How to Throw a No Waste Birthday Party

Hosting a birthday party usually requires a bit of planning. We just had my youngest son’s 4th birthday party at our house, and I added a little extra to the planning by making it a No Waste birthday party. Yes, it takes a bit more effort, but can easily be done.

Think about how much waste is created at a birthday party, whether it’s at your own home or you host it out somewhere. There are usually plates, cups, napkins, utensils, tablecloths, decorations, and so much more. Of course, when you have it at your own house, you have a bit more control than you would at a party location since they often provide some of these items.

While you may not be able to control waste that others may bring, such as extravagant gift wrapping, you can do your best to minimize party waste.

Birthday Party Food

The focus of many parties is the food. When my boys pick a theme for their party, I like to focus the food around the theme more than anything else.

Planning the Food

To minimize the amount of wasted food, ask for RSVPs. Yes, I know most people don’t tell you they aren’t coming, but many at least give you a “yes” if they will be there. Typically, I plan for that amount of people. Some may show up unexpected, but there also tends to be a last minute cancellation or two.

Time

Plan the party for in-between meal time, so you don’t feel responsible to feed your guests either lunch or dinner. We typically have our birthday party start between 2-3 pm for this reason.

Utensils

Serve fingers foods that don’t need utensils. Or, limit it to one utensil, such as having all food that can be eaten with a fork. Also, attempt to provide food that can be composted when there are leftovers.

For example, at the birthday party we hosted last week, we had a fruit and veggie tray. All of the extras that we couldn’t save for later were thrown in the compost bin. We also served Rice Krispies treats and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, both of which are finger foods.

Depending on the number of people you have attending, you may be able to use your regular utensils instead of purchasing plastic ones. We do this when we have our monthly movie club, and just wash everything after our friends leave.

Plates, Napkins, and Cups, oh my!

Plates

While you can sometimes get away with very minimal utensils by serving finger-foods, everyone needs something to put their food on. Most party stores sell packs of themed and/or colored paper plates for every occasion. But, have you ever noticed the price on these plates? It’s a few dollars for only 6-8 plates most of the time. Rather than shelling out that money for every birthday party, spend a little more on a nice set of reusable bamboo or stainless steel plates.

Napkins

As for napkins, try having some reusable cloth napkins available, especially if you already have enough in your kitchen that you and your family use on a regular basis. If cloth napkins aren’t your thing, then opt for napkins that are 100% natural materials so you can compost them when the party is over.

Cups

Cups can be tricky, but if you have enough regular cups in your house, you should be able to use those instead of paper or plastic cups. And, don’t forget, there are many things that can be used as cups, such as reusing glass jars and mason jars.

Birthday Party Decorations

Tablecloths

Again, similar to the options for plates and cups, it’s often worth the money to invest in a few cloth tablecloths rather than buying the cheap plastic ones for every party. If you can find a neutral color, it can work with almost any party theme. I like to use dark brown or black to also hide any stains. After the party, rather than bunching up and throwing away a plastic tablecloth, your reusable one can go in the laundry.

Streamers

Did you know that crepe paper streamers can be composted? I found this out when I was searching for ideas for No Waste decorations for Ryan’s birthday party! Even though he was having a Super Mario birthday party, I didn’t purchase any Mario-themed decorations. I used the main colors (red, green, blue, and pink) and got streamers for each of these. Unfortunately, the streamers came wrapped in plastic, but the rolls are large enough that we can use them for multiple parties before we run out.

Birthday Party Food

Yes, I am mentioning food again, because it can be a source of decoration. As I said, we don’t do a lot of actual decorating for the boy’s birthday parties, but I like to have all of the food themed in one way or another. Because of this, the food becomes part of the decoration. For example, for Ryan’s Super Mario birthday party, I made the fruit and veggie trays in the shape of fire-power flowers.

Avoid Balloons and Confetti

Two popular birthday decorations that create a lot of waste are balloons and confetti. They are fun, yes, but have no purpose and are wasted at the end of the day.

Balloons end up being sent to the landfill, or worse are released into the air which causes many other environmental issues. When a balloon is let go, it climbs high up in the atmosphere. And what goes up must eventually come down. But, along the way, it can prove fatal to birds flying near them. It can get stuck in a tree. The balloon will finally make its way down to the ground where it becomes litter somewhere else, and animals often get tangled in the string.

Confetti can be ok, if it is made of the right materials. Any confetti that is shiny, though, often has plastic or mixed materials, meaning it can’t be composted. If you use confetti, try to find some made from paper so it can be placed in the compost bin. Or, I’ve seen images of people punching holes in dead leaves for an environmentally friendly confetti.

No Waste Birthday Party Logistics

It’s safe to assume that not everyone you have coming to your party will be others who are trying to minimize their waste. So, knowing that, make it as easy as possible for your guests. It can be overwhelming to know how you want to take care of the “waste” if it isn’t being thrown in the trash.

There are a few options, and the one you choose will depend on what you want to ask your guests to do, and what you will take on yourself.

Let Guests Help

  • For cloth napkins, have a clearly marked basket or bucket for laundry near the garbage can (or where they would expect it)
  • Have your recycle bin easily accessible as well
  • Make a small sign of what can go in the compost bin with a place to put that

Do It Yourself

Instead of asking them to make the decision on what goes in your compost bin, the laundry, the recycle, etc. just pile everything in the sink and take care of it later. Oftentimes, guests will want to help at least take their plates to the kitchen, so have a place to put them. Then, once everyone leaves, you can sort through and separate everything as needed.

Your Turn

  • What other sources of waste do you have at a birthday party?
  • How else can we reduce the waste while still celebrating the birthday boy/girl?
  • Have you tried any of these for a party yet?
  • Do you like themed birthday parties?

30 thoughts on “How to Throw a No Waste Birthday Party”

  1. I love your attitude towards reducing and zeroing the waste. I have picked up so many useful tips so far by following you on this. Zero waste indeed feels great 🙂

    1. Reducing waste is important for everyone. The changes are difficult sometimes, but it’s doable and you’re right, it feels so good to know we are doing our part.

  2. My twin cousins birthday is just around the corner and we are planning on celebrating their birthdays outside. Would definitely keep your expert tips in mind. 😊

  3. Finger foods are the best and yep in between lunch and dinner perfect!!!! I’m up in the air over the plates and napkins though – for then I have to deal with the dishwasher and more laundry which are two activities I dislike. LOL.

    1. I understand. We typically make sure the dishwasher has been cleaned and emptied before a party so we can fill and run it afterward without much hassle. And we already use cloth napkins in the kitchen, so I guess I didn’t think about the laundry since it’s part of our routine.

    1. I didn’t think about it for a long time, either. But, now that we’ve been cutting waste, it’s always on my mind when doing anything in the kitchen.

  4. I think planning food well is the main challenge for avoiding wastage. You don’t want to fall short of food but seeing a lot of it go to waste is also troublesome.

    1. Yes, it can be so hard, especially when many people don’t RSVP anymore so it’s difficult to know how many people you’ll have. That’s why we plan food that can either be composted or that we will eat any leftovers.

  5. I have really never thought about how much waste is accumulated at an event like a birthday party. I’m definitely going to think twice about what to buy at the next party I throw!

    1. It’s so easy to look over it all when you are in the middle of a party and planning. But there are quite a few easy ways to reduce the waste.

    1. I agree, we all have to do our part to try to help the Earth, and being conscious of the waste is a great place to start.

  6. Amanda @ All Day Active Life

    Oh, I just love these ideas. I had no idea that crepe paper could be composted! That’s great to know. I also love your tip about finger food – great idea!

    1. I know! I didn’t either until I was trying to figure out what to use for decoration that wouldn’t be just wasted at the end of the day. Finger foods are great for reducing waste and tends to go well with kids anyways.

    1. I know, we have so many around the house too. My husband just told me the other day that we are running out of cabinet space for all the glass jars I have saved!!

  7. I had no idea streamers could be composted! That’s amazing. I also love the idea of stainless steel plates. They’re practically indestructible and cute too.

    1. As long as the streamers are crepe paper and not plastic-lined they are compostable! And the stainless steel plates are so perfect for kids since they tend to be a bit rough on those things.

  8. These are all such wonderful suggestions! I’ve already incorporated a few of these into our routine, but I have so much room for improvement! This is so much better for the environment (and my wallet).

    1. It can be a lot sometimes, but if you work at it slowly and get things here and there rather than all at once it isn’t such a hit to the wallet.

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