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Essential Lists & Tips

Throwing a Zero Waste Birthday Party

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Organising fun-filled parties for children (and adults) does pose its challenges, especially since I am embarking on a zero waste lifestyle.

Here are some tips I learnt in my ongoing journey to have parties that are kind to the earth, and I hope that it can inspire you in yours.

1. Consider a Combined Birthday Party

We had a combined football birthday party with my son’s friend for both families to celebrate these two beautiful souls.  My parents’ circle of friends have a long tradition of celebrating friends who share the same birthday month.

2. Paperless Invites

Send an e-invite (Top tip: Google forms will reduce your work in consolidating the number of guests!) If a traditional invite is preferred, consider reusing old calendars, greeting cards or paper. Try avoiding glitter as it contains microplastics.

Your invite sets not only the theme but also the tone of the party. So, if it is a philosophy of zero waste, say it. We once requested our son’s friends to bring their own water bottles for a party in the park.

3. Food

While we fret about the food looking Instagrammable, cutting it into interesting shapes increases wastage, unless you have a plan to use the scraps for something else.

Think and design the menu around bite-sized finger food such as sandwiches, curry puffs, vade, roti canai, red-dyed boiled eggs (it is symbolic for the Chinese, but hey, in Malaysia Baru, it is a symbol of Muhibbah), carrots and cucumber sticks.

Reinvent everyday food by giving it a creative name for themed parties! For our eight-year-old’s Minecraft party, we made labels of “ROTTEN FLESH” for the keropok, and “RABBIT STEW” for the curry chicken kapitan.

If you are tah pau-ing bring your food containers or dishes that can be used to serve immediately, and voilà! The serving work is done zero waste style.

Bring your own pyrex/serving plate to tah pau the satay. It’ll reduce the plastic bags and you can serve it up immediately. If you have a tiffin carrier, bring it along for the sauce, cucumbers and ketupat! Image credit: Nancy’s cravings

4. Drinks

Typical unnecessary party waste of unfinished cans and packets of drinks can be avoided by a large drink dispenser of Ribena with lemons.  Or go local with these easy drink recipes.

5. Serving

Break out your entire kitchenware Marie Kondo-style and get creative with it. Side plates will usually work for kids. Use rice bowls and jars to make up for the lack of glasses for the adults, as we did for my husband’s 40th. Pinjam from friends if you really need to.

Bring out all your kitchenware, and make your cabinets bare. Image credit: Adulting in the Wind

In true Malaysian spirit, we can use banana leaves, eat with our hands and use chopsticks for everything else for a memorable party. If you really need to, consider using biodegradable plates and cutlery.

For big kenduris or open houses, ask the caterer to not use disposables. After all, you are the customer.

Remember to tak nak straws!

6. Games

After six birthday parties between two sons from four to eight, what we just needed was a playlist of kid-friendly pop songs; a pass-the-parcel done up with newspapers (including surprise layers bearing Kit Kats) and plenty of space to run around. We can always draw on our childhood memories of musical chairs, frozen statues, cops and robbers, pin the tail on the Pikachu, for a fun-filled themed party.

If you are getting an entertainer, make a request that the presents/toys/gifts are not single-use plastic. Consider long-lasting alternatives such as marbles, water bottle, food container, batu seremban or books.

7. Party Bags

If you are brave enough, try going without. If you really have to, invest in one big present instead of many different small plastic items. For our son’s fourth birthday, we got each kid a canvas shopping bag and a food container from Daiso. Decathlon also had affordable RM10 backpacks which the kids (and parents) loved. We also got age-appropriate books. Go for paper or cloth bags instead of, you guessed it, plastic.

Batu seremban makes great party gifts and it is environmentally friendly too! Image credit: Batik Boutique

8. Consider a Fiver Party

It is currently all the rage now in Australia,  where parents request that guest give five dollars towards contributing to a bigger present, or a donation to charity. It reduces many different presents and packaging waste. Whilst some cultures may recoil in horror for being too money minded, this zero waste party present idea fits with our Malaysian culture of ang paus and duit raya.

9. Cleaning and Washing Up

Setting up separate recycling bins makes cleaning up easier. We also had our part-time cleaner in to wash the dishes during parties. Saying “yes” to offers of help from friends and relatives gave me many good catch-up conversations over the sinks.

Parties are really about friends and family to celebrate and be with us, so let’s party environmentally friendly!

Tze Yeng worked in advertising and made a leap to work in the non-profit sector. Fourteen years later she is contemplating her next chapter. She does this as her two boys, eight and six, raise her with their daily lessons in love and laughter within their organised chaos.

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