It was such hard work, but would I do it again???

The answer to that question is most likely yes I would, but there are definitely some lessons to be learned for next time.  What was it that I did though? Not content with trying to slow down fashion and preparing for plastic free July (as well as all my other challenges), I decided that it would be a great idea to throw a zero waste birthday party for my son recently! 

Sustainable gift wrap course
I was like a woman possessed – I wanted to create as little waste as physically possible and if I was a robot I would have been going round saying ‘must reduce waste’, ‘must reduce waste’ in a robotic voice (I am still clearly a little doolally from the whole experience :).
So I bet you are just dying to know how it all went!  Well It wasn’t an entirely zero waste party, but it was very close to it. 
    What ended up in the bin?
    1. From the preparations:
    • the foil cover of a tub of margarine, 
    • a plastic cucumber wrapper, 
    • butter wrappers x2 and 
    • plastic around a golden syrup tin lid. 
    I recycled tins, plastic food bags (from the popping corn and raisins) and paper bags (from flour and sugar)
    2. During the party and at the venue:
    • A few sweet wrappers
    • Some wrapping paper from the lucky dip (which I did instead of going home bags)
    • One or two disposable plastic cups
    3. After the party:

    A little bit of plastic packaging from some of the gifts and a sweet wrapper that came home from the lucky dip as pictured on the left.

    I recycled some of the wrapping paper, a piece of card I had wrapped around the cake and packaging from the gifts. I composted the food waste as pictured to the right (half eaten food on plates) and although I saved some of the left over food for the next day some did end up in the compost as well.

    Why didn’t I achieve zero waste entirely and what could I improve for next year?

    • I bought margarine for the cheese sandwiches.  I could have used butter instead, but decided margarine would be easier to spread.  I should have used butter (with a paper wrapper – see below) and just taken it out of the fridge in advance.
    • I bought Rachel’s organic unsalted butter and was peturbed to find that when I soaked it to try and separate out the layers that it had two plastic layers, a foil layer and a paper layer (if not more). Another type of butter I bought (not organic) just had a paper wrapper, which if I couldn’t recycle I could put on my compost heap. 
    • I could have avoided wrapped cucumbers by either going to the food market in Lewes on Fridays, but that would have created other problems or I might have been able to get unwrapped cucumbers if I was doing a veg box scheme (need to look into this more)
    • I need to write to the golden syrup people to ask them to remove the plastic from the tin – maybe they could use a sticker or something instead (a plastic free sticker)!  I could have substituted golden syrup for local honey, but would have to make sure it didn’t also have a plastic wrapper around the lid.. Plus jar lids have plastic in them, which makes plastic free July tricky and local honey is very expensive!
    • I made too many sandwiches.  I was going to aim for half a sandwich per child, but I did slightly more than that and they ate less than that!  I made two trays of sandwiches and only one tray got eaten.
    • I didn’t think to ask for the wrapping paper back from the lucky dip as I was busy doing something else at the time, but I did get some back. I also gave out two disposable plastic cups to adults wanting drinks (I only had a few left over from previous years parties) and they may have ended up in the bin, but I did ask one person to take them home and recycle them.  Next year I will need to take spare reusable cups!
    Challenges faced.

    The main challenge faced was the time taken. I started preparing food for the party 3 days beforehand and spent around 17 hours preparing for it!
    • It meant that the nearer it got to the party the snappier I became with my family and the less time and attention I had spare for them.
    • One evening I got a takeaway because I ran out of time to make dinner.  Usually I have a plan to cover myself for this – see here and I could have avoided getting a takeaway if I had been a bit more organised but I didn’t manage it that day.  I decided it would be ridiculous to put all that effort into a zero waste party and then because I was so busy get a takeaway full of packaging that would need to be chucked.  I took an insulated bag and a couple of containers and went and got an almost zero waste take away from the fish and chip shop.  The lady in the shop put a piece of paper in the bottom of one of my containers.  I find that I have to continually remind people in some places not to add any packaging to my food!
    • In general I spent less time on dinner all week and we had some very basic meals because I was so busy.
    • I spent quite a bit of time clearing stuff up from the party at home afterwards, but I did it at my leisure and I felt it was worthwhile.
    I also had hardly any time to talk to anyone at the party, but that may have happened anyway as it was a short party and the only extra job I had over and above any other self catered party was to wash up cups.
    Would I do it again and was it worth it?
    I did already answer part of that question at the top – yes I would do it again. I still have the challenge of reducing my waste more and I want to beat my current record 🙂  I think it was worth it, because I did enjoy making the food. I liked being in control of the ingredients and it was very satisfying how little waste went in the bin.  
    Next time though I will get really organised with dinners in advance so I don’t need to think about them and I will start as early as possible to keep stress levels (and snappiness) to a minimum.  There were also a few things that I committed to do during the week before the party not thinking about how busy I would be, so next time I am going to keep the week before the party clear of other plans!

    I did wonder though if I found it hard work and a bit of a struggle to do a zero waste kids party, when a) I had more spare time than a lot of parents do especially if they work or have younger kids and b) I am really focussed on it, what would need to happen to make zero waste parties become mainstream? I have a few ideas, but am interested to hear if anyone has any suggestions? How can we change things?

    I am currently undertaking a Year of Eco Challenges . If you have a moment I would really appreciate it if you would consider sponsoring me with an action (no money involved) on my DoNation page. Also if you liked this post please click like on Facebook and follow on Twitter – thanks so much!


    1. Very impressive Zoe!

      It amazes me how even with adult parties people generate so much waste (maybe even more than kids ones) with silly plastic decorations and other bells and whisltes. I may sound like a bit of a boring old grump but it's so pointless?!?!!

      And if you really want some decorations why not make them yourself out of (or even buy) recyclable materials.

    2. Zoe

      I totally agree – there is no need for the waste and it isn't that tricky to buy or make reusable decorations and even to embellish them so they look slightly different each time they are used to fit the occasion (e.g. an age could be temporarily added on to a birthday banner each year or a favourite kids character could be pinned on etc).

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