Over the last few years we’ve heard time and time again about the damage that is being done to our planet from plastic. That’s why I’ve spent so much time researching and talking to others about how what small changes we can make in life to reduce the impact we have on the world around us.
Birthday parties fill me with both excitement and dread. Of course I want to celebrate his day with him and his friends and to see everyone happy and having fun, but planning a birthday party can be pretty stressful! Party bags are very traditional and I used to love getting a party bag from a birthday as a child, but let’s face it, they were often full of plastic or things that would get used once, forgotten and thrown in the landfill. To me, it’s important to keep the tradition alive and for children to go home excited about their party bag – but also to find eco-conscious alternatives, things that are practical, fun and good for the environment. All without breaking the budget as well!
If you’re trying to plan a party and would like to give out party bags, here are some alternative items that you could include.
The Party Bag – The party bag itself could be part of the gift if you went for an organic cotton tote with a suitable design. This could be used time and time again! Alternatively paper bags are available in either recyclable or even compostable materials, far far better than a plastic party bag.
Sweets or other Edibles – The parents might not want too many of these coming home but some pick and mix in a paper bag is a lovely and simple gift. Other edibles you include could be cupcakes (and you could decorate them as part of the party process!), chocolate coins or chocolate shapes, shaped biscuits and so on!
Hand made Play Dough – If the kids are in the right age then hand made play dough can be an excellent gift. You can create all sorts of different colours and create a play dough rainbow to go home with. This is very inexpensive and can be made in bulk, is non toxic and in fact, totally edible! But it does require a bit of work at home in advance.
Plant packs and seeds – Seed mixes are an ideal party gift, and can be combined with plant pots or little kits of soil as well. Plant pots could even be decorated at the party and can either be ceramic, which are long lasting and will be re-used time and time again, or compostable, which can be drawn on and then composted once the plant has grown.
Books – Books are becoming a very popular option for party bags and can be tailored to the age range of the children very easily. You can get good quality children’s books for as low as £1 and these can be read time and time again, passed on or donated to schools or charity shops when outgrown.
Magazine – These can be great for a themed party, and can include a very wide range of magazines to suit your audience. Check out the website for the magazine as you can often buy bundles at a lower price than individual magazines from the supermarket. A magazine doesn’t last as long as a book and isn’t likely to be passed on as much, but it is entertaining and recyclable!
Recycled colouring pencils – You can get pencils and crayons made from recycled materials, as well as pencils made from twigs!
Wooden toys – You can get small wooden toys for a few pounds each. Make sure they’re made by ethical companies where possible, as something being wood doesn’t necessarily mean it was manufactured in an environmentally friendly way! Small independent shops often have inexpensive retro wooden toys such as whistles, yo yos, cars, spinning tops etc.
Second Hand Toys – Hear me out, you can bulk buy second hand toys such as Duplo, Lego, Plastic animal figures or similar. Although these in themselves may not be the most eco-friendly, the fact is, they’ve already been manufactured and are in the system. If you’re going to give a plastic toy, save them from the landfill. You should be able to find something age and theme appropriate this way. It’s unlikely anyone would know Lego figurines or farm animals are pre-loved either.
Paper Products – Such as colouring books, art books or journals. These will be well used and can then be recycled (or kept as keepsakes by their parents!)
Cake Mix / Baking Sets – You can get very inexpensive cake kits. How about a cupcake baking mix and edible toppings to fit the theme of the party? Or a cookie mix. You can also get inexpensive wooden spoons or other small bakeware gifts like metal cookie cutters that will fit in a party bag and be usable for many years to come.
When you’re choosing what you buy, think of the packaging as well. Recently I saw a discussion where a skipping rope was recommended, with wooden handles. This seemed ideal, but when I actually looked at the product, it came in plastic sealed packaging! It’s no good buying an ethical toy if you’re filling a black bag of plastic with the packaging around it. Buying from smaller sellers, independent stores, Etsy, zero waste shops or craft fairs will get around that problem – as you can take your own bag and fill up without any extra packaging being used in the process.
The big no-nos – things to avoid in eco-friendly party bags
Balloons – I know, we all love balloons. Balloons are an absolute menace to the environment. If you need balloons at your party, try to get foil balloons that can be re-used time and time again. When you’re done with it, if you’re sure you won’t use it next year, ask your friends or on Facebook if anyone can use it for their party. If it gets handed on from person to person and used a hundred times, that’s a hundred new ballons that don’t need to be bought and discarded.
Plastic Cones – Sweet bags in plastic cones are easy to make and look amazing, but they use a ton of plastic. Then they’re usually tied with non-recyclable ribbon. Unfortunately they’re one of the most popular party pieces these days, whilst also creating an absolute ton of plastic waste.
Glitter – You might not know it but glitter is made of micro-plastic. Yeah sure, it’s tiny, but do you know what that means? That means it washes into the sink or waterways and bypasses filtration systems, heading straight out to the ocean. Microplastics are one of the biggest problems for the ocean because being so small means they get everywhere and are easily consumed by wildlife. So if you need glitter, make sure it’s eco-friendly and biodegradable and if your nursery or playgroup uses glitter, it might be worth mentioning to them!
It’s hard to be totally plastic free – but as the saying goes, you don’t need a few people to be perfect, but millions of people to be imperfect to make a difference. Every small change you switch out does help and if everyone made them, it would be a massive impact. So by just thinking about the party bag, trying to reduce your plastic and trying to give gifts that will last a long time and can be re-used or recycled rather than binned, you’re making a difference!