How to make children’s parties more eco-friendly | Luxx

I am not afraid to admit that I dread my children’s parties. It may be the highlight of their year, but the screaming excitement combined with high levels of sugar, glitter, balloons, face paint and snot are things my eco-nightmares are made of.

According to a 2019 article published in Nature, there is 250,000 tonnes of debris afloat in the ocean, presenting a ubiquitous threat to marine wildlife. Overall, balloons were found to be the highest-risk debris item to seabirds, 32 times more likely to result in death than ingesting hard plastic. Helium balloons are more damaging than latex ones because they are made from unrecyclable or non-biodegradable plastic. To make matters worse, according to Physics Today, they’re using a resource of which there is a global shortage for use in healthcare and scientific research.

As well as being deadly to seabirds, most of the items that regularly appear at parties cannot be recycled. Glitter, for instance, is a microplastic, usually made from a combination of aluminium and plastic that when stuck on otherwise recyclable products such as wrapping paper and cards means they need to go in the bin instead. Paper plates and napkins are made using a host of chemicals, dyes and bleaches, and when soaked in sausage grease or ketchup cannot be recycled. Most offending of all are the toys found in goodie bags, destined to be landfill after 30 minutes of abuse from chubby little fingers, because recycling plants don’t break down the different pieces and process them individually.

Which is why last year I tried to banish (or reduce) these main offenders from my rota of themed parties. For winter parties, when gardens are not an option, I have become an expert on renting basements of local churches, which are usually relatively well priced and accommodating, and booking an entertainer. Tarka and Sharky & George are my favourites (about £360 for 15 children), because they organise games using props that they bring and take away. A host of charming young entertainers quickly have the children jumping over imagined hedges and chasing illusory robbers, exhausting them by cake time.

I have ditched most balloons in favour of masses of reusable fabric bunting and pompoms, and try to use washable tablecloths.

This does, however, take away some of the themed magic, so this year I am going to try Packaway Parties. You can choose a theme online (including Harry Potter or Lego) and they deliver a party package a couple of days before the event with everything you need, including decorations, costumes, games, props and prizes. Other than the eco-friendly prizes and party bags, everything is collected from your house the day after the event by courier. Liz Guest, the company founder, says: “It’s been a labour of love; even the stickers on the party bags are recyclable now.” Prices start from £115 for up to 12 children.

Last year I discovered Little Eco Eats for my son’s fourth birthday party. Their lunch bags are priced at £11 each and contain four items: a sandwich, a cotton bag with a treat (we went for popcorn), a jam jar with jelly or yoghurt, and a little enamel cup with vegetables. They also catered for my gluten-free son. They source from British suppliers and you can hire reusable plates from them. They can also provide bunting, ethically sourced decorations, tablecloths and plastic-free party bags. Their packaging materials are plant-based and compostable. At the end of the party you just pack everything (including napkins) back into the box and they get collected. Ours was even delivered and collected by a dashing pushbike courier.

Last year, instead of party bags, I gave the children personalised sunflower or strawberry grow kits from Beecycle, which I bought for £12.95 each on The pictures of the flowers that were sent to me months after the party made me glow with eco-pride; the sunflower my godson planted was about a metre high.

While I wish I could resist giving plastic presents to my children, I have thus far failed. One is obsessed with Lego, the other with Bakugan – little plastic balls containing magnets that, when applied to metal, unravel into slightly demonic creatures. When I beseech them to choose more eco-friendly alternatives, they look at me with those big blue eyes and I can’t say no. One of them even said: “I know you care about the fish in the ocean eating plastic, Mummy, but I just don’t.”

Nevertheless, I have given some eco-friendlier options, which include a subscription to the Toy Box Club (£35 a month), a monthly book subscription from Daunt Books (£150 for a year) and a Mud & Bloom outdoor activity kit box (£81 for six months).

My next topic of research will be “How to teach your children to be more eco-conscious” – or, even better: “How to say no.”

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