I love celebrating. I enjoy the brainstorming of ideas, the planning, the DIY projects and of course the party itself, but I hate the conscious “hangover”. The next day when you pick up things that were “used” for a few hours and add up to a big trash bag (or a few). That trash bag doesn’t feel like anything we should be celebrating.
I have been working on sustainability for many years now and know “sustainable” is a trendy word very widely used but not always correctly. There are certifications of “all shades of green” that are used as a proof of sustainability. My measure is very empiric: the trash bag. After your daily operations or your event in this case, how big is your trash bag?
Here in Perú balloons, disposable tableware, foam figures and styrofoam mockup cakes are commonly used to celebrate kids birthdays. All those materials end up in the trash and stay in landfills for hundreds of years not to mention the risk of balloons for marine life. A sustainable party doesn’t mean a boring, dull or expensive event. It can actually be fun, save you money and make you (or your party) stand out.
This is our experience celebrating our daughter’s second birthday.
Choosing the Theme
Everything is easier if you have a theme. Choosing a theme is normally straight forward as kids have special interest for particular characters. In our case Ría loves animals and is a great theme for a party for 2-year-olds as most kids know and like animals.
I have an animal masks book I bought years ago way before becoming a Mom. I never thought that book would become so important! Every time my daughter comes into my office, she goes straight to that book and, one by one, we’ll name each animal and make their sounds. If, by chance, I skip a page, which means I skip an animal, she will notice and make me go back. Those masks became the main party decoration and inspired the animal masks we made for entertainment and the favors.
If you go with an animal theme, you could have a zoo party, jungle party, safari party, farm party or just a general animals party.
Use what you have. The goal of sustainable decoration is not to buy anything new, if you do buy anything, it should ideally be second hand, made from recycled materials or completely recyclable or compostable. It is always better to rent or borrow, always think on what will happen with that object at the end of the party.
We used a lot of what we had: The masks, animal toys passed down from my nephew, flowers, plants and wood furniture. All what added to create a natural jungle/ woods atmosphere. Just add a little creativity and it will all become very festive and special without the need to buy new things.
We made little party hats for the animals from leftover papers and ribbons
For the table setting we used leaves and wooden cutting boards, some bamboo and leaves dishes. All this set in a nice wooden table with some animal toys and leaves around made a beautiful table. Simple and very affordable.
For an adult’s party, you are fine with just having food, drinks and good music. For a kids’ party, you are not. I mean, they could just play but that is what they always do. To make it a special day, we wanted special entertainment. I like having stations, especially for small children, as they frame activities. We had three
1. Playing station. We had small tables and chairs, a mini kitchen, wooden building blocks and some puzzles.
2. Outdoors area. We had a sand pit with fun kitchen stuff to play with in the sand and a mini garden.
3. Climbing circuit. We rented a circuit. Perfect for this age group to climb and explore.
We also had the masks from the book and more animal masks we made. They added to the fun and definitely gave a special touch.
There are many options for entertainment, from shows to elaborate inflatable rentals. Don’t plan activities that need a lot of materials or generate a lot of waste. Plan it out considering what you already have and things you could borrow/ rent. If you do this, you will have zero waste from the entertainment area!
Food, Drinks and Cake
A very important area for us. We are vegetarian, gluten free and fans of nutrition. I can’t offer things I won’t give my own child. We really wanted a nutritious, fun and healthy table that we could get ready in not more than a day of cooking and that kids and adults will actually eat.
Cooking or having other friends and family to help with some preparations is the best way to reduce trash. A second option is to find a sustainable caterer but that is only if you have the budget. Anything you will buy ready made will come in a package.
Already 50% of the world’s food goes into the trash. Plan to serve food that won’t go wasted at the end of the event. For example if you want to offer a dip serve a moderate amount and refill during the event. If you are offering sandwiches, plan ingredients that won’t moist the bread so leftovers are not wasted by the end of the event. Even better if you have all the ingredients ready and prepare them and refill as the event goes on, maybe a friend or family member can help with that task.
Colorful arepas. Spirulina, beetroot and carrot gave the arepas a special flavor and color.
Agar Agar Jelly. Strawberry, blueberries and pineapple gave color and taste to this cute mini jellos. We used shaped ice cubes.
Chicken eggs. Quail eggs in a chicken costume. Eyes are black sesame and noses are carrots. Very easy and fast to make.
Fruit balls. Melon, papaya and watermelon scooped with a round spoon. You could cut out shapes too.
Trees. Broccoli and cauliflower sauteed in coconut oil give them a special taste and they add to the “jungle” decoration.
We had a water dispenser and a fruity drink dispenser. We asked kids to bring their sippy cups so we didn’t need glasses. We provided glass glasses for the adults and marked them with elastic bands so they stick to one glass.
Make your drinks. That takes us to a very important question: where would you get your water from? The best option that will also impact your daily life is buy a filter. If you are interested in learning more on filters read Vera’s article. I use that same filter in Perú. If you are in Perú contact me I am happy to share my experience
We ordered it from a friend. It was a carrot cake filled with dates. The covering was made of cashew and painted with spirulina. The sides were chocolate shavings to simulate wood. We just placed these inherited animal toys and some pine tree leaves to create little woods.
The decoration was so cute!
Tableware and cutlery
We planned on a finger food menu so we don’t need cutlery or dishes. Only for the cake we used our house spoons and compostable plates made from leaves. That reduces a lot of waste, complexity and saves water as there is not much to wash.
We used cutted leaves, wooden cutting boards and compostable leaves and bamboo dishes for presenting the food. The napkins were the only not recycled item, but I had them already and they could be composted.
We made masks for all the kids, you can use certified colored cardboard, but in Perú it is very difficult to get, and in Covid times even harder. We used normal cardboard as we wanted to use something that could at least be recycled.
The packaging was a very simple recycled paper bag but with names written in leaves, which was a cute detail.
Summary: Tips for a sustainable party
- Sustainable doesn’t mean plain. It can be glamorous. It all depends on your budget and your wants.
- Sustainable doesn’t mean expensive. You can actually throw a gorgeous fun party with a very low budget. It all depends on your creativity, your resourcefulness and the willingness to take some DIY projects.
- Plan with a sustainable mindset. Every idea you get pass it through the life cycle pipeline and see where it ends. The trash bag should not be the place.
- Use what you have. That is the easiest zero waste path. If you don’t have things you can use try borrow or rent. Other options are buy second hand, buy from sustainable or recycled materials and always check again tip #2
- The more veg and natural your menu is the less trash and contamination it generates.
- Tip #5 extends to drinks. Try to make your drinks or buy returnable bottles if you have that option in your country or glass bottles.
- The venue can be very helpful in reducing waste, The more the space itself is inviting, the less you need to make it feel festive.
So, challenge accepted? Yes. balloons, disposable cutlery, the dollar/ euro store and many other commonly used elements or resources need to be replaced. It will take some research and planning ahead, but, it can be fun, make your party stand out, save you money and make you feel good and happy. I invite you to read my first post for more motivation.
I really hope you get inspired to plan your next event aiming to be a zero waste celebration. My experience is in Lima, Perú and you can get more ideas from Silvia’s post about Throwing a zero-waste birthday party for a toddler in Barcelona.