Celebrate minus the environmental hate: your zero-waste party guide

Why are parties so gosh darn wasteful? Who decided that excess brightly coloured plastic was a party prerequisite and saw to it that we dedicate entire department store aisles to this end?

From the lining of our gift wrap to the tacky party bag trinkets, and the balloons that float away, coming to a waterway near you (no, your lost loved ones in the great unknown won’t catch them, so please, stop releasing them on purpose) – plastic has taken over our parties and it’s time we reclaimed them.

I’ve waxed on ad infinitum about the problem with plastics, and single-use plastics in particular. See Can we ban single-use plastics already? and Plastic Free July is coming, and we are here for it! for the lowdown. In a nutshell, it’s suffocating our marine life and it’s made with horrible chemicals which contaminate the air, the water and all life on earth. 

Having a zero-waste celebration means reimagining how parties should look. I’m sure that most of us would agree that our guests having fun is the ultimate priority and, that fancy decorations don’t meet anyone’s criteria for a good time. Once you shake off the shackles of your preconceived notions, you’ll be free to party in harmony with your ethos.

Take those marine-massacring balloons, for example. Why does everyone love them so much? They smell gross and leave a foul taste in your mouth when you blow them up. You just know they’re fresh off a dirty production line and were mass-produced by a nasty corporation, who pay their workers less in a week than you dropped on this morning’s almond latte. Sure, they’re pretty and everyone loves a good game of keepy-uppy, but they’ll inevitably pop and the five minutes of fun they bestowed will end in tears, and multiple lifetimes of pollution.

Yes, we want our parties to be pleasing to the eye, especially when throwing them for our kids – there’s nothing quite like perceived peer pressure to have you busting out the balloon garlands – but as you’ll see below, there are myriad ways to add colour and delight to your celebrations, without the environmental equivalent of a heart attack.


Choose to reuse

Has anyone noticed that the biodegradable partyware popping up at the shops is kind of, well, blah? Don’t get me wrong – it’s definitely better than the plastic, Disney-plastered shizzle, but the concept of single-use biodegradables still wastes energy and emissions on the production of items with a teeny lifespan. I know that parties are a LOT of work, but is it SO hard to pop a few plates and cups in the dishwasher afterwards?

I love the concept of hiring partyware. There are so many great party hire businesses popping up, who can style an event to match any theme, right down to the plates and cups.

Go for fabric bunting, macramé hangings, bell tents and raffia décor over tired old balloons.

In my hometown of Adelaide, I love Old Refinery for vintage and bohemian party styling and my own Wild Hearts Eco Club, for a rainbow explosion of compostable bamboo dinnerware. See if you can’t find a similar environmentally responsible biz that’s local to you.

Easier than hiring, is hitting up Nanna for her “good plates” and asking around to close friends and fam with kids if you can borrow some of their colourful cups and bowls (we’ve all got that one drawer with a kaleidoscope of kiddo crockery).

You might even check out your local pre-loved store to pick up table decor on the cheap. At the end of the day, your kid won’t hate you forever if they don’t have Elsa or Paw Patrol on their party plates and tablecloths. Maybe for a day, but not forever. D’ya know what will last virtually forever? That plastic lined party decor.


Wrap it right

Ugh! Who doesn’t loathe the last-minute dash for wrapping paper and sticky tape before a party? With Hello Snowglobe fabric gift wrap, you’ll never know that frantic nightmare again. With loads of beautiful designs to choose from, and easy-to-follow wrapping instructions (no sticky-tape required!) your gifts will never look better – and they’ll be a helluva lot easier to open!

Yes, fabric wrap does require a larger initial investment, but don’t let that scare you off. You can wash these babies and reuse them for eternity. Try to tally up the amount you’ve spent on paper wrap over the years – all those birthdays, Mothers Days, Fathers Days, Christmases, EEP! … The cost of kitting yourself out with these fabric wraps won’t even come close, and you’ll never need to buy wrapping paper AGAIN. Ever.

If you fear change and can’t get your head around the idea of fabric gift wrap. Recycled (and recyclable) paper wrap is a good substitute. Much conventional gift paper is plastic-lined and can’t be recycled. Earth Greetings and Bespoke Letterpress are two gorgeous Aussie brands offering the most beautiful recycled paper cards, tags and wrap. And there’s always recycled Kraft paper, which you can zhuzh up with some dried flowers, or by getting the kids to paint it.

Want to tape up your gifts without a side of plastic waste? Earth Greetings also make a compostable sticky-tape, called Washi tape, in the loveliest nature-inspired patterns. 

If you want to save time and wrapping paper, consider giving experiences as gifts, instead of more stuff, that will probably sit at the top of someone’s wardrobe, unused (like the five boxes of lego my son got for his birthday this year). Think Groupons, zoo memberships, cooking or art classes and restaurant or spa vouchers.


“Naked” favours

Nowhere near as exciting as they sound, naked favours are simply party bags without the plastic packaging. Favour bags have got to be the worst offenders when it comes to useless plastic waste. Not only does that tacky Kmart crap give me visions of my kids choking; if the kids don’t, some poor animal probably will, once it finds its way into the wild.

If you don’t buy the bags, you won’t be tempted to cram them full of colourful junk. I love the idea of giving books from your collection, small crystals or something handmade, like perfume oil or bath salts.

Kids might choose to give each guest a book or small toy that they can bear to part with – it’ll clear up storage space and help you nail that minimal aesthetic, which always seems just out or reach with little ones at home. If you must do bags for the kids, I love using small drawstring muslin bags. They’re just big enough for a few little treats and treasures and can be reused. Alternatively, consider a gift of seeds like these Bee Seed Bombs that the kids can plant at home and watch burst into life.


Mix it up

If we’re talking kids’ parties, you can throw in a bunch more single-use waste from classic party games, like pin the tail, pass the parcel and smash the pinata. Responsible party planners are shaking up the same old and throwing parties with all of the fun and none of the junk.

Hands down, it’s always the parties with a making element or plenty of movement that my two cherubs enjoy the most – soccer and football drills, trampolines, dance and art lessons and even pottery.

You can also set up your own eco party activities – make nature craft, earth pigment paints, Sunprints, playdough or bath fizzies. The kids will likely be stoked to do something different than they have at literally every other party they’ve been to.

Just by thinking differently and shunning the pressure to do the same as everyone else, you can throw a bold, bright bash that’ll inspire others to be kinder to the environment.

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