How to Throw a Zero Waste Kids’ Party

Ah, kids, those little lovers of all things bright, shiny, plastic and disposable. How do you throw zero-waste kids’ birthday parties that they’ll love and remember while staying true to your values of sustainability?


Here are some ideas that have worked for our family over the past 10 years of throwing sustainably-minded, (mostly) zero-waste kids parties.

LOCATION: This is the first step in planning a party of any kind. Where will you be posting up for a few hours? If you’re choosing a place that is all-inclusive, such as a pizza parlor, trampoline park, or laser tag spot, be sure you check in with them about how they do things. Make it clear that unless theirs is reusable, you will bring your own decorations and plates, utensils, etc., and be sure to negotiate a price accordingly. 

Many places offer different price points and rules for various party styles. Some have rules about what you can and can’t bring, and that can help you choose the right location. They might offer their own food and drinks instead of letting you bring your own. This is something to ask about upfront, as you have the choice to vote with your dollars, and not every venue will be worth voting for.


INVITATIONS: Skip the paper and go digital with platforms like evite, or Paperless Post, or send a good old-fashioned email.

FOOD: Finger foods are easy and eliminate the need for cutlery and plates. Some kid-friendly  ideas include:

  • veggies and dip
  • deviled eggs
  • cheese cubes
  • homemade trail mix
  • watermelon slices
  • grapes
  • olives
  • bite-size PB&J squares

For bigger meals, pizza is always a hit, and conveniently comes with a crust to hold while you eat it, so technically, it’s a finger food too. Be sure to compost the box, as you can’t recycle cardboard that has been contaminated with food residue!


PLATES, NAPKINS, ETC: We are lucky to live in a neighborhood that has a “lending library” for plates, bowls, glasses, cutlery, and linens, so if we serve a large group food that must lay on a plate, we borrow a set of whatever items we need, wash it, and return it to the neighbor’s garage where it is stored until the next party! 

For napkins, we use our collection of hand-dyed mechanic rags and ask our guests to place them in a “dirty” basket to be laundered after the party. These, along with a large amount of thrifted silverware, first came to be at our wedding nine years ago and are still going strong! They double as to-go bundles in the kids’ lunches and as part of the zero waste kits in our cars as well.

At our last zero-waste kids’ birthday party, I asked everyone to bring their own bowls and spoons to use for a DIY ice cream sundae bar. Needless to say, it was a huge hit! I brought a set of enamel bowls we use for camping and some empty, wide-mouth mason jars for anyone who forgot to bring their own. 

Be sure to have clearly-labeled receptacles for recycling, compost and any reusable dishes or silverware that have been used.


DRINKS: We serve store-bought drinks that come in cans or glass bottles. For cups, I provide small, glass mason jars, and for water, I point people to the water fountain. There’s usually a growler of some sort of local brew hidden in an adult cooler, and folks who know about it BYO cups to refill.

Nature is the ultimate decorator, so most of our parties happen at the local park. We put up the same decorations for every party, which we also used for their baby showers: colorful fabric scraps tied to a rope and strung around like a bunting of sorts (see above pictures). We hang the same homemade “Happy Birthday!” sign up for every birthday, every year, and no one complains. Kids love predictable traditions! Its hand-cut, paper letters are attached to a long ribbon with mini clothespins. Sometimes we will buy one balloon for the number of the age they are turning and reuse it for whoever turns that age next. (This works great for number candles as well.)

Parents can also pass party decorations onto other parents instead of tossing them when all is said and done. We are looking forward to inheriting a collection of Pokemon decorations from a party we went to last month to use at our son’s zero-waste birthday party next month.


CAKE: Our secret family cupcake recipe is printed on the side of the Hershey’s cocoa box (shhh!) I save the box just for the recipe and refill it with bulk cocoa powder. We bake cupcakes over cake to avoid plates, and either use reusable silicone or compostable parchment cupcake holders. You can get bulk candy to put on top for fun. Birthday candles are reused over and over and over until they are too small to light. Our collection is impressive, as I’ve been known to rescue other people’s birthday candles out of the trash to reuse for future parties. 😬


FAVORS: This is a tough one, especially with kids’ love of colorful, pointless, plastic things. Sometimes I just skip the favors. Other times, I offer pencils, candy, thrifted ping pong balls, even stickers. It’s not zero waste, per se, but I am conscious not to include new, plastic junk that will be broke or forgotten immediately. I wrap them in fabric scraps leftover from craft projects or scooped up at our local crafting thrift store (I know, amazing. I love where I live.)


GIFTS: Some parents ask for no gifts. I can’t say I’ve ever done that. But I do give parents ideas for experiences instead of things (trampoline park, batting cages, etc.), and gift cards (ice cream shop, iTunes, book store), or cash is always a big winner. When they were babies, I asked for second-hand gifts, and everyone obliged. This tends to be harder to get people to give as they get older, but it’s worth a try! Be sure to save the gift bags, ribbon and intact wrapping paper for the next gift-giving occasion, so you never have to buy these items new again. 

Basically, if you keep things colorful and entertaining while still making conscious consumer choices, chances are, your kids will remember their party for what it was: a perfect day, filled with friends, fun, and some much-needed birthday love!

What about you? Any other thoughts on lessening waste when throwing kids’ birthday parties?