A perilous party bag?

Filed in Blog by on January 13, 2009 22 Comments
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party bagThe thing about trying to live a zero waste lifestyle is that many things are beyond your control. You can make decisions about the food that you buy and many of the purchases you make, but what comes through the letter box every morning and the things people give you, you have little say in.

This weekend was the first Birthday party of the year. It was Little Miss green’s best friend’s Birthday and they had a wonderful time killing each other at laser tag.Β  Here I must now officially declare that I am an old fart. I didn’t even know what laser tag was – it sounds like the sort of thing I used to play when I worked on a checkout at Sainsburys and we got the modern scanning tills in. Being Mother Hen I was terrified she would come home blind, epileptic, asthmatic or in the back of an ambulance…….

But then I came to my senses, my eyes glazed over as I heard the terms ‘game alias, vesting room (was it a spelling error; did they mean to say ‘resting‘ room?), BLOBs (I thought that was the stuff I cleaned from the cat’s nose each morning) and GEMS (I was transported back to the days of eating iced gems at parties)’ and realised the biggest threat to our lives that day was the evil, killer instincts of the party bag!

Every parent who has to make these bags dreads them and every parent who receives them has an equal amount of trepidation. Why we don’t just all get together and ditch the idea I don’t know. It seems that party bags are now the most sought after part of accepting a Birthday invitation and it’s going to take a lot to change that.

Naturally, LMG came home excitedly swinging her party bag around and couldn’t wait to show us the contents.

She tipped the contents out onto the table with a flourish and we found:

  • Pack of plastic bracelets help together withΒ  black plastic
  • pack of rubbers (erasers for our US friends before you start wondering!) in a cellophane bag with plastic tie
  • Model aeroplane kit in cellophane bag
  • Ladybird paper clip – no packaging
  • Purple fluffy pen – no packaging
  • Individually wrapped boiled sweets

All in all not too bad. I’ve seen far worse, but apart from the rubbers and the sweets, we know that everything will eventually plastic leftovers from party bagend up sweltering in the landfill. It will add a little to our weigh in this week, but it’s hardly going to tip us over the 100gm mark.

I have to say I was really touched by the care and attention our friends gave to Little Miss Green’s party bag. She can’t eat refined sugar, which, when you’re attending a kids party is a bit of a nightmare in our ‘hype-’em-up’ culture. But they had searched high and low to find some sugar free sweets and a sugar free cake to ensure LMG wouldn’t feel the odd one out. After all that effort, am I going to complain about some landfill waste? I don’t think so. What’s a little plastic between friends?

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (22)

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  1. indiebird says:

    It is a hard one and equally applicable to Xmas/ Birthday prezzies that others give/ send…. oh and don’t get me started on the piles of magazines and therefore clutter attached to the fronts that my mother in law insists on sending over each month in the name of love!!! Anyway, I digress! We did once go to a party where no party bags (or game prizes!!) were given and the kids felt it was a crime. However, I was secretly quite happy to be honest, although some mums felt a bit peeved that they had gone to at least a bit of effort and this mum didn’t. I have done party bag style things- one year we went for party mugs with a pencil and a notepad and a keyring for the boys and some hair bobbles for the girls. This seemed a good compromise and most of the parents seemed to think it was a good idea as the cups could actually be used again either as a cup or a pen pot. This was for DS’s 5th birthday and I noticed at xmas that one of his friends had the cup on her desk full of pens and pencils and he was recently 9! Sometimes you just have to think outside the box in order to get round these things and not end up with 15 disapointed kids…. although education is the way forward as far as I am concerned…. and not just for the kids πŸ˜‰

  2. Fluttering Sam says:

    Just de-lurking to tell you about the best party bag that me have ever been graced with. It was a paper-bag, with a packet of sunflower seeds, some hair ribbons, a piece of cake and a nutmeg grater! The nutmeg grater still survives 13 years on. It was treated as an item of great wonder, my 3year old daughter thougt it was the most amazing gift. I wonder how many party-bag-treasures last that long? My now 16yr old daughter says she is taking it with her when she leaves home, I will go into mourning πŸ™‚

  3. Sarah says:

    Love the mug idea!!

  4. Well said Mrs G and Indiebird – On Little J’s birthday last year I bucked the trend for party bags and just gave out a tube of smarties and a balloon. Despite my best intentions I could not avoid ditching the idea altogether, but at least it went back to my old childhood days when kids left a party with a piece of cake and some chocolate. It would be so lovely for us all to say…let’s not do it anymore, but as I’ve discovered some folk love planning their party bags and Indiebird is right, it’s not just about educating the kids. πŸ˜€

  5. Fluttering Sam – what a lovely party bag you described (great that you’ve de-lurked) πŸ˜€

  6. Indiebird says:

    Fluttering Sam -lurking what IS that? lol!! Anyway, I love the sound of that party bag and a nutmeg grater!! My kids would have great fun with that! A pot, some seeds and a dibber…. now that would make a good party ‘pot’ wouldn’t it…

  7. Mrs Green says:

    There are some lovely ideas flying around here. Indiebird – the mug idea is fab and fluttering sam – how lovely to see you here from lurkdom; welcome! I **think** I know who you are πŸ˜‰ The nutmeg grater wins for originality; that’s for sure!

    We did a compromise a couple of years ago which was met with surprisingly good reception. Out of the 9 families, 4 of them commented that they loved the idea. We made (correction, a friend made; I don’t really do sewing) some fabric bags with scraps of materials. We filled them with home made shortbread and a slice of birthday cake. And we attached a note saying that the money we would have spent on party bag contents was sent to charity instead. LMG chose to send it to Africa where 30 kids could enjoy a simple meal. It felt very fitting.

    Last year I managed a ‘zero waste’ party bag – reusable jute drawstring bags with a recycled notebook and pen from the Remarkable range and keyring from Doy (its a women’s co-operative who make things from old juice cartons). It’s the ‘fix’ and ‘hit’ side of things that the kids are after, not longevity **sigh**

  8. Carol says:

    You know, the whole party bag thing still mystifies me. Where did it come from? When I was young there were no party bags, you just went to someone’s party with a gift for them. When did it become required to be gifted in return? I know it started before 1985 which was when my kids/nieces/nephews started going to parties, but how and when? It almost seems like a lure for party attendence. Since it now seems to be part of the hostess obligation, I love the idea of it being consumable or useful as opposed to just another stack of cheap plastic toys invading my house. πŸ™‚

  9. Mrs Green says:

    You and me both, Carol. We were given a slice of Birthday cake in a serviette and that was it. We would also get to take home any prizes we had one during traditional party games. I don’t understand that party bag thing **at all**. The focus is on the Birthday child, surely?
    Hmmm, but now I’ve written that, perhaps it is because not so many children’s parties revolve around party games (which gives people the chance to win something) that party bags are offered as some kind of ‘consolation’. I don’t know – it beats me.

    So far, LMG has said she wants just her best friend over for a picnic this year (It’s a March Birthday LOL!). That will be great and should reduce the amount of obligatory plastic tat no end. It also means I can still do a party bag, but do one of quality rather than having to stretch the budget – I can look forward to that πŸ™‚

  10. Rubbers in a party bag. Sorry. Even though I know what it is, I have to chuckle. Ahem. Okay, seriously now, I DO like party bags. I am not big on bribery, I promise, but this is a little expeption. Without them, at least with little kids, it can be difficult to get the party to end. With them, moms can just say that they can open them in the car and the kids go much more willingly.

    We have had our share of nasty plastic and sugar so now we either refuse the bag or don’t go to parties where plastic is likely. No coincidence that those are the same parties with processed chips and store bought crap cakes and HFCS in everything.

    The last party I held, I gave away cloth mesh drawstring bags with “interesting” things such as sea shells, acorns and glass marbles. The one mainstream mom (my neighbor) certainly struggled with her eyebrows a bit but if she don’t know me by now, she will! The bonus of having a mainstream neighbor is at least our kids won’t be totally Wii deprived! (They can go play over there on occasion.)

    Usually, I put the gifts in paper bags. Sometimes we decorate them. Usually, no time for that. Crayons are a great gift. With a tiny pad, that is really enough!

  11. Carol says:

    Mrs. G – March birthday…brrr. And here is the Seattle area, undoubtedly wet. You can always go for the indoor picnic. I have had very successful tea parties on the family room floor as well as the occassionaly romantic evening. A teddy bear picnic always goes over well. LMG may be getting “too grownup” for that?

    TW, I second your chuckle on that one. I have to say, I never thought of the party bags as an inticement to leave the party. Do you think that would work with adult hangers on at other social occasions? Here’s a nice bottle of Drambui, you can open it when you get home? (Obviously they can’t open it in the car).

  12. Ok, I’m giggling about the rubbers too. :p

    I feel the same way about party bags…I hate those things. They usually have really crappy toys in them that break within two hours.

  13. Lisa (new girl here!) says:

    I too loathe party bags full of plastic tat. My solution is to give every child guest a book, along with a home made personalised book mark. Red House and The Book People have brilliant packs of a wide range of books, often averaging at just Β£1 each, so it’s also far cheaper than the usual tat, while appearing to be very generous indeed. The bookmarks have a poem about reading on one side and slogans like “[name] is reading this book” or “[name] loves reading” on the other side. They don’t take long to knock up on computer and printer at home on coloured card.

  14. Greenlady says:

    I’m in two minds about party bags. On the one hand, they can be a minefield of awful stuff, cost too much money and promote kid greed and adult oneupmanship. On the other, they can be a nice little way of just keeping the party glow going for a little bit longer and making each kid feel special. I guess its down to planning ahead and making sure there are nice, thoughtful and partly home made things involved instead of tacky and ecologically unsound nonsense.

    I made ” party bags ” for my tenants for Christmas this year. I did use cellophane bags – sorry ! I wanted to find little cardboard boxes but couldn’t get what I wanted in time. In each I put a Christmas drinks coaster, home made gingerbread man, a little fabric bag filled with lavender, chocolate coins, a glass pebble inscribed with the word Peace, and a candy cane. They absolutely loved them and it set off a lot of reminscences about what they used to get in their stockings when they were children – I think I will call their bluff and put sugar mice in next year πŸ˜‰

  15. Another Mrs Green says:

    I try really hard not to have the inevitable ‘tat’ in party bags which will end up almost immediately in the bin. I make bath bombs and soaps to go in them (wrapped in foil/ paper if possible) – things which will get used. I have been known to put books in them (bookpeople often do a pack of 10 for Β£10 which can be split up) and hair items – ok, the hair items will ultimately end up in landfill, but can be used (hopefully) for sometime before they do.

    I now put in 2 or 3 things (and cake) from the above rather than fill with a heap of plastic. We have been lucky enough to receive cloth bags from people (handmade and bought) which have been kept. For my daughter’s last birthday we used organza gift bags which the girls probably kept – but could easily be reused. I have also bought gift bags (from supermarkets) and put things in those – they can be reused too (I have a large stash of pre-used ones, but wanted some colour themed ones the year we did this)

    For my eldest son’s birthday this year the ‘goodies’ are being packed in recycled paper mini carrier bags. Now just to figure out the contents…..

  16. Mrs Green says:

    Thinking Woman, I am loving your perspective on the party bag thing; about it being a subconscious cue that it is time to leave. That is really helpful; thanks!

    Carol, I already have a back up plan of an indoor picnic and I seem to have sold the idea as an alternative, should the weather be against us! We have had varying days in past years. On one occasion, we were indeed in short sleeves, and on another year we celebrated with snow. You never can tell! LMG will never be too old for a teddy bears picnic πŸ˜‰

    Well I’m glad the rubbers has caused some humorous moments for you all, Kristen LOL! I’m not even going to begin to tell you the story of how I learned what ‘fanny’ meant in the US πŸ˜€ And it cracks me up that you call trousers, pants……

    Hey Lisa – a warm welcome to you. Your ideas for a party bag sound wonderful; I love that and may well ‘borrow’ it in future years. I think giving a book is a lovely zero waste gift and the book mark makes it special. Thank you so much for sharing that with us πŸ™‚

    Greenlady; I see what you mean about the ‘afterglow’ feeling with a party bag. Your little Christmas offerings sound lovely; I’m not surprised they loved them. Sugar mice for next year would cause a stir!

    Hi Another Mrs Green – good to see you again. The idea of soap and bath bombs is great. I expect they would go down really well with a group of girls. I’m sure decent party bags for boys must be more of a challenge. I guess the notebook and pen idea is unisex. The company Remarkable do some boy black ones! What about one of the doy recycled key fobs I mentioned? Seeds and a mini pot – is that too girly? I’m not very good at boys toys I’m afraid.

  17. Karen says:

    You can get more eco friendly party bags and contents now. I ordered several things for stocking fillers for Christmas from happygreenearth.com – I was very happy with quality and service. I know there are other companies as well.
    But I agree with all the comments above – it was cake in a serviette for me too!!!!

  18. Mrs Green says:

    Hi karen, Thank you for the link. I have used a company called Ethical Party Bags and they were great. Is **is** getting easier to do more eco friendly party bags for those who don’t have time to source the contents themselves. Glad you found a company that was good πŸ™‚

  19. Kris says:

    This is all food for thought. My mini niece has a birthday in May and maybe I can give my sister some advance help.

  20. Maxine says:

    Thanks for subscribing to my blog Rae, I shall be checking back on yours often!!
    Theres some great ideas her for party bags. My daughter’s birthday is looming and i’ve been dreading the idea!! We’re having a themed party and doing crafts (all recyclable) so was hoping just to send the girls home with what they’ve made and some cake. If i’ve got time I’ll be handmaking the party bags. πŸ™‚

  21. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Kris, it would be great if you could inspire your sister – let us know what you come up with.

    Hi Maxine, welcome to the site; I’m loving your blog. I think that having a party like this is a grand idea. For dd’s 4th we painted t-shirts and made biscuits and this, along with a piece of Birthday cake made up their party bag – it was well received. I look forward to following your progress, no doubt you will blog about it πŸ™‚

  22. Fluttering Sam says:

    Yes Mrs Green, you know me πŸ˜‰ I am loving this web-site, I hope it goes from strength to strength.

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