How to Throw a Zero Waste Birthday Party for Your Kid

Adult carrying a small cake with lit candles toward a table of children

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Kids’ birthday parties are wonderfully fun for all, but in the way that they are traditionally celebrated, they are the enemy of zero-waste living. There’s nothing quite like a kids’ birthday party to generate vast quantities of waste, from the plates, cups, napkins, and uneaten food, to the gift wrap, present boxes, and disposable decorations.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Throwing a zero-waste birthday party is absolutely possible, nor does it require a lot more work; all you have to do is transfer your efforts from driving around town and picking stuff up, to making it at home from scratch. The extra time you spend doing dishes will be saved by not having to go to the dollar store for more plates.

Here are some ideas on how to cut down on unnecessary waste and have a fun celebration that won’t leave eco-minded parents feeling terribly guilty. Don’t worry, the kids really don’t care anyways because they just want to play, and it will generate conversation among the other parents.


Forget the themed paper invitations; they get tossed almost immediately anyways. Go with a basic email or phone call to create your guest list, or else send an electronic invitation using Echoage, Evite, or Paperless Post.


Decorations for kids’ birthday parties are almost always disposable. Stay away from them altogether, including balloons. You can even choose to tone down the decorations entirely. A handmade ‘Happy Birthday’ banner goes a long way toward setting the mood. If you must decorate, opt for reusable, classic decorations that can be pulled out every single year, i.e. colored lights. Make your own painted and personalized banner, paper pompoms, hats, and garlands; these are fun project to do with other siblings the night before and there are tons of ideas on Pinterest. Keep them for the next year.


Don’t overdo the food preparation. Kids hardly eat anything at birthday parties because they’re so excited, so rather than ending up with loads of leftovers that are potentially contaminated by little sneezes, coughs, and grimy hands, put out only what is necessary. Keep the rest for other meals. If other parents bring food, request reusable containers.

Table Setting

Use reusable plates, metal cutlery, real cups, and cloth cocktail napkins. It will give a bit more flair to the event by being somewhat more formal than your average get-together. Instead of juice boxes, mix up a pitcher of lemonade or orange juice with reusable cups. Don’t put out straws unless they’re reusable. You don’t need a tablecloth; all you need to do is give it a good wipe-down and sweep underneath after the meal.


The gift-giving portion of a birthday party can generate loads of unappealing trash, which is why you should choose an alternative. My kids have gone to several “toonie parties” (a toonie is a $2 coin in Canada), where each guest gives $2 in their card and that money can be used by the birthday child to buy a single toy of their choosing. It’s a great idea for reducing waste, not to mention bother for other parents.

You could also go the no-present route, which is slowly gaining popularity. It’s just important to make it very clear on the invitation that no presents are allowed. For example, blogger Emma Rohmann wrote the following message on her daughter’s birthday invitations:

“Please, absolutely, positively, under no circumstances should you bring a gift. We really mean it. C doesn’t want anything but to play with her friends. We won’t be handing out loot bags, so we’ll be even :).”

You could also threaten to donate any gifts to the local thrift store, shelter, or hospital; or request donations to a local charity on behalf of the child.

Loot Bags

Forget them. It may sound like a travesty, but most kids won’t care for more than five minutes after they leave the house, if that. Think about how you feel as a parent when your kid comes home from a party, loaded up with candy and cheap toys that break almost immediately. It’s annoying, which is why it’s time to break the mold. You’ve given them a great party, and leave it at that. If you simply must, opt for something more environmentally friendly, like a leftover cupcake, some homemade play dough, or a small book.

In my years of parenting, I’ve realized that kids mostly just want to play together, and having friends over to the house is exciting enough. They will create the party vibe without much assistance from Mom and Dad, so you don’t need to worry about it not feeling like a birthday. Furthermore, it will be a new and improved version that doesn’t include massive bags of trash at the end of the day.