Today marks my 27th year around the sun! I have always enjoyed celebrating my birthday, and I’ve had many birthday parties in the past, as an adult and a child. As a child I experienced growing up with a DIY style of decorations, homemade gifts, cards, and crafts, thanks to my Mom. But I’ve also come to realize over the years that most birthday parties are not like that. They create lots of waste in the form of store bought decorations and gifts (in packaging), single use plates, cutlery, and cups, gift wrap, and food packaging. Birthday parties can cause a huge amount of waste every time you have one!

There are still many ways to be able to celebrate and be excited about your birthday or your child’s birthday without the massive amount of waste. Some of the ideas I’d like to share stem from the experience I had at a younger age with mine and my sibling’s birthday parties. Although kids gathered around a table blowing out candles might be what you picture when you hear the words “Birthday Party”, adult birthday parties also create lots of waste, sometimes even more than kids. They use red solo cups, styrofoam plates, plastic knic-knac decorations, all kinds of beverage containers, and have loads of wasted food. Below are a few ideas to get you thinking about creating less waste at any type of party, young or old!

First, I want to talk about the part that makes it look like a party… the decorations! Decorations express the party theme, they look pretty, they make for great photos, and are one of the largest creators of party waste. They can also be made quite simply and sustainably at home with a tiny bit of effort and materials you probably already have (no previous artistic talent required). A birthday banner always made it into our parties, made from paper and good ol’fashioned colouring pencils. When we made our’s as kids, we would tape the back of about 5 sheets of paper together so the tape is not visible from the front side of the banner, then we would add a customized birthday message. This is an easy idea for kids to participate in, and the only plastic waste is the tape you use. You could also get a little more creative by using fabric, such as burlap, and cutting out letters from decorative paper, stringing the banner up using twine, and perhaps using it again year after year. Party lights (or Christmas lights) can be strung up too, making your banner pop with colour! This could still match any theme and be any colour you want. 

As for the rest of the decorations, you can easily create ribbon from strips of paper (curling it using scissors), use real ribbon from year to year, make ribbon garlands, have natural decorations using flowers, plants, or collected leaves, use mason jars, and fabric table cloths. At the bottom of this article are links to some great ideas for decorations that you can make yourself, use year after year, and cut down on the use of plastic ones.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, all of this DIY party stuff is going to take much more time then buying disposables at the store. But by the time you have driven to the store, shopped for your items (maybe multiple times), driven home, and unpackaged them from the packaging, you might as well have just stayed home and made them yourself in the same amount of time! 

Another large cause of party waste is the food and drink served. Disposable plates, cups, and utensils can be replaced easily by the ones you already have and use daily at home. The only difference is that your plates cause you to have to do the dishes after the party. This is simply the reality of zero waste, however, you are probably using a dishwasher anyways, and it is a much better option to producing several bags of plastic waste every time you have a party. 

Another way to implement no plastic dinnerware, especially for adult parties or adults attending your child’s party in a location away from your home, is a BYOM rule… Bring Your Own Mug! Bringing your own mug means that everyone also takes their cup home and cuts out the need for disposables. To go along with this idea, you can also use large jugs or punch bowls for refilling drinks. Not only is it less waste, but it looks better too!

These last two topics just skim the surface of cutting down party waste. As you can probably tell, I get quite excited about zero waste ideas, and am also very passionate about impacting how others think about what they use. If I went on about every party detail, you might be reading this all day! Instead, I have made a list expressing changes you can use to make a birthday party less wasteful and have a smaller environmental impact. Sharing the love for zero waste parties may also spark conversation in other attendants, passing on the message to the parties they hold too. 

  1. Tone down the decorations – and there are lots of ideas out there to help you make ones that are environmentally friendly. (see the links attached to this article)
  2. Use the plates and cutlery you have at home – no more plastic disposables! 
  3. BYOM – Bring Your Own Mug rule
  4. Implement a Homemade Potluck – cuts down on your own food preparation, but also makes sure that everyone takes their own leftovers home to eat.
  5. Use Digital Party Invitations – I just experienced using Greenvelope which works well if you are using email, but there are many others out there including Paperless Post, Echoage, and more. 
  6. Have Clear Signage for Recycling and Compost – the biggest down fall we have when it comes to recycling is that we don’t know what goes where. Make it clear for your guests to make sure it’s done right!
  7. Try Beeswax Candles and Homemade Baking – I understand that this is not for everyone, but it might be up the alley of someone you are inviting! 
  8. Go the No Gift Route and make sure to explain to your guests why you are doing it – alternatively, have a Toonie or High5 party, consisting of asking for $2 – $5 only along with homemade cards. That way, the combined money can go towards one gift for the birthday child.
  9. Ask for a Donation in Lieu of Gifts – My sister once held a party asking for cat litter and pet food (donated later to an animal shelter). You could also ask for non-perishables for donations to a local food bank. The options are endless!
  10. Lastly, NO BALLOONS! – Balloons are environmental hazards, having the ability to travel to the most remote places in the world. Although made from latex (natural material from rubber tree sap), they are coated in chemicals preventing bacterial break down. Not to mention, balloons are choking hazards for small humans, and literally any other living thing. If you are really set on having balloons at a party, consider using paper lanterns or paper garlands instead as a beautiful alternative.

Celebrating being a year older also means we are supposed to be a year wiser, right? Hopefully these simple tips for zero waste birthday parties have made you a little wiser about ways we can eliminate the waste created through celebrations. The next time you host a party, perhaps think about embracing DIY decoration ideas, skipping disposable plates, being open minded about doing the dishes, trying a new invite style, and absolutely no balloons! Below are some ideas for decorations if you are searching for something new and fun to dress up your party. 


No-Sew Fabric Bunting

No-Sew Fabric Garland

DIY Paper Banner

Paper Chain Balloon Alternative

Party Theme and Take Home Idea


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