The Imperfectly Perfect Party

We celebrated the Big One’s birthday last week. She had a party at home. It was very pink and laden with treats. We lucked out with the weather and the children were delightful. It was quintessentially lovely.


I talked about the Little One’s party a few months’ back and how much waste we generated; I also mentioned how we fell on convenience and traditional party stuff because we panicked and left too much to the last minute. I said that we’d try harder next time.

And we did. We did do better this time. There was definitely less waste. But we’re a long way from a zero-waste, plastic-free party. The weather and afternoon may have been perfect, but our sustainable credentials… Well, all I can say is that they’re definitely  not perfect.

What we did better. 

C9F0DC18-6DC5-4E3F-97C6-FFCB761B745EThe birthday cake. Homemade (except the biscuits and chocolate mirror glaze) and set on a lovely big square plate. We’ll use this plate over and over again. A bargain at £5 from Homesense. A cake board big enough for this cake would have cost about £3. No-brainer.

I made loads of sandwiches this time. Last time we bought a platter of jigsaw sarnies from M&S. Expensive and heavy on packaging. It took me 20 minutes to make about 15 rounds of sandwiches this time. The plastic bread bag was recycled. All in all, much better.

Most of the tableware was reusable: cotton table cloth, plastic beakers and jugs of squash, wooden chopping boards and china platters and plates for serving food and a huge plate for the cake. Last time there was a disposable cake board, table cloth and loads of paper plates used to set the food out. 

The Husband kept the little guests entertained with some great games using little more than a jester hat, some cups and sweets and lots of silliness. He read a story after the picnic tea. We bought a bubble machine and had a mini disco. We did the Conga and the Hokey Cokey. 

We made a photo booth with an airer, pink sheet and some paper photo booth props. 

We did away with traditional party bags, so no plastic tat went home with the children at the end of the party.  

What could have been better.


We used paper plates. Only a few could be recycled. I’m still on the look out for small reusable plates that children can use at future gatherings. I didn’t find anything in time for this party and buying 30 small plates wasn’t an affordable option this time. 

Although the decorations were paper I bought them from Amazon and they came packaged in lots of plastic film.

We bought foam crowns, which the children decorated with self-adhesive gems and letters. They were a great ice-breaker. In retrospect, we could’ve set up a craft table with eco friendly crafts. The self adhesive gems and letters generated lots of little bits of adhesive backings; the foam crowns can’t be recycled. Saying that, one mum was telling me that her children had been playing with their crowns all week. This made me feel better!

The pick and mix sweet stall set up at the end could’ve contained loose sweets, but was mainly stocked with miniature bars of chocolate, individually wrapped penny sweets and small packets of Haribo. I didn’t have to buy much as we had loads of bags left over from The Little One’s party. In a way we were just using up what we had. And isn’t that the first rule of moving towards zero-waste?

We had a pass the parcel (wrapped in tissue paper and recyclable wrapping paper). But it contained wrapped sweets and a little bag of lego in the middle, again wrapped in plastic.

What was bad.


Food packaging. All the normal food that children, well my children, now expect at a party is processed and heavily packaged. Pizza, sausage rolls, tubs of humous, breadsticks, olives, crisps, punnets of fruit, lollies, biscuits and sweets. Yes, the plastic boxes and tubs (including black plastic) can be recycled in our kerbside collection but the film and packets can’t be recycled. I could’ve bought fruit from the greengrocers in paper bags; olives from a deli in a reusable jar; I could’ve made humous and breadsticks from scratch. Could I have made pizza and sausage rolls? I doubt it. There are limits on time and know-how. The children were hungry after school and proper food of some sorts was necessary. I needed to be quick and efficient. We don’t have the capacity to seat 25 small children at the moment, so a picnic tea in the garden, with a finger food buffet seemed like our best option. I’m glad to report that there wasn’t a lot of food waste, they were all super hungry and most leftovers were taken by peckish parents. But the packaging was the bulk of the rubbish.

Balloons and a helium canister.  What can I say.  It’s really hard to break with some traditions. I wish I hadn’t bothered to be honest.

A lot of rubbish from generous presents. Some wrapping paper that couldn’t be recycled and lots of plastic packaging.

Birthday candles and holders. Lit and blown out. Lit and blown out. And binned. Is there an alternative? Another thing to look into.

We generated a bag of landfill rubbish and lots of recycling. This is a lot less than the Little One’s party. An achievement in itself because it was a much bigger party. But I’m still aghast at how hard it is to simply do away with unrecyclable waste – even when you make a conscious effort to do things better.  I tried to think it all through but still plastic creeps in – food packaging, sweet wrappers, lolly wrappers, balloons, gift packaging, birthday candles, internet shopping packaging and on and on… I put lots of time and thought into organising all of the finer details this time. I still made mistakes and had oversights. Aside from buying reusable plates, doing away with balloons and thinking of eco-crafts, making biscuits and finding an eco birthday candle, I’m not sure what we could do to throw a really fun party without the waste ourselves.

The Big One had a fabulous time. And despite my grumblings about too much rubbish, I’m glad we put a lot of effort into the party. We’ll all have fond memories of a really sunny party filled with happiness and laughter.  Writing this post and reflecting on what we did has made me see some of the errors of our ways. Maybe one day I’ll be able to confidently write up Practically Ethical’s Guide to throwing a plastic-free, zero-waste children’s party. Well, maybe. Maybe one day.

What birthday traditions do you have for your childrens’ parties? How do you minimise waste when you’re entertaining? Have you ever heard of an eco birthday candle or alternative? Do you make all party food from scratch? Have you ever found crisps in eco packaging? What are your top tips for zero waste entertaining? Do you keep lots of extra plates and cups in your cupboard for children’s play dates and parties at home? Get in touch! I’d love to hear from you. 

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