Updated: Feb 25
I've just been to my local high street in Harpenden and had to negotiate myself around a lady rushing out of the shop with two large foil numbered balloons. I guess my initial thought is how lovely, someone's going to have a great birthday surprise! And then a little after, I'm thinking so what happens to these foil balloons in a week's time once they've deflated, if they're not reused they will just got out with the trash. Yet more landfill. Nothing more sexy than that. So the 11 year old today who is having a wonderful birthday party might be scolded by her future great-granddaughter for not thinking more about the environment.
It's a tricky one, as a parent, how to give your child a really fun filled and pretty party, without causing too many waves and problems for the environment. It was easier in the "old" days - 20-30 years ago - as our birthday parties consisted of having loads of friends round for birthday tea and playing birthday games, which seemed to get more physical the older we got. I even remember in my student days playing a game that involved rolling a die and if you get six you have to wear a hat, gloves and scarf and then cut up a bar of Dairy Milk chocolate and eat as much as possible before the next person rolled a six. Some of us soon became "very enthusiastic" [if my friend Kate is reading this, I'm talking about you!!!]. When I think back to my childhood, when we left a birthday party, all we got was a slice of birthday cake wrapped in a paper napkin and we were more than happy about that!
So how do we balance being a parent and giving our children a really cool birthday party without damaging the environment too much? How do we look at creating an eco-friendly environment in children's birthday parties?
I have spent a couple of weeks reading lots of articles about this very issue, not all of them really getting to grips with what is currently wrong with the products we buy when throwing a party. Even some of the photos being used with these articles show products such as foil wrapped plastic party blowers. Ahem, Evening Standard article., tut tut.
For me, sustainability is all about having products that have been created from ethical sources, or sources than can be renewed or maintained. So products that cannot be recycled or take hundreds of years to degrade can not be described as sustainable or eco-friendly.
1. Room decor
I cannot begin to count the number of parties I have been to (including those of my friends and family) who have used the holographic foil Happy Birthday banners. I think they cost all of £2.29 or thereabouts. OK, I get it, they are cheap. Can't go wrong with paying £2.29. But really, it is wrong. These just go straight in the black bin for landfill and will take years to decompose as the foil isn't biodegradable. The same goes for those little shapes of foil confetti that you throw all over your party table. And I am guilty of using those myself, but that was when I didn't understand their long-term consequences. Hobbycraft, one of my favourite craft shops, still sell those foil confetti albeit they now state "Not biodegradable". I know this is a political issue, but why are we not starting to ban the sale of these things? We waited years and years to ban plastic straws, can we now focus on foil banners and confetti?? The onus is on us, as a consumer, to find other ways to decorate a room. And it is the wholesalers responsibility to try and source ethical and/or biodegradable products.
Having cotton bunting is probably the best investment that you could have when it comes to hosting parties. If you think about the average family, which is just about 2 children (1.9 children as of 2017), you would imagine you host a party for each child for every year until they are 18, minimum. Plus your own birthdays and any other event or anniversary. Having celebratory bunting that you can keep year after year, will in the long run save you money. Even if you don't want to buy it, you can easily make it, or get the kids to make it.
These pretty pirate and fairy bunting lengths for a Peter Pan themed party were commissioned by the lovely Toadstool Parties company, who are a fantastic children's party planner who cover Greater London and the Home Counties.
Having cotton bunting is the most eco-friendly way of decorating an entire room as it fills the space so easily. Of course we would say that, but it really does lift the room with little effort when putting up. And from us you can either purchase it or hire it, whichever is easier for you.
You could always let the kids create their own banners and birthday artwork to decorate the house or party venue out of paper or fabric. Make old-fashioned paper chain bunting using colourful paper or wallpaper remnants. Or, if you want to be really eco-friendly cut up brown paper delivery envelopes into strips and glue together using a biodegradable glue such as Coccoina Glue from Peace with the Wild. You could also create bunting using a wide variety of online printables, however all these paper options will just give you one or two uses and will not have the longevity of fabric bunting.
If you aren't the creative type, then our option of buying cotton bunting for the room or the cake would be perfect as it is designed to be used year after year and can be personalised to suit your own family names or preferred colours.
Balloon or Not to Balloon? In no way am I a bah-humbug and saying NO to balloons, the opposite is true, I love balloons! Although it is a concern that we are slowly running out of world natural Helium supplies - let's hope someone develops a sustainable alternative before we do run out. Interesting article here about helium supplies... Dr Anne Marie Hemlestein believes we'll run out in about 25-30 years.
The best eco-friendly balloons are those made from latex, which uses the sap of a rubber tree. Hurrah we shout! Rubber Tree plantations are good for the planet, No? Well yes of course, we all need more trees, but very often these rubber plantations are created by large powerful global organisations in countries such as Liberia that are appaulingly poor, and the land is bought for way below standard prices to create mass rubber tree plantations. We need to be more conscious of how these plantations are created, and that the source of our rubber sap is from ethical sources and not deforestation or land grab. However, the good thing about latex balloons is that they are biodegradable over time.
The foil balloons are not recyclable and a lot of these are just thrown out with the rubbish. It's great to see leading balloon companies like the lovely Bubblegum Balloons, who are now deflating their foil balloons after use and storing for re-inflating for another event. We can ALL do this, once the helium has deflated, fold and store for a second use. I only found out about this recently - wish I'd known in the past!
The biggest NO-NO of any type of balloon is to let them free-fly. Once the balloon burst, the balloon remains can end up being eaten by wildlife resulting in death. Years ago I bought a large My Little Pony foil balloon for my daughter's birthday - as I was walking back from the supermarket the wind caught it and it flew away. I felt sick and very guilty. I haven't bought a foil balloon since. So if you do buy one, make sure you have something to weigh it down!
3. Table setting
As with the foil banners, there are equally as many companies selling "disposable" plastic coated tablecloths. Such a shame that they are often only used once then thrown away. They are so thin that some plastic recycle machines cannot cope with them so are just sent to landfill.
There are a few ideas here, firstly buy some cotton from somewhere like IKEA, at around £4-5 a metre of fabric you can create a really great table cloth that can be reused year after year. You don't even have to stitch any hems, just buy a length long enough for your biggest table. We've got two different table cloths that we've had since 2004 and both are going strong - we only use them about once or twice a year for parties, but they have saved us money in the long run. Or use a colourful single or double bed sheet (there are plenty cotton ones available in your supermarket or local department store) that can be used as a tablecloth. You could even buy a single duvet cover with your child's favourite TV or Film character on and use that as a tablecloth. Once you've finished using it, either store it for future, or give to a charity such as the Noah Enterprise - a Luton based charity offering hope and support to people struggling against poverty, exclusion and homelessness.
Another idea is to have paper placemats that you make yourself, I absolutely love this one from Klara's Party ideas - and considering it's nearly Easter I thought it'd be fun to share..... It doesn't have to look as perfect as this - I think sometimes this perfection is for the sake of the adults or even for instagram, but I do think it's a lovely idea. Klara has also used little glass bottles and paper straws, instead of papercups. Another nice touch.
How about hiring in your party wear? I found a lovely company based near me in Harpenden, although I'm sure there are others out there near you, that hires out party packs that include everything you need for a children's party. I think it's a great idea to be honest, as it's just one less thing to think about! Green Bean Eco Party Packs even offer a washing up service! That in itself is a winner for me. Usually I'm on the G&Ts the minute the party has finished!!
If you are elsewhere in the UK, the Party Kit Network UK is a database of companies that hire out their packs for children's parties. If you want to see if there is one near you, then check out their map here.
I've just also spied a really brilliant on Green Bean Eco site, this is reusable pass the parcel. Twenty fabric bags instead of reams of paper being thrown away! What a lovely idea! This really could be a family heirloom - it would be like keeping your Christmas Fairy year after year, something that will stay in your family and come out at each birthday.
4. Goodie bags
Another bug bear for me is the plastic little goodie bags filled with absolute tat. You know the ones, the ones in the supermarket where you pick up ten mini yo-yos in a plastic