Friday, July 9, 2010

How to have a (mostly) waste-free children's party

A few weeks ago, my daughter came up with a great idea: have a start-of-summer bubble party! We began planning a day in which her friends would gather at our house to blow bubbles, run through sprinklers, and drink bubbly milkshakes. The date we set is tomorrow (July 10th). When we first started planning, I wasn't sure it would work out, since the temps were about 60 degrees and we were wondering when summer would ever get here. Now that the mercury has hit 90, a party like this is an excellent suggestion. According to my daughter's daycare teacher, the kids there are so excited that the party is all they can talk about.

I started thinking about how I could make the party relatively waste-free, and here is what I came up with:

-- I purchased some durable, reusable plastic plates at Value Village (my favorite thrift store!) and durable, reusable plastic cups at a yard sale, to supplement the ones we already have that we use with my daughter. Cost: $2.50 for five plates and $2 for 8 cups.

-- Since we don't have a hand towel rack in our bathroom, we usually just dry our hands on our bath towels, and put out a roll of recycled paper towels when we have guests. So at Value Village, I bought a stand-alone twin hand towel rack and two sets of hand towels: a plain set for the kids, and a fancier set for when we have adult guests. Cost: $3.50 for the hand towel rack, and $3 for two sets of hand towels (so really, $1.50 for the set we'll use at the party).

-- We currently have a plain set of cloth napkins for everyday use, and a couple of fancier sets for guests. Because these are children (who tend to be messy), I needed some more plain napkins. I bought eight cloth napkins at Value Village for $4.

-- We bought a "bubble toy bonanza" kit that comes with all kinds of bubble wands and pipes. Because the kids are going to be putting their mouths on the pipes, I decided to have two bowls available outside: one filled with soapy dish water, and one with clean water with a little vinegar in it. The kids can swish their pipes in the sudsy bowl and rinse in the other bowl before passing a bubble pipe on to another child. No need for things like disposable wipes! Cost: $6 for the bubble toys, and to clean them: free.

-- I bought two durable, reusable vinyl tablecloths at yard sales. Cost: $1 for both.

-- As take-homes, the kids are going to get two things: a jar of bubbles, and a seashell they paint themselves. We spent July 4th at a cookout on Vashon Island and my daughter and I collected a bunch of large sun-bleached clam shells, which look gorgeous when painted. My daughter already has paint and brushes. Cost: $8 for 16 bottles of bubbles, and painted seashells: free.

Now, I did say this party would be mostly waste-free. Here are the areas where we'll still generate waste:

-- The various bags and containers for food and drinks, including hotdogs and buns, fruit, chips, juice, ice cream and milk (including non-dairy varieties for a few kids who are lactose-intolerant). I'm not yet at the place where I purchase all my food from farmer's markets and have milk delivered in glass bottles. However, I'll try to buy the largest sizes I can, recycle those containers or bags that are recyclable, and of course, use my reusable bags for shopping.

-- The plastic wrap around the packs of bubbles and bubble toys.

-- Plastic straws. It would be pretty tough to have young kids drinking milkshakes neatly and easily without them. Plus, it will help prevent brain freeze.

-- Invitations. We made really cute paper invitations with a clip art cat blowing bubbles. I know the "green" recommendation is e-vites, but c'mon, we're talking about 4-6 year olds here, the parents of whom, in some cases, I don't know very well. Thus, paper was the way to go.

So, for not much more than it would have cost to buy disposable napkins, plates, cups, paper towels, tablecloths and wipes, and with the added benefit of having these items available for future use, we will have a (mostly) waste-free kids' party. And I hope the kids' parents appreciate the take-home bubbles and pretty seashells rather than gift bags filled with cheap plastic toys!


Update: The party was a hit! The one thing that didn't last long was the sprinkler--the kids started complaining they were cold after a few minutes (it wasn't quite as hot today as yesterday). But they loved blowing bubbles, painting the seashells, and drinking milkshakes! Interestingly, one of the parents gathered all the used straws and put them in a large container of soapy water. So that's one less area of waste for this party! And one parent commented that it was nice not to have their kids sent home with gift bags full of junk.

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