Ok prepare yourself. Parties are probably one of the most contentious areas if you are trying to cut down your reliance on single use and it can make you really really unpopular if you aren’t careful. Parties can be rife with single use plastic items and a truly plastic free party is rare.
Balloons. Confetti. Balloons. Banners. Balloons. Party poppers. Balloons. Prepackaged dips and other food in plastic wrap. Balloons. Plastic cutlery. Plastic cups. BALLOONS.
And balloons come in all shapes and sizes. There are helium balloons made of plastic foil, balloons filled with plastic confetti and bog standard, single use plastic balloons.
One of the reasons party plastic is so contentious is that, in lots of cases, parties are organised for someone else, and the organiser wants to meet or exceed expectations. I am certainly guilty of organising events for friends and feeling I had to buy ridiculous single use items because I thought that is what they would want. This is particularly a problem for, dare I say it, hen dos! *Silly* straws, hats, sashes, balloons, banners, posters, masks and so on. Almost all to be used once and then thrown away.
So how do you move to more plastic free parties and encourage others to too? Well I suspect walking in and immediately pointing out all the single use plastic and ranting about it isn’t going to help. Neither is shaming the organiser, who has probably put a lot of well intentioned thought and effort into the party. Here are some of our tips and suggestions for alternatives.
The first area to work on is the catering. This might be difficult to address as it will depend on what sort of catering is planned. If you are employing someone to cater the event you can speak to them about the disposable plastic items which they might provide as standard. Maybe suggest you will provide reusables (rope in guests to bring plates, cups, cutlery, etc.) or ask the caterer to try to find a more sustainable solution, ideally their own reusable items. If it is a self catered gig that is a bit tricky. I find, no matter what you say to guests regarding party food, someone will bring packets of crisps and prepacked dip. Ahhh. This is really difficult to avoid and you don’t want to seem ungrateful.
The best you can probably do is let everyone know very clearly in advance that you would be grateful if they could all bring a culinary contribution but that it must be packaging free. One way to get around this is to ask everyone to bring something home made. This is a really nice way to do it as everything is a bit more personal and you won’t get anything in plastic. But you might end up with a whole lot of potato salad 😉
Next up, we are fortunate to live in a time when the awareness of the problem of plastic is pretty widespread (15 BBC articles on plastic pollution in the last month alone! You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard about it). It may be that the party plastic problem is arising primarily from a lack of communication. So, if you are an organiser, make sure to avoid the single use plastic as your friend might not want them anyway. If you are having an event organised for you, try speaking to your friends or family who are putting their time and effort into planning and make sure they know you don’t want the unnecessary single use items. Once they know they aren’t going to disappoint you if there is an absence of confetti, they will probably be relieved. Several less things to think about in the long list of party planning.
Plastic free alternatives
It’s all very well getting rid of all those balloons and banners but will it feel like a party without any decoration at all? Well that depends on the venue. Some are inherently very very pretty and don’t need much, if any decoration. Some, on the other hand, aren’t. So here is the challenge. What alternative decorations are there to the plastic products? Here are some of my favourites, what you choose will depend on your budget and time constraints but hopefully you will find something useful here.
• I have been to many beautiful weddings, many of which have an abundance of flowers. These natural decorations make an absolutely gorgeous addition to any event. They aren’t often thought of for anything other than weddings as they can be expensive but if you find a local florist and ask for local flowers, you might be surprised at how cheap it is. And you would be supporting a local business and keeping your carbon footprint down too. Bonus.
• Another wedding example here but one which has really stuck with me. This one was in a community hall and the bride (with some help, although possibly not from the groom?) had spent hours making fantastic paper pompoms out of tissue paper and these were hung in garlands, rows and ribbons all around the hall. It was very impressive and gave the hall a really magical feeling. Tissue paper can be made into a whole range of weird and wonderful creations and the colours can be chosen to match your specific event.
• Bunting. I couldn’t not mention it. Bunting seems to have taken off in popularity in recent years, probably in connection with vintage/retro/rustic style dos. It is pretty easy to make, much easier to buy, and even easier (and cheaper) to borrow. I have been to at least three events where I know for a fact the same bunting was used. The bunting owner was quite happy to lend it out so it is worth asking around to see if someone you know already has some you can borrow.
• Fairy lights aren’t just for Christmas. These twinkly little beauties can turn a boring square space into a magical grotto any time of the year. As with the bunting, if you don’t have any, or even if you just don’t have enough for your event, ask around and I’m sure you will find plenty of people willing to lend you a set or two.
• If your party absolutely MUST have confetti then do try to get a paper or biodegradable type. And when I say biodegradable I mean something like rose petals, not some pseudo-biodegradable plastic like product. Make sure you check.
Hopefully that has provided enough inspiration to steer clear of balloons and other unnecessary single use party plastic.
What party plastic are you struggling with? Let us know and we can try to think up some alternatives together.