How to throw a birthday party that’s not rubbish

Clara Williams Roldan shares her easy and practical tips for a waste not, want not approach to throwing a child’s birthday party.

My sister Prema wanted a plastic-free party for her son, Kai, whose birthday happens to fall in July. She considered spruiking Plastic Free July on the invitations but decided not to, which was probably a good call. Have you heard of virtue signalling? I hadn’t until recently. (I honestly thought people used KeepCups because they care, not to look virtuous in the coffee queue!) I also know that parenting can be a minefield. So you need to be careful not to imply you’re criticising other people by trumpeting your own approach. So, no virtue signalling on the invitations. If you want to do a plastic-free or a plastic-lite party, well, just do it.

Party Decorations

Avoid balloons—they hurt wildlife. Try old-fashioned bunting made from paper and raffia, string or fabric—easy to make at home, or can be purchased, and can be re-used. Don’t buy the bunting packs made of plastic! You could also go for colourful paper pom poms on string and paper streamers. And small vases of fresh flowers look great.

Serving platters

If you don’t own enough yourself, borrow. Avoid single-use plastic and foil trays, designed to be used once and tossed.

Crockery, cutlery, serviettes etc.

For kids, glass isn’t an option, so look for compostable paper cups, plates and bamboo cutlery or similar. You can find compostables online and in plenty of stores. If you go for paper-based products, they can be composted at home—but check labels, as bioplastics need a commercial composter. We use cotton tablecloths but big sheets of butchers’ paper are also great, and kids can draw on them too.

Party Food

Here are a few ideas from Kai’s party that went down well:

The cake

With no Disney-themed plastic tablecloth, cups and plates, we moved the theme to the cake. We ordered a butter cake with white icing and a Cars motif, then added two real toy cars, that doubled as gifts, for decoration.

Fairy bread

Buy sliced soft bread from the baker in paper bags. Use butter (paper-wrapped). Hundreds and thousands usually come in plastic but recycle the container or keep it to refill with herbs later.

Chocolate crackles

Using ingredients sourced from a bulk food store, combine melted cooking chocolate with puffed rice and desiccated coconut, then spoon into paper cases. Not the traditional recipe on the side of the Rice Bubbles box, but they taste great. Exact amounts can be purchased, so you have no leftover ingredients in the cupboard.

Filled bread rolls

Order ahead and ask the baker to put them straight into a cardboard box—we lined ours with clean tea towels. Put fillings out so people can help themselves. We used home-prepared pulled pork and coleslaw—all ingredients were easy to source plastic-free using our own containers.

Homemade sausage rolls

Easy to make at home, but some plastic is unavoidable if you use commercially prepared puff pastry. Fill the pastry with mince mixed with herbs, spices, onion, garlic and grated veggies.


Offer flavoured water in jugs or drink dispensers using fruit slices of different colours.


Set out colourful platters of fruit, including watermelon cut to look like trees.

Goodie bags

If you’ve decided on doing gift bags, use small paper bags, line with coloured serviettes and drop in unwrapped chocolates and sweets. Items like honeycomb squares and chocolate buttons can be purchased from bulk food stores, supermarkets have scoop and weigh ranges (they offer plastic bags for these—but put them in the paper bags used for mushrooms and place the price sticker on that). Otherwise, innovate! Smarties still come in cardboard boxes.

Earth Friendly Clean up

All food scraps and crockery and cutlery were composted in an at-home bin. To speed up the break-down of paper plates and cups, soak them in water for a couple of days, then tear them into small pieces.

Verdict: We were left with one small reusable plastic shaker (from the hundreds and thousands) and a small handful of soft plastic (recycled at a supermarket).

More Birthday Ideas From Tots to Teens:

Birthday bubble bash

At-Home Birthday Party Ideas

Party time – how time flies

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