Zero Waste, Sustainable Birthday Parties & Celebrations (during a pandemic)

Zero Waste, Sustainable Birthday Parties & Celebrations (during a pandemic)

It’s celebration season at our house – the time of year when we have three birthdays, plus Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, all within 45 days. We’re a family that loves to celebrate – everything! – but birthdays, especially kids birthdays, can too often and too easily become a celebration of single use plastic (and who’s really celebrating that? The plastic industry!).

This year’s birthdays present their own sets of challenges with social distancing and stay-at-home orders still in place, but I’m happy to share with you our tips for celebrating everything – sustainably!


Aren’t paper invitations so cute? I know, especially the ones with sparkles! But I’m about to burst your happy birthday balloon – those sparkles are made with plastic, and lots of invitations are, too! But this sustainable birthday hack is a cinch: digital invites! They are super cute, super sustainable, cheap (read: free!), and they easily integrate into your digital calendars. RSVPs are a snap, and with automatic reminders, you don’t need to hassle people for a response. A win for parents who love having less to keep track of (hello, that’s me!) and saving trees.


Our family loves food. I mean, we really love food. We usually plan out birthday meals and cakes weeks in advance – whoever is celebrating has complete control over the day’s menu (only fair, right?!). And, bonus! This is an easy task to keep plastic-free – no single serve chips or pretzel bags, but there’s still so much fun to be had here!

Our sustainable celebration tip for food? Keep it basic. Kids love sweets, and what’s sweeter and more vibrant than a bowl full of fresh fruit? Kiwis, oranges, watermelon, cantaloupe, mango – all of these are easily available without plastic packaging and look great on a platter or in cute shapes. Need inspo? Pinterest is full of zero-waste fruit plates that you can turn into smiley faces, owls (seriously), cats, piñatas – trust me, when it comes to turning a fruit plate into a work of art, the internet has your back.

Need some crunch? Homemade popcorn is such a treat and easy for kids to dress up and make their own. Go traditional with a butter topping (we are a vegan family, so we use vegan butter and nutritional yeast), or shake it up with cinnamon and sugar, chili, Mexican cocoa, even gingerbread topping (again, thank you, internet). Besides, zero-waste popcorn tastes a lot better than plastic-wrapped microwave popcorn – trust us!


Homemade cakes or cupcakes are just the best. Plus, they significantly cut down on plastic waste, making them the perfect sustainable, zero-waste solution – but if you’re set on a professional cake, ask the bakery if you can bring your own container to take it home and help reduce the need for plastic packaging. We still favor the homemade birthday cake – try your hand at a basic recipe and dress it up with homemade frosting, piped designs (much easier than you’d think) and edible flowers.


Here’s the good and the bad about zero-waste birthday parties – fewer theme options, at least for us. In our family, when you wake up on your birthday, our felt “happy birthday” sign will be strung up over the dining room. It’s a low-key decoration with lots of meaning – it’s there every year, for everyone’s birthday. But, there are other ways to spruce up your celebration…

Nature! Flowers from your neighborhood add the perfect pop to your tablescape – but what else? Zero waste celebrations wouldn’t be complete without cloth napkins and placemats. We’ve had our cloth napkins and placements for years (okay, over a decade). And no matter the occasion, they manage to add just the right amount of flair. Special set for special occasions? Sounds perfect. Invest in reusable cloth napkins and placemats and now every meal feels just a little more special.


This is a tough one – kids are conditioned to want presents! But there are ways to keep this creative and waste-free. Encourage kids to make a gift – like a book of memories, a picture, a piece of art, a playlist. Or encourage second-hand gifts from the thrift store to encourage reuse and creativity.

Donations are also a great way to keep your celebration zero-waste and support a worthy cause – particularly if your child is passionate about something. There are no shortages of organizations supporting health, the planet, and plastic-free living that need support, especially during this pandemic.


Why do games belong in this blog? Because – at least at our house – things like water balloons and nerf guns are frequently asked for…and frequently denied! But we do have sustainable options like bean bags, potato sacks (for real, we have them!), and hula hoops that make for some pretty epic obstacle courses. The internet is again your friend here in researching games for celebrations that require little more than what you already have lying around the house. Less running around, way less expensive, and a lot more family fun!

Goodie bags

Raise your hand if you’ve carted home a plastic goodie bag filled with plastic junk that gets tossed a few days later?  

Can we all agree? No more goodie bags! The planet doesn’t need them, and your kids won’t miss them!


Living during this pandemic means even more reason to find joy in the small victories in our daily lives – a lot more reason to celebrate. And especially so for those bigger moments – birthdays, graduations, holidays. So, do it up, party on, and make these simple swaps for a sustainable, zero-waste, delicious, guilt-free celebration – because we need it now more than ever!