEME - If you can go with a broad theme, like a color or flowers or rainbows (vs. a specific character theme), I find zero waste to be much easier. This way you can skip the gimmicky single use items that go with character parties.
TOYS ON CAKE - We kindly requested that the bakery didn't put the character toys on the cake that we ordered. We instead had a simple, rainbow cake. Even better, could be do make your own cake (this is not in my wheel house).
SKIP THE PINATA - This was the hardest, convincing her to forgo this tradition. I love pints, but they can be wasteful. Once we decided to skip it, it was such a relief.
EVITE - An easy green alternative.
GOODIE BAGS - I wish I could say I came up with a creative solution. We were going to do reusable bags and fill them with items like flower seeds. But in the end, I let go of the giveaway guilt and skipped them all together. I think parents around the world will be relieved when we finally let go of the silly goodie bag tradition.
FOOD- The food wasn't completely waste free. This was the one area where we did have a tiny bit of waste. I reduced waste by popping my own popcorn that I bought in the bulk section. But I compromised and got my daughter some goldfish crackers, since she had let go of the piñata and goodie bags. That goldfish package was not recyclable because it is make of a combination of materials (plastic and foil). But once everything else was said and done, I felt great about having only 1 food package that could not be recycled.
DECORATIONS - I love to use real flowers to decorate. It adds color without waste. It's also great fun to give your children flowers on their birthday. It's a wonderful memory instead of plastic decor or balloons.
CRAFTS - Instead of crafts (which I find to be fun for kids, but just a ton of waste, often made of plastic and foam), I set up a play tent with toys inside (like Magna-tiles) that kids could play with.
RENT YOUR ENTERTAINMENT - The main attraction of the party was the bounce house, which was rented.
TABLE CLOTHS - This is my number one must-have for parties: reusable table cloths. Get a few solid colors that you find to be staple colors that you can use for any party or any theme. Or, get one color for each person in the family that can serve as a base color for several years, like dark blue or pink.
B-DAY BANNER- One of my favorite zero waste items is our birthday banner. I invested in a nice, cloth one from Etsy, that will probably last many generations. What I love about this, is that it creates a family tradition when you bring it out each birthday, in addition to being less wasteful.
UTENSILS - Long ago, I bought a few sets of simple metal forks (they come in a box of a dozen or so at Target, TJ Maxx, etc.) and they are great for parties, when you don't need full table settings. They are even nice enough for formal holidays. I use these forks all the time and never buy disposable ones for parties. I also send my kids to school with these and use them for take-out food, because they are not my "good" silverware.
CUPS - I gathered up all my reusable cups that were not breakable and brought out some dry erase markers. I had each kid write their name on their cup and they reused them all day. If you feel like purchasing a set, I love these stainless steel cups for kids as an alternative to plastic.
PLATES - A few years ago, I bought a set of plates that are made from recycled plastic and are light and great for outdoor parties. Buying things made from recycled materials is key, it closes the loop and if we don't do this, what is the point of recycling? I use these for every kids' party (and adult parties too) and they go right into the dishwasher. Better, yet, this year I had the kids write their names on the plates, with dry erase markers, so we used the plates for cake too - so less dishes!
DRINKS - In addition to a pitcher for water, I bought some bulk lemonade and then some beverages in cans and bottles. All of the beverage containers were recyclable. If you make it a point to skip the drink pouches and cartons with straws, which cannot be recycled, it will cut down on a ton of waste.
ZERO WASTE STATION SIGNS - Even for small house parties, its important to educate your guests as to how to sort their waste. I set up a zero waste station with signs. For little kids, you may need pictures. My guest could read, so I did colorful signs with the name of the item and arrows.
PIZZZA BOXES - This one always seams to stump people. The rule of thumb is, if it is greasy, compost it. So, except for the top of the box (off it is not contaminated with grease, I tear the top off and recycle it), you need to compost your pizza boxes (or put them in the landfill trash if you don't compost). Only clean and dry cardboard can be recycled.
FOOD SCRAPS - All composted in my backyard compost pile.
NAPKINS - Cloth napkins for parties are great, but for kids, a little tricky. They tend to use a lot of napkins and forget where they put their napkin (repeatedly). I didn't want to risk sharing napkins and getting kids sick and if they used several napkin each, I didn't think it would be worth that much laundry. For this party, I bought paper napkins and we composted them when we were done.
At the end of the party, here is the waste that we had: one goldfish container, the parmesan cheese packets that came with the pizza (which I forgot to ask them to skip - whoops!), the stickers on the pizza box, and the foil wrapping paper from 1 gift (foil/metallic wrapping paper is not recyclable).
Overall, I feel great about the zero waste party! It looked beautiful and it was the simplest party I have ever yet to throw. It saved me money and was so easy to clean up after. As an added bonus, I got to enjoy the flowers for days and days and the decor I will use for many parties down the road. The best part is, I am left with no guilt of all the waste that is created after a traditional party...zero waste parties are guilt free!
About Kelly Green Consultant: Hi! I'm Kelly Buskirk. I currently live in Austin, TX, but I first got involved in sustainability when I was living on the island of Kauai, and a landfill was proposed by neighborhood. I made the conscious shift to live a zero waste lifestyle and transform the business I was managing from great, to green! My intention is to tread lightly on the planet, by reducing toxins and waste in my life and help others do the same in their life and business. Join me on my Zero Waste + Green Living quest!