Plastic Free July Day 25: Birthday Parties!

zero waste birthday party

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Day 25 of our Plastic Free July challenge. Thank you Zero Waste California for doing all the zero waste birthday party research for us busy parents!


Celebrating our little one's special day is a great way for friends and family to get together! But that doesn't mean we have to create a ton of trash just to have fun. Here are some eco-friendly birthday tips to ensure your mini zero wasters can have a super fun and super sustainable day.


birthday invitations cards ecards

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E-cards, online invitations, or home-made cards are the best way to prevent waste when getting the word out about your kid's birthday party.

PaperlessPost and Evite are free sites that text and/or e-mail birthday invitations (and all occasions!). It's quick and easy, they have beautiful designs that will fit any birthday theme! 


birthday party decorations paper fabric

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Re-use decorations whenever possible. Take care of these items, and other family's can treat them as "brand new" if they borrow them for their kid's party.  Second best thing is to make decorations out of materials you already have, scrap paper, recycled paper, etc. The last resort is buying new materials, and if you must, please make sure they are made responsibly, out of 100% post consumer recycled materials, and are packaged sustainably.

Remember: Kids are generally underwhelmed by decorations, so there's really no need to go overboard here. Simple is Beautiful!

Helpful Decoration Links:


homemade cake birthday party

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Bake the birthday cake. Not only are homemade cakes delicious, they ensure that no plastic gets used or wasted in the creation or transport process!

If you don't have a favorite cake recipe yet, try our Vegan Chocolate Cake Recipe or Vegan Lemon Cake Recipe that are sure to please the masses! Both recipes come with tips on how to buy the ingredients without plastic. (Pro Tip: make a test cake a few weeks before to work out the kinks. Besides, pre-birthday cake is completely acceptable and appropriate at all times, always.)

Food and Drink Tips:

  • Make your own snacks and drinks - you can keep things organic and this usually ends up being more cost effective than buying processed and packaged food. Otherwise, buy foods from the bulk section, like popcorn kernels, chocolate, dried fruits, nuts, candy, rice cracker mix. And don’t forget the fresh stuff! Watermelon chunks, melon balls, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes with olive oil and sea salt.
  • For drinks, you can make your own lemonade, or buy large glass bottles apple cider, apple juice, grape juice, just please, no plastic bottles!
  • If you have to use straws, and don't have enough reusable straws to go around, use paper straws or hay straws! They come in fun colors or natural look and make a nice addition to any birthday spread.
  • Use your own dishes, utensils and cups. Avoid disposables! If this isn't possible, make sure to get compostable paper cups and plates. Second hand silverware is cheap and readily available at thrift stores. Or better yet, just use finger foods that don't require utensils.
  • Avoid juice boxes at all costs please!! They are not recyclable, and often come with the dreaded plastic straw, wrapped in more plastic! These juices are also full of sugar, they are not the healthiest for our little ones.
  • For leftovers: Place two paper bags close to the your food station: one for compost, one for recycling. And because there's no future trash on the table, it's easier for people to know what to do. Check it time to time though, just in case ;-)


goodie bag reusable sustainable burlap

If you plan on giving away goodie bags, try to use something that can be re-used down the road, like burlap or cotton bags. There are easy ways to decorate them to make them more festive. Goodie bag items can include: candy packaged in cardboard or paper wrap, home made treats, pencils, notebook, second hand books (they cost nothing in thrift stores)... 

Please please please avoid all the cheap plastic toys. Kids won't play with them more than 2 minutes, they clutter drawers and they can only end up in landfills. Last but not least: there's a good chance that they contain toxic chemicals

Alternatively, the kids can make an activity out of creating their own goodie bags, using recycled or scrap paper.

kids birthday DIY goodie bag paper


Another great idea to skip out on cheap plastic toys in goodie bags is to make your own pick-n-mix station. Have kids fill small parchment sacks with various candy and treats that you can pick up in your local bulk grocery store, like Whole Foods or Sprouts. This can include homemade brownies, cookies, and other treats that are small easy to fill a bag with.

compostable sandwich snack paper bag


Pool parties!

Swimming is a great way to keep kids entertained on a hot day.

Obstacle course

Make an obstacle course in your yard or in a park, this is a great way to keep kids busy.  My parents did this for me when I was in first grade, and it is probably my most memorable birthday party. I remember my cousin Tim bought me a toy airplane, but then ended up playing with it most of the day.  Haha! Love you, Timmy!

Ask around, what items could you use in your obstacle course? Does your neighbor have a small trampoline you could borrow?


Sundae/Parfait Station

DIY sunday parfait birthday party

With different varieties of ice cream, allow kids to make their own sundaes. Toppings can include bulk nuts, bulk chocolate chips, fruit, homemade whipped cream, and any dessert sauce that comes in a glass jar, like hot fudge or caramel.

Paint a pot, grow a plant

kids birthday activity paint pot plant

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Provide the guests with a small terracotta pot and let the children fill it with soil and a seed or two from a variety of flowers. This makes a great take home gift. Provide some eco-friendly kid's paint and let them design their own pot -- ideally something that will dry fast. When they dry, stuff them with some potting soil. Decide in advance whether they should plant flower seeds to sprout later, or maybe a small succulent to take home.

**And remember, paint is more than enough for decorations. Glitters, beads, and other plastic items are just tiny pieces of toxins that could easily end up outside, ingested by animals, and eventually wind up in our oceans.

Paint a rock

rock painting kids birthday party activity

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Painting Mandala rocks are a great way to relieve stress, for kids and adults alike. But maybe your little ones don't quite have the patience or dexterity for such a feat, and that's okay! Check out this awesome zero waste mom's idea she implemented at her 3 year old's birthday party

rock painting kids birthday party activity


Toys for tots and other children's organizations are happy to take new toys! See what charities in your area are looking for. Churches are also great places to donate new toys!

Toy swap

Stepping up a Toy Swap in your neighborhood or community is a great way for your kids to get some new toys without spending money or buying something new.

Here are some tips on How to Organize a Toy Swap

Recycle with Terracycle

Toys cannot be recycled by city recycling programs. If you put them in your recycling bin, they will end up in landfills. We mentioned Terracycle many times in previous blog posts, they also have free and paid toy recycling programs. As I’m writing this post, I’m seriously considering buying a small box. It’s $80 but since little plastic toys can’t be reused, this plastic clutter will at least be recycled.

Free Hasbro Program:

Paid program: Baby Gear and Toys.



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