If you, like me, have small kids, you might have just gotten a pile of birthday invitations. Summer birthdays and fall birthdays collide in a race for every coveted Saturday morning at 11 am time slot from now until Thanksgiving. But all those birthday parties mean a lot of goody bags, and unfortunately, a lot of plastic trinkets that end up in the trash a week or two later. (Unless your kid is like my kid and hoards a treasure box of tiny plastic toys under their bed.) So what is a busy, eco-conscious parent to do? ReThink Disposable! Check out our suggestions for party favor ideas that are creative AND won’t add to the mountains of plastic trash created every year!
First, why does it matter? Americans create massive amounts of plastic waste, and despite slick marketing campaigns by the chemical lobby, the vast majority of plastic is never recycled. It’s cheaper for chemical companies to manufacture virgin plastic from fossil fuels than to use recycled content. That’s right. Plastic is made from fossil fuels.
“But wait!” I think. “I am an eco-conscious parent, so I will seek out recycled plastic party favors! That helps, right?” Not really. Unless that toy stays in circulation and gets reused by other families over and over again for years, becoming a tiny plastic dinosaur or teddy bear was just a brief pit stop on that plastic’s journey from fossil fuel extraction to the trash.
The answer to plastic pollution comes before Recycle, Reuse, and even Reduce: it’s RETHINK. We’ve launched our ReThink Disposable program in New England, and we’ve started working with restaurants, schools, and institutions to help them make the switch from single-use disposable food ware to durable reusables, so we can stem the literal tide of plastic waste.
So, back to that birthday party goody bag. How can you ReThink Disposables? Step 1, consider skipping the disposable bag itself! Put your party favors on a tray by the exit, and let each child grab one as they leave the party. Here are some fun ideas for plastic-free party favors!
- Native seed packets! Send each child home with a packet of native wildflower seeds and instructions of when and how to plant them. They’ll have a colorful reminder of your awesome party.
- Make an art project to keep at the end of the party! My child attended a party where each kid painted a wooden birdhouse. It’s now hanging on our porch.
- Homemade friendship bracelets! Made from colorful embroidery thread, these are fun to make, fun to wear, and plastic-free.
- Cookies! Decorate cookies at the party, and have each child take theirs home. Bonus: now you have a party activity for your yard full of hyped up 6 year olds.
- Flowers! Separate a bouquet into individual flowers and place each one in a Mason jar. You can grab a seasonal bouquet from your local farmers’ market, or harvest from your own yard! (Don’t go buy Mason jars! Spaghetti sauce comes in Mason jars! Just rinse them out! You’re welcome.)
I get it. It’s fun to hit up the internet for buckets of cheap, novelty items. But those plastic silly straws, tiny plastic puzzles, plastic sea creatures, plastic rings, and plastic bags are all going to end up as plastic trash. (Unless my 4 year old really does keep every party favor she ever gets under her bed forever.) So let’s “ReThink” birthday party favors! It’s a small step (and we still need systemic policy changes at every level of government to disincentivize the creation of single-use plastic trash by holding manufacturers responsible for the entire life cycle of their products!), but it’s a fairly easy step. And those flowers in Mason jars will look super cute!
To learn more about our ReThink Disposable program: cleanwater.org/RethinkDisposable