Guest Writer Imelda Achieng is an eco influencer, mom to adorable Zoe and new found friend to the Earth Mamas. She is a blogger as well, and has an amazing Instagram feed. Check her out @theecomum and https://meltheecomum.co.uk!
I felt so nostalgic as I was planning Zoe’s first birthday party. Right about the same time last year, I was almost due to give birth and I had just declared that I was going to be an eco-friendly mom. How has it been so far, you may ask? It has been more of a journey – a learning curve and a lot of ups and downs. Yet, definitely nowhere near perfect. And now my daughter is one, already!
I wanted to do a party, because I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate other than with our family and friends who have been there with us through Zoe’s birth and upbringing. And besides, being eco-friendly shouldn’t mean less parties!
Zoe’s birthday party was the first biggest event I’d ever organized, so no pressure at all. The party was panda themed, because in most ways you could think of, we are a panda family. Anyway, here is my experience and the lessons I learnt, organizing and hosting Zoe’s birthday party to be as eco-friendly as can be.
Have an environmental mission and a to-do-list.
For whatever theme you choose for your kid’s party, you also need an environmental mission to follow. This is because the environmental issues we face are vast and as you get more aware, you realize it can get quite overwhelming, really fast. With every choice you make, you have got to weigh the pros and cons at what is most practical for your party. Otherwise, you may end up nit-picking even the tiniest of things. Believe me, it happens to the best of us, because currently, it’s almost impossible to be completely eco-friendly, zero waste and carbon zero. Because your hands are already full as a mom, you don’t want all that stress in the midst of organizing a party for your one year old. An environmental mission will guide you through and keep you focused on how best to go about being eco-friendly. Think about the environmental objectives you want to achieve at the party.
Even though being eco-friendly means undertaking some basic practices such as minimising waste, be careful not to get carried away and give yourself lots of objectives to follow! I learnt that the fewer the objectives, the more focused and successful your environmental mission for the party would be.
I didn’t think I got carried away, I had the following objectives:
- least plastic waste
- least food waste
- plant a tree
- raise environmental awareness to my party guests and
- raise funds for chosen charity, World Wildlife Foundation.
I went totally paperless by designing an invitation card using Canva and sending it out to my invitees online. I found that an invitation card was a great way to enlighten more about the party and its environmental mission, as well as suggest eco-friendly gift options, for guests to have an idea of what to expect at the party.
Eco-friendly gift ideas
This is a fairly new concept of gifting for most people. It may not be followed through to the letter for the first time, but with time and consistency, it only gets better. There are many options to choose from for eco-friendly gift ideas. You can opt for pre-loved items, gift cards, donations to chosen charities, experience gifts and fund transfers are also great options to consider.
I encouraged my guests not to bring birthday cards. Instead, the idea was to get one big card that could be signed by the guests. That way, ideally, by the time Zoe is for example 18, she would only have 18 cards full of sentimental value. You could personalize the cards by using services such as Moonpig or use an instant camera and attach pictures next to the messages.
Start planning early, get everything ready before hand
If you are hosting a big party, try to get everything ready and set up at least a day before the big day. If it’s a garden party, cross your fingers that it doesn’t rain or the party set-up doesn’t get blown away by wind. Accept as much help as you can. This is a great tip, especially if you are a mom that mostly has to work with one hand, haha! That way, everything is ready in time and you’ll be able to enjoy the party, with no pressure.
One of the things I wished I had set up before-hand was an efficient waste disposal system for the party. The fact is, parties generate more waste than a normal day-to-day family waste output in a day. If one of your eco-friendly objectives is to reduce waste, it would be essential to set up different bins for food left-overs, disposables and recyclables. This will make it easier to manage the waste after, for proper disposal, composting and recycling.
Use what you have, borrow or hire your party resources.
I couldn’t believe just how much packaging waste there was from just buying new party items! While sourcing your party resources, check what you have, then borrow as much as you can. Don’t be afraid of a little mismatch. According to your budget and needs, you can also choose to hire. Either way, this ensures the principle of reusing items is in play, thus maximising the efficiency of what is available.
Invest in good quality and durable party tableware
I went for quick and easy disposables and I can now tell you, it’s not the best choice. When I opted for disposable tableware, I thought that I’d be saving water and electricity that would have been used to clean them up. So, I went for biodegradable paper plates made from sugar bagasse. I reasoned, even plates made from palm leaves meant that may have caused a lot of deforestation, right? The plates were actually very good but, isn’t it funny that even with disposable tableware, you still end up with a lot to wash-up after a party? I also got plastic wine and champagne drinkware that I thought could be used every time I held a party. Apparently, they weren’t as good quality as I thought and most of them are already broken. Sigh. A lot of the disposables were termed as eco-friendly, recyclable and compostable, but were they, really? I thought that this was a good experiment to explore but after the party was done, and looking at the amount of waste generated from the disposables, it literally felt like I was disposing off money.
Not only does good quality tableware look good on your party table, but also saves you money in the long run. I actually now get it why my mom had a whole cabinet full of pretty plates, glasses and cutlery that we couldn’t use! Treat yourself to a collection of good cutlery just for parties. Switch from plastic table covers and paper napkins to cloth. Or really, just be keen on good quality plastic table covers that are very durable and handy for parties. Just don’t grab some from pound land, like I did. I might as well have collected all the plastic bags built up in my storage over the years and made a quilt out of it for table covers.
To avoid using balloons, I went for paper pompoms and lanterns. My local church also lent me some buntings that went beautifully with the rest of the party decorations. If you are thinking of getting some confetti, you could always paper punch some fallen leaves, or just use the leaves whole. Again, don’t be afraid of a little mismatch. Add a bit of quirkiness by matching in that odd party decoration you’ve had with the rest of the party theme.
Always have an estimate of how many people would turn up for your party so you can make enough food. If in excess, you could always encourage your guests to bring along tins to carry away food. Choose a catering service rather than buying ready-made party foods, to avoid packaging waste or organize a bring-your-own-food kind of party. This way, there’ll be different kinds of food to choose from in the banquet and one less thing to worry about for the party.
Try and avoid plastic favour bags for the kids.
When it comes to packaging treats for the kids, you may need to get a bit more creative to avoid plastic. I wanted the kids to experience the wonder and joy of growing something, so I put sunflower seeds in compostable seedling containers, secured them at the bottom of the containers with cotton pads and sealed them with aluminium foil and jute.
But apparently, that shouldn’t just be it, a party bag for kids is mostly filled with sweeties and this is where it gets tricky, since most sweet treats come heavily packaged. To try and avoid the excessive plastic packaging, buy the sweets in bulk and from sweet shops. You can make paper cones and fill them up with the sweeties. If you seek hard enough, you may also be lucky to come across sweeties and chocolates not packaged in plastic.
Plant a tree
Planting a tree to mark a special occasion is always a great eco-friendly idea for a party! Always go for indigenous trees, as they are more adaptable to their ecosystem. We got our tree from The National Woodland Trust and it will be exciting to see Zoe grow with it. Planting a tree can be a great way to start or end the party on a high note.
Raising funds for charity
Raising funds for your chosen environmental charity is actually as simple as applying and getting the kit by post or starting a fund page in the website. At the party, make a game out of raising the funds to keep it fun and interesting.
Other bits and bobs
- Always go for paper straws instead of plastic
- Make your own popsicles
- Why not get a sustainable birthday outfit for your one year old! Colette Tootill (UK) (Link from my website blog) will get you covered.
I believe that when it comes to being eco-friendly, it’s the thought that counts first. Your mindfulness about the environment then begins to rub off to your family and everyone else you encounter. From the start, just by sending out the birthday party invitation, I believe I spread environmental awareness. Soon, I’d probably start being referred to as “the crazy environment lady”. I’d consider that massive progress!
I did get overwhelmed, because I didn’t have everything ready on time. Therefore, I was pretty much on my feet all through the party, with Zoe in my arms most times. Because of this, I feel like I wasn’t in the best position to make sure that everything would go as smoothly as it probably should have. That said, early preparation is key to a successful eco-friendly party.
In the end, however your party turns out, don’t forget to have a good time, because that is the whole point of the party! We can only continue to learn from our experiences.