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Party Waste

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Not very long ago, most people realized that their survival depended on the wise use of resources. Although this is much less obvious to us in our daily lives now, the well-being of humanity (as well as most other living things) still depends on our wise use of resources. This page has some ideas to help you reduce waste.

Guilt-Free, Waste-Free Party Ideas

Parties and holidays tend to generate much unnecessary waste in the form of:

  • excessive packaging of supplies and gifts
  • gifts and gift wrap
  • disposable tableware
  • uneaten food
  • cheap party favours that break easily, mess up our houses and travel thousands of miles to reach our homes
  • disposable decorations

Ways You Can Decrease Waste


  • Consider sending invitations by email, or hand-delivering to people you see often in your regular travels
  • keep the guest list reasonably sized; large parties can be overwhelming for kids and adults, and tend to generate a disproportionate amount of waste
  • see party tips for more thoughts about party size


  • When shopping, bring along your own reusable bags or bins (not just for groceries!)
  • Consider packaging when choosing from several similar items: is it overpackaged? Can the packaging be reused or recycled?
  • Also consider the distance the item has travelled, and it's longevity (how long will it last) when shopping
  • consider each item in terms of where it has come from (how far is it shipped and how / what is it made from / who makes it and under what conditions) and where it is going (keepsake treasured for years / recycled into something else / landfill)

Wrapping and Gifts:

  • Use re-usable wrapping such as fabric or paper gift bags, decorated boxes, etc.
  • Use a gift tag instead of a large birthday card, most of which are thrown out anyhow
  • Provide a gift receipt for easy exchange whenever possible
  • Consider giving gift certificates or cards, special lessons or activities, or tickets to entertainment events instead of more cheap plastic toys
  • Save and reuse any wrapping that may still be useful for crafts or future gift wrapping
  • Be ready when friends and relatives ask what to get--consider asking for certificates or gift cards to contribute to a larger gift the birthday person truly wants or needs
  • If using a gift registry, choose wisely and try to keep prices reasonable for your guests
  • If music is on the gift list, download it from the internet (this saves the energy consumed by transporting CD's from place to place, especially if it is intended for an MP3 player or similar)
  • If your child doesn't have any strong desires or needs, consider asking guests to make charitable donations instead of gifts (but be sure the child is completely happy with this idea first!). See the sidebar for a few suggestions.


  • Rent from a local party supplier any items such as extra plates, cutlery, chocolate fountains, fog machines, tables, chairs, table linens etc.; you will generate much less waste, and you won't have to clean a thing as they do it all for you
  • Use a re-usable tablecloth (many cheap plastic ones can be wiped and re-used) or placemats
  • Consider using permanent dishes and supplement with borrowed or rented dishes (which you return unwashed as the rental places prefer to wash them)
  • If you "must" buy disposable, try and use at least one permanent item per guest (glasses, for example) and/or buy recycled, compostable tableware
  • Buy a novelty plate or glass the guests can keep as a party favour
  • If you buy plastic cutlery, choose a heavier type that you can wash and reuse at the next party
  • Rather than napkins, for the very young supply a wash cloth for use after the cake is eaten
  • If you have the party away from home, ensure there are recycling facilities or bring your recyclables home with you


  • Keep and reuse generic decor items, such as tablecloths, re-fillable foil balloons, paper streamers, etc.
  • Let holiday items do double duty--Christmas lights, Halloween decor, etc. lend themselves to many birthday party themes
  • Use recyclable items such as cardboard carpet tubes and appliance boxes to create scenes and decor for parties, then reuse or recycle them when done (or donate to a local preschool or daycare) see sidebar for specific ideas
  • Use paper mache to make your own decorations (pinatas, masks, vases etc.) from old newspaper and cornstarch paste
  • Use children's artwork to decorate the party
  • Borrow extra items from family and friends when possible
  • Dress up and ask your guests to dress up to fit the theme (go through your closet and dress-up bins and get creative!) consider using costumes that serve multiple roles, such as capes (wizard, superhero, vampire, etc.) so that time or money spent will go to good use over the years for parties, dress-up, Halloween, plays, etc.
  • garden lighting, bedroom lights and mobiles, toys, posters---these have all come in handy during our parties--take a look around your house for items you already own that would add ambiance to your theme
  • Don't forget the music--use your own music, download from the internet, or borrow from a friend, relative or the local library the music you need to set the proper mood for your party
  • Remember that enthusiasm goes a long way in creating a true party atmosphere


  • Find out any food allergies, sensitivities or aversions your guests may have ahead of time, and have those parents supply their own food (in my experience, those families are not likely to trust an unknown kitchen no matter what steps are taken)
  • For younger kids, keep the offerings simple and familiar
  • Let your guests know ahead what food you will be serving and when
  • Serve small portions and offer seconds (and thirds)
  • Refrigerate leftovers promptly
  • Veggie tray leftovers make a nice stir-fry later on, but don't try and save any dip that may have sat out!
  • Go light on the junk food and choose only trusted favourites (many kids would rather have juice than pop, or goldfish crackers than chips)
  • If you want to theme the food, be creative with the standards rather than adding new foods, unless your guests are known to be adventurous with food
  • Bake your own cake or cupcakes--you only have to read part way down the list of ingredients from a supermarket or bakery cake to understand why I suggest this!
  • Plan your cake size to match the number of guests you have, and the realistic size of the cake servings they are likely to finish (dieting moms eat less cake than sweet-toothed pre-teens)
  • If you bake cupcakes, use no liner or use reusable silicon muffin cups rather than paper
  • If partying away from home, avoid pre-packaged birthday deals that include the food as they tend towards highly processed, additive-filled junk food that is also overpackaged
  • bring along some washable cloths to clean up spilled drinks and other messes
  • follow up on RSVP's so you don't have to stock extra food / loot / craft materials for no-shows

Loot Bags

  • When choosing loot items, consider how long they will remain useful--can the item be reused or recycled? Millions of plastic toys are shipped around the world only to fall apart within minutes of being opened--it's a scary thought indeed!
  • Consider giving one larger item, such as a t-shirt, hat, special cup etc. (see sidebar for more suggestions) rather than cheap plastic toys and wrapped candy
  • Try and have loot do double duty as decor if it fits the theme (ie. fancy goblets for a medieval party, toy sea creatures for an under the sea party, a plant for a forest or gardening theme)
  • Give out small-denomination gift certificates or cards for older guests and/or helpers

Loot Bag Ideas

For Younger Children:

  • themed sippy cup
  • themed wash cloth
  • animal crackers
  • box of extra thick washable crayons
  • board book of a related story
  • homemade playdough in a reusable container that suits the party theme
  • pail and shovel
  • sun hat or toque

For older children:

  • design your own (tie-dye or fabric paint) t-shirt, canvass bag, hat, pillowcase, socks, slippers, flip-flops, etc.
  • decorate your own mug
  • package of markers or pencil crayons
  • seed packages or potted veggies or flowers for the garden
  • a homemade gourmet-style candy apple
  • simple costume items
  • a pocket calendar
  • gift certificate for bowling, mini-golf, swimming, skating etc.

Charitable Gift Ideas:

There are endless charities that rely on the help of others to function. The following are highly reputable and make efficient use of their donations. Be sure to contact any ahead of the party, do your research and let them know about your plans. They may be able to provide information you can share with your guests, and feedback from the recipients for the birthday child.

  • World Vision has gift ideas in their annual catalogue, including sports and play equipment for villages
  • SPCA and other animal rescue groups often need pet food, pet beds and other donations to continue their services
  • the local food banks are happy to receive non-perishable food items
  • the Red Cross accepts donations for people who are in urgent need of help
  • many school libraries, music departments and other programs are in need of books, music, instruments, etc.
  • A gift certificate from Kiva allows the receiver to make a small business loan to a poor entrepreneur in a developing country
  • your local food bank will happily accept non-perishable food items year-round

Cardboard Decor:

  • Make a palm tree from a carpet tube, a Christmas tree stand and old green garbage bags cut into leaf shapes
  • make a large candy cane from a carpet tube, tempera or acrylic paint, a Christmas tree stand and flexible dryer hose (for the curved part)
  • use appliance boxes to make a castle or a gingerbread house (like the castle, but use snow sculpting medium as "icing" and apply "candy" made from recycled wrappers, plastic shopping bags, etc.)
  • appliance boxes also make excellent bases for mazes, fireplaces and cutouts