In my opinion, small plastic toys are definitely up there, along with single-use plastics as 'pointless plastic'. Despite the protests of love by the kids, there is no long-term use for or use of this plastic. It's literally production of waste.
But kids' parties are often FULL of it, and it's SO HARD (almost impossible) to get away from. It takes fore-thought and effort.
We're by no means perfect.
I'll start by being up front and say that whilst I say no to the shiny plastic helium balloons, I did say yes to latex helium balloons, which whilst better, still take a long time to degrade and if they get into the water systems are incredibly dangerous and destructive to wildlife. So this is not me saying "look how great I am" and passing judgement on others. This is me saying "this is so hard to do, how can we all change?"
So I thought I start with some things we've done recently to try to reduce our plastic-footprint of parties we've recently had.
1. Sweets / Candy
Despite our best nutritional intentions, no party-bag is complete without some sweets in it. So what the girls and I did last party is head to our local traditional sweet shop, Sweet Memories. The girls got to choose a few sweets (which weren't wrapped in plastic - I allowed some chews that were wrapped in paper), that were weighed out and put straight into paper bags. When we got home they divided up all the types of sweets so that everyone had the same amount of each sweet.
2. Party Favours
These are really tricky, especially if you have a 'whole-class' party. Little pencils (but be careful they don't have plastic surrounds!) and mini-notepads are good, as are packets of seeds, but it's a total mine-field of plastic and/or expense out there! Luckily for us, the last party we had was more of a sleepover with a very small number of friends, so I took inspiration from another party 7YO had been too and got a small book each. I'm afraid I don't know the sustainability of the paper used in the book or the toxicity of the ink, but.... it was plastic-free.
3. Party Bags
For those we just went super simple and used brown paper bags. (We bought a whole tonne of these to live by the front door, so that we can - when we remember - put them in our pockets and pick up litter when we go out.) I thought the girls would mind / be embarrassed and their guests find it strange, but they drew pictures and patterns on the bags and happily told their friends that we weren't doing plastic this party as they handed them over. And everyone seemed content / pleased. (Which is no mean feat at this age.)
And then, into the party bags, along with the sweets and the book, we added a slice of the (accidentally huge - I went for layers, but I think I should have made each sponge much shorter and I perhaps made too much icing ;-)) birthday cake. We wrapped the slice in a paper napkin.
Disclaimer: I had to buy the napkins especially for the party, as we no longer use paper towels at home, but cloth wipes instead, and those napkins WERE wrapped in single use plastic - gah!! So we didn't quite manage it. But if you're using paper towels at home, I'm sure using these to wrap the cake would be fine.
5. Class Gifts
It seems to have become a bit of a custom to give away a small gift to everyone in the class when it's your child's birthday. This was very big when we lived in the US and I thought that it wouldn't be so big when we moved back to the UK, and it isn't, but it is still there. So as we weren't having a large party, we decided to give away something small. Again, very hard to do when you're trying to be plastic and refined sugar free, and there's often a school cake sale on a Friday. So we came up with flower seeds.
For this I decided to go for more effort and less cost. One packet of seeds per child would have been very costly. I suppose I might have found cheaper ones on Amazon, but a) I wasn't organised enough and b) the packaging they might have come in may have been heavily plastic (despite the preferences I've put on my account) and undo all the good I was trying to do. So I went to the local garden centre and picked up a few packets of seeds and then created 30 of my own paper packets, printing out and sticking a little note on them so the class would know what they were :-)
So as you can see, we're not perfect. AND there's far more thought and effort that needs to go into creating a plastic-free party. And also cost, especially if you're hosting a lot of children.
But.... there are ways to do it, and hopefully I've given you a few ways to get you started. If you have any more suggestions and ideas, I'd love to hear them - just pop them below and I'll have a read.
Together we can keep moving forward on this plastic-free journey, towards zero-waste, up-hill struggle as it is...
As always, with love from our family to yours,