How to Organize a Waste-Free Birthday Party

How To Throw A Waste Free Birthday Party

My eldest is now in kindergarten, and we’ve entered the world of big birthday parties. I can’t help myself from cringing inwardly at the waste produced by these parties, so I knew when it was time for my daughter’s birthday I wanted to do a waste-free birthday party without adding any stress.

Here are some ways you can reduce the waste generated by your kids’ birthday parties, without sacrificing the fun!

5 Tips To Throw A Waste-Free Birthday Party

Change Your Invitations

While themed invitations are cute, they will just get thrown out and aren’t going to make a difference to the child attending.

If you can, go paperless and email/text/[insert your favourite messenger service here] the details to parents.

If you don’t know the parents, put a simple note/card in the child’s backpack; setting up an online event page with details and to collect RSVPs (such as Evite or Echoage) will save time trying to keep track of who you invited and who’s coming.

Minimize The Decorations

Unfortunately, most common birthday decorations are designed to be thrown away – balloons, streamers, banners, etc. In reality, kids don’t really care about decorations. They’re there for the activities, especially the younger ages, the decorations are for you.

It’s a difficult idea, I know, a birthday without balloons. But I guarantee you it isn’t the balloons that make a fun event for kids.

If you just aren’t ready to give up the decorations, consider asking local buy and sell or mommy groups for used decorations. Or make your own paper pompoms, “Happy Birthday” banner, or pennant banner that you can reuse. The internet is full of great ideas for all of these.

Serve Just Enough Food On Real Dishes

We seem to have a fear of running out of food – but when was the last time you were at a party and went hungry? Have enough food on hand, but don’t set it all out and keep extra containers closed until they’re actually needed. This way you can more easily take home or give away leftovers that haven’t been left out and touched by little fingers or sneezed on.

While it might be tempting to provide prepackaged items like single serving snacks, juice boxes, and water bottles, they can be avoided with little extra effort.

Skip disposable dishes and bring your own

Bring your own serving dishes to put out snacks, a jug to fill with water, and larger containers of juice if you choose to serve it.

We hosted our birthday party at a local gymnastics studio, so I dug through all our picnic, camping, and kitchen supplies for as many reusable (non-breakable) plates and bowls I could find. I brought forks from our kitchen, and our cloth cocktail napkins, as well a bin that I could put in all the dirty dishes to go into the dishwasher at home.

While cleaning up takes some time, you’ll save time in the end by not having to make a trip to get disposable supplies.

Organizing A Waste Free Kids Birthday Party

Reduce The Gifts

If your house is anything like mine, the last thing you want is more “stuff”. Gift-free birthday parties are becoming more common – or at least, the idea of them. Please no gifts”, or “Your presence is present enough” are nice sentiments to include on the invitation, however in my experience are very likely to be ignored.

If you really mean no gifts, consider making a more clear statement on your invitation and, if possible, have a conversation with the parents to explain why.

Here’s what I wrote on invitations for my daughter’s party – might be a little too direct for some, but all 10 guests listened (we got lovely homemade cards and one small book):

Please, absolutely, positively, under no circumstances should you bring a gift. We really mean it. C doesn’t want anything but to play with her friends. We won’t be handing out loot bags, so we’ll be even :).

(More on loot bags later…)

You could also ask guests to contribute to a charity. Echoage lets guests contribute to a fund that gets split between a charity and a gift of your choice – a win-win if you want to give something to the birthday kid without collecting a tonne of stuff.

You can use the site to set up invitations and collect RSVPs too. If asking for money isn’t your style, consider requesting specifically for a small item your child will use, such as a book, or something used but in good condition. You could also indicate that any gifts received will happily be donated to a nearby shelter, hospital, etc.

Skip The Lootbags

Don’t do them. Seriously.

Most kids won’t even notice and if they do they’ll probably forget the next day. Parents will thank you because who really wants more tiny trinkets in their house?

And you won’t have to spend time and money putting them together.

If you can’t skip lootbags

If you really want to give something to guests, consider something practical that their parents would likely get anyways, such as a travel-sized book, playdoh (homemade if you’re so inclined), or art supplies.

Avoid dollar store knickknacks, especially costume jewelryas they are more likely to be toxic and/or end up in the garbage.

These small changes might seem like they take extra time, but by reducing the “stuff” that goes into parties, you’ll save time in the long run.

Another added bonus: by throwing a waste-free birthday party, you’ll no doubt spark conversation among the parents. They will see how you did things differently, and probably want to do the same once they find out how much money and time it saves!

So by greening one party, you’re likely to impact some green choices in other parties to come.


  • Tiffany Washko says:

    I went a bit extreme perhaps. I opted not to host birthday parties for my kids…just intimate family gatherings. I don’t think it has bothered them in the least. No waste!

    • Sara Vartanian says:

      If that’s what your family does than kids get used to what you do 🙂 We’ve only had one birthday party celebration so fare and usually stick to family ones, too.

  • Betsy (Eco-novice) says:

    I think it’s really hard not to do any gift for attendees. It’s is really expected now. I try to give something small that I wouldn’t mind my kids receiving — no junk food or plastic junk. I’ve given a set of markers/ crayons and notebook, or a slinky. My SIL gave everyone a baseball who attended her son’s party. I’d rather just not do a gift at all, but the kids definitely look forward to them. I hate the stuff my kids bring home though : (

  • anna@greentalk says:

    Love your ideas. I wrote about Echoage years ago. I love their concept.