We’ve all done it. Been outfaced by the idea of a lot of work, especially when having a large numbers of guests and gone for the easiest, most obvious option. We've bought plastic plates, plastic cutlery, plastic tablecloths, plastic cups, plastic straws, plastic chopsticks, plastic drink bottles, plastic serving plates, plastic ‘made-in-China’ rubbish in plastic bags for going home presents and balloons (...not plastic, but equally unfriendly to the environment). All things that, after just a few hours, are destined for the bin. But in this age of extreme wastage (but supposedly greater awareness), it’s time to try and reign ourselves in a bit. Let's see how we can do better and try rejecting the disposable party culture.
By cutting out the plastic disposables, not only will you contribute a bit towards saving this planet of ours, you will protect your health and probably save money too. And there is absolutely no reason why your party should suffer in terms of aesthetics. Infact it will look a whole lot more interesting!
Based on data from organizations such as Greenpeace, your plastic party ‘stuff’ will take around 450 years to break down. That‘s a long time! ...and your foil helium balloons...never!!! We can play our part and choose not to contribute to this large-scale pollution. I think it's worth taking a minute to look at this simple, but thought-provoking info-graphic from Greenpeace:
Research also suggests that using plastic utensils can increase your chances of getting lymphoma and leukemia. Not really a loving 'going home' present for your family and friends...!
So let’s look at some possible alternatives:
Crockery and cutlery:
- It may sound obvious, but use your regular homeware.
- Cut back on the need for too much cutlery by catering finger food.
- If you don’t have enough, buy extras from a thrift shop. It doesn’t matter if they don’t match...a bit of an eclectic vibe can look great! Or buy from somewhere inexpensive like Ikea or your local $2 store.
- Save up your jam jars for glasses, these can look very effective with nice colourful paper straws.
- If you really can’t face the washing up after a large party or if you are outside and nervous of breakages, there are plenty of eco-friendly products on the market these days. They are often made of bamboo, palm leaves or sugar cane. Or there’s even edible cutlery (as invented by an amazing man, Narayan Peesapaty, in India! Check out his story here: http://www.deccanchronicle.com/lifestyle/food-and-recipes/210316/hyderabad-man-invents-edible-cutlery.html.
Traditionally, balloons are synonymous with parties and Birthdays. They are wonderful for providing an immediate, bold, colourful statement. However, they are not good for our environment. Especially the foil helium ones. As I mentioned earlier, they will NEVER biodegrade! When released, they cause countless animal deaths and leave unsightly rubbish. So what else can create that instant burst of colour?
- Bunting. I love bunting! I don’t know why. Maybe because it evokes the wonderful nostalgic feel of old fashioned parties and village fêtes back home in England. Or maybe it’s just because they are wonderfully colourful and can stretch across your venue, somehow making it feel a bit more intimate. They are very easy to make, with colourful paper or card that you have lying around the house. Or if you are handy with the sewing machine, then of course they look wonderful made from scraps of material. Or invest in a few and use them over and over or hang across your kid's bedroom after the party.
- Tissue pom poms. These are so attractive and offer a very close alternative to the balloon. They can be a little pricey in the shops, but are relatively simple to make oneself. Then you can have better control to fit in with your own party colour scheme.
- Props. In the past I have made props and decorations to fit in with my party themes. These jelly fish I made for my then 3 year old daughter’s ‘under the sea’ party. I made them just from scraps of material I had lying around the house. But I do realize, they were a little time-consuming, so not for everyone...! Or make a 'feature wall' like I did with my Japanese dolls for a 5 year old Japanese themed party. Or oversized props like this red picture frame for my eldest's British Gents party. (Above)
- Go natural. Try hanging decorations from branches or twigs found in your garden or local park. They can make a wonderfully dramatic statement, especially the larger you go. For my youngest's American Indian party, I hung gold painted feathers from a huge branch, along with an over-sized dream catcher I made with scraps of material and kitchen string...virtually free, but very dramatic! These were also things that she wanted to keep and hang in her bedroom after the party was over.
- Bubbles. for younger kids, you can't go wrong with bubbles! And so magical watching the little ones...well, all ages... trying to catch and pop them!
Just remember that Chinese lanterns are not good alternatives. They are magical to watch slowly drifting up into the night's sky, but they are a serious fire hazard and have killed countless animals.
Going home presents
I don’t know how many parties my girls have been to where they have come home with a plastic bag full of useless plastic toys and sweets. Inevitably they end up in the bin a few hours later, having been played with for just a minute or two on the way home in the car.
- I am not a fan of too many sweet things, but perhaps you could just let the kids take home one lolly pop, or a cupcake to keep them happy.
- Do a craft during the party and let that be their going home present. They’ll be very proud of what they have made and excited to take it home to show their families.
- Provide elements of a costume, if you’re throwing a themed party: hats, sunglasses, princess tiaras, whatever fits the theme and let them take those home.
- Assemble little presents, that fit the theme of your party, that they are likely to keep and interact with. Seeds and a little plant pot for a fairy garden party. Or as I did for my daughter’s 'under the sea' party, a turtle measuring tape in an ‘acquarium’ all made from things I spotted at the $2 store. I know people who have still kept them years later!
A very obvious wastage, come Birthdays, is of course the wrapping paper for presents. There are very few kids who have the patience to carefully peel off the sellotape so that the paper can be used again. It’s usually a case of a mad ripping session to get into the present as fast as possible. Why not at least try to buy recycled paper or you could even wrap presents in a cloth or scrap of material. Instead of a bow, decorate with a sprig of leaves out of your garden, it can look so attractive!
Go paperless or make invitations from scraps of paper lying around the house. Or go a step further and use an item that your guest can keep, that fits in with your theme. For example a tag attached to a wooden spoon for a cupcake party, a little spade for a beach party or whatever. In my experience, the kids love receiving these unusual invites and it helps build up the excitement and anticipation for the upcoming party.
So, I think parties can be just as good, if not better, when we try to avoid all the plastic disposables. And we can feel comfortable in the fact that we have not contributed to all the unnecessary wastage. I think basically, the number one rule is to try and buy only stuff that you would wish to keep for another occasion or that the guests can take home with them as meaningful leaving presents.
So have a go! Make your next party plastic free and help to reign in this culture of the disposable party!