• Hayley

My low waste birthday party

The weekend just been was my eldest's 5th birthday. We wanted to mark this special milestone with a celebration and a party for her with her friends. As reducing waste has become a bigger part of our lives it was really important to me to incorporate this into the party and avoid as much single use or throwaway items as possible. We managed really well so I wanted to share my ideas with you to give you inspiration for reducing waste at your own events.


I have made a lot of reusable bags out of fabric which I use for all our Christmas and birthday presents. Larger presents just get covered in a sheet or wrapped in a scarf.


Traditionally I would have bought balloons but I really wanted to avoid that this year. Instead my daughter and I made and decorated stars out of old cardboard boxes. She had a great time painting them and helping me decorate the house. I also made a happy birthday bunting sign and a photo board of pictures from when she was a baby up to the present. The great thing about the stars and bunting are that they can be used over and over.


I knew my daughter was going to be really spoilt so we only bought her a few gifts including some nappies and a bib for her baby which I made, some baby doll clothes bought from a small business, a book and a second-hand bike.

I gave our family ideas for gifts too and this meant that she only really got things she needed like a school bag, a watch, a drink bottle and clothes.

I gave suggestions to her friends of plants or crafts because these are things she loves and would get plenty of use out of. She ended up with a huge amount of things so I've put some away so she only uses a bit at a time and I can bring the activity ones out on rainy days.

I've recently heard of 'fiver' parties where people are asked to bring $5 in lieu of a gift and the child puts it towards something they really want. I think this is a great idea and definitely a great way to reduce waste. I think it's something I'll try when my daughter is a little older. At five I think the magic of presents is pretty special.


As five is such a special milestone we wanted to do something a little special so we hired a lovely face painter who came and did all the kids. The kids were absolutely thrilled and looked so amazing.

At this age I think kids are happy enough to play with each other without the need for too many games so we set up a little table with homemade play dough and had some bubbles (which I've saved up from goodie bags my daughter has been given over the last year). We had one game which was pin the horn on the unicorn. A talented friend of my drew the unicorn and my daughter and I made and decorated the horns. The prize for the game was a cookie in a jar mix that I made up and was really popular.


This was one area that I could have improved on but I ended up caving and buying sausage rolls and savouries from the supermarket instead of making my own. I was pretty busy with the rest of the party and I knew I needed to cut myself a little slack somewhere and this was the easiest place to do it.

I did make the cake from scratch as well as sandwiches and scones with jam and cream. We also had a large fruit platter.

Napkins and plates

When you have a lot of people coming it's easy to use paper plates and cups to limit the amount of mess to clean up. However, I really wanted to avoid this and I knew I had family members here who would help with the clean up. A lovely lady from my neighbourhood lent me some reusable party bowls and plates and these were perfect. I did use paper cups as I had some left over from a party a couple of years ago. If you're keen to avoid paper or plastic you can hire plates from party rental places or sometimes your local toy library does it too. There's a great company just started up in Auckland called Social Earthlings Zero waste party hire, they have all the bits and pieces you need, plus they wash all the dishes and even compost your food scraps.

I also made some napkins from some tea towels that I bought. I simply cut them up and sewed around the edges. They looked really nice and can be used over and over! A bit of shrinkage has occurred with washing so if you're going to make your own I'd suggest making them a little bigger than you really want them.

Goodie bags

One of my pet peeves is goodie bags filled with plastic rubbish from the $2 shop. I don't have a problem with useful things like a pencil or even play dough but jumping frogs and yoyo's which break within a day do my head in.

My husband was concerned that we would be seen as stingy or that my daughter might get teased for not doing proper goodie bags. However, I really put my foot down here. I had a really great chat with my daughter and explained the reasons why I wanted to avoid goodie bags. She was fantastic and we agreed that instead of goodie bags we would buy everyone a book from the second-hand shop. I did relent and also have a little box of chocolates for all the kids too.

I didn't bother to put things in a bag as it would have just been thrown straight in the rubbish. The kids absolutely loved the books and it was a huge hit. I'm so glad I stuck to my guns and didn't chance my mind last minute.

Other low waste ideas we considered were making friendship bracelets, homemade play dough, a small plant or seeds and jars filled with cookie mixture. If you don't have time for these options then please consider something that is useful like pencils, notepads or crayons. Just ask yourself - how long will they use this for and if the answer is only a short period of time then try to avoid buying it.

Birthday parties can be stressful affairs so do what you can but don't stress if you can't remove all waste from your party. This year I had a bit more time to organise things as I'm still off on parental leave. Next year will be a bit different when I'm back to work but many of the things that we organised for this year can be used again year after year which makes things easier.

Hayley x