How To Throw A Zero Waste Birthday Party


Post by: Abby Abrahamson

When my grandfather’s birthday came around this month, my family wanted to throw him a birthday party. But, parties can generate a lot of waste. From the decorations to the presents, almost everything is thrown away and sent to the landfill after the celebration. So, I rolled up my sleeves, did a little digging, and came up with six tips for a less-waste birthday party. 


Reusable Tableware

Single-use plates, napkins, and utensils can be convenient, but are costly to the environment. Reusable alternatives such as cloth napkins, silverware, and ceramic or wooden plates are a much better option. Dread washing dishes afterwards? Simply load them in the dishwasher and press “start”. 

Package-Free Food

It’s no secret that food is an essential element of any party. To serve food without waste, you can make a homemade fruit and veggie platter and set up an avocado or taco bar using produce from the local market (brought home in reusable produce bags, of course!). Another idea is to buy nuts, pretzels, and sweets in bulk and set them on the table in individual bowls. Personally, I love a birthday barbecue, and Kathryn from Going Zero Waste made a superb guide to less-waste barbecuing that can be found here.

What about the cake, you ask? Most bakeries package cakes in a cardboard box, which can’t be recycled if there’s food on it. Instead, try baking a cake from scratch and icing it with a family favorite recipe!

Sustainable Gifts

Secondhand gifts are the best! Unless the person receiving the gift requests otherwise, try looking on Ebay, Craigslist, or at your local thrift store for a thoughtful and sustainable gift. If you can’t find anything there, don’t worry! You can hand-make a gift or give a donation to a charitable organization such as the World Wildlife Fund, Heifer International, or the Jane Goodall Institute, to name a few. My favorite birthday gift is an “experience gift”, when a friend or family member and I experience something together. For my last birthday, my family and I went to a state park for my birthday. We kayaked and hiked all day, and made valuable memories, too. 


“Green” Gift Wrap

There are many options for wrapping gifts without producing waste as a byproduct. Cloth bags or fabric squares are an excellent alternative to conventional gift wrap. They can be tied with another stip of fabric, some rope, or compostable twine. In my family, we still use tissue paper and store-bought gift bags. Instead of throwing them out, we take the bags and paper back home with us. The tissue paper is ironed and neatly folded, and the bags are stored in a box until the next occasion. We haven’t purchased or thrown out gift wrap supplies in years! When something rips, we simply recycle or repurpose it. 

Party Favors: A Thing of the Past

Loot bags are often filled with plastic toys or candies that are usually played with once or eaten and then thrown away. Many people are opting out of the party favor tradition altogether. However, if you’d still like to hand out favors, why not hand out a small potted plant, homemade treats in a reusable container, or a cookie/cake mix in a jar? 

Eco-Friendly Decorations

Making decorations at home is not only fun, but also good for the environment! My mom had sewn a pennant banner for my fifth birthday party, and we have used it every year since then. It’s colorful, creative, and 100% reusable. You can learn how to make your own pennant banner by clicking here. 

Another idea is to set out flower bouquets or pomanders that can be composted later. Bring nature inside with pinecones and evergreen twigs - the possibilities are endless!