Zero-Waste Solutions: BYO to Birthday Parties


I have three kids; my oldest son is almost five, the middle son will be four in May, and the youngest daughter will be two in February.  All three go to daycare during the day with 10-15 classmates.  Naturally, we get more birthday invitations in a month than I get calls from my mother (just joking, mom).

We haven’t attended birthday parties in the past because I figured we have many, many years of birthdays ahead of us.  No need to start so soon.  This year, however, my five year old wants a party.  I can’t blame him; all of his classmates return to school the Monday after their party yipping about their new toys and how much fun they had with all of their friends.  It’s natural for him to want the same.

We started attending birthday parties this year for the classmates turning five in my oldest son’s classroom.  It’s only fair to attend the parties if we want them to attend ours, and I was looking forward to finally connecting with the other moms.  Many of them have known each other since their kids were infants, and my children only started at this daycare last school year.  I didn’t really know what to expect at these parties.  How much food did they serve?  What activities were planned for the kids?  What did the parents do while the kids played?  It is now December, and my son and I have been to four parties since September.  Here is what I know now about kid birthday parties:

  1. The kids run around and play with each other THE ENTIRE TIME, taking zero notice of the activities the adults have planned for them.
  2. The adults eat most of the snacks on paper plates, and the kids only stop for nibbles of food here and there and the occasional sip of water from a disposable water bottle.
  3. The adults spend a good deal of time walking around the party picking up trash and throwing it away in big trash bins placed in strategic locations around the party.
  4. At the end of the party, the kids all get a party favor in a decorative, disposable plastic bag filled with candy and plastic trinkets that break after a few uses.
  5. The parents need copious amounts of sleep and wine in order to recover from the party; the kids just need a nap.

This post isn’t about how to throw a zero-waste birthday party (check back in February for an update on that one when the oldest turns five).  Instead, this is a post about how to keep yourself and your kids zero waste while attending birthday parties.  It has not been perfect each party, and I have created some amounts of trash because I haven’t found the courage to refuse the party favor bags.  And I ate on a dreaded Styrofoam tray at one party because the parents are professional chefs and I was eager to eat their cooking (seriously…you would have too).  Four parties down and countless to go, I think I have this zero-waste at a party action plan ready to share:

  1. BYO cup, plate, fork, and napkin to the party. 

I bring one mason jar to serve as my cup that I usually fill in the kitchen.  If the party is somewhere other than a house, I bring my stainless steel thermos filled with water from home.  I don’t mind sharing with my kids, and they usually just eat from my plate and use my fork during their periodic breaks from running around like hamsters on crack (my favorite way of describing to others what it’s like teaching freshman in high school).  I haven’t bought a “travel” or “on-the-go” plate yet, so one from my kitchen cabinet serves me well.  The look on peoples’ faces when I bust out a plate, fork, and napkin from my purse? Priceless.

2. Be prepared to explain to at least three people why you are drinking from a mason jar or having the host of the party mix you a mimosa in the lid of your thermos (true story). 

I try to stay away from labels like, “I’m a zero-waster.”  To say that most people in Texas have no concept of what it means to be a zero-waster is an understatement.  I simply tell curious minds that I try not to create trash at home or anywhere else.  This typically leads us into a civil discourse about why I do what I do and how it started.  I must seem like a rare species to most of the people I meet, but inquiring minds want to know, especially when they encounter a new breed of environmentalist in the wild.

3. Find the courage to refuse the plastic party favor bag and teach your kiddos how to politely say, “No, thank you.”

I wish I could say that I have done this, but I have not.  It is the goal for the next party.  Knowing my kids and how they react to unpleasantness, the best plan would be to have a conversation with them prior to leaving for the party about how we are not going to take the little bags of candy and toys home when we leave the party.  Instead, we are going to say, “Thank you, but no, thank you.”  Who knows…maybe the other parents will be inspired to forgo this wasteful party tradition in lieu of a homemade party favor that doesn’t create waste for the recipient.

I should keep a tally of the total number of birthday parties we attend by the time my kids are 18.  I’m sure we would set some sort of record.

Remember: be part of the solution, not part of the problem.




More about Shannon

Hi! My name is Shannon, and I'm on a mission to reduce the amount of waste my family creates, live a little slower, and embrace all that life has to offer. I'm glad you're here because that means you're interested in reducing waste and slowing down as well. I hope you find some inspiration in these posts that inspire you to make changes in your own life and community. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

3 thoughts on “Zero-Waste Solutions: BYO to Birthday Parties

  1. Trash the Party Favors: An Update to BYO the Parties – Zero Waste in the 'Burbs

    […] was the first birthday party my sons and I have attended since I wrote about BYO to Birthday Parties.  In that post, I talked about taking your own plate, cup, utensils, and napkin in order to […]


  2. 50 Ways You Can Go All-In For Zero-Waste – Zero Waste in the 'Burbs

    […] stainless steel plate and cutlery, with a mason jar and napkin, for on-the go trips […]


  3. Zero-Waste: So Much More Than Zero Trash – Zero Waste in the 'Burbs

    […] making your own toothpaste and other toiletries, washing a load of cloth napkins and tissues, and taking your plate and mason jar to birthday parties, it becomes automatic and […]


Leave a Reply