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  • Ushma Agrawal

A rant against plastic birthday party favors

Updated: May 1, 2021

I am going to have a little rant about plastic birthday party favors. Not that they are an issue these days because due to the pandemic, there haven't been any birthday parties. However, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with regards to the pandemic and I fear that everything will go back to "normal." One thing I hope does not go back to normal is the distribution of plastic birthday party favors that I still manage to find in my home years and years after my kids received them.



Growing up in the 80's in the UK, when I went to a birthday party, I took a present for the birthday girl/boy and had fun playing games like pass-the-parcel or musical statues. In return, I got sandwiches, crisps (British-speak for chips), and cake or ice cream. There were no "party favors". However, someone somewhere decided that on top of hosting a party, having "entertainment", and putting on a spread of food, we also had to give "favors" back to the attendees.


It's a nice thought, but honestly, I feel like everyone buys favors because they have to and the majority of kids' plastic birthday party favors consist of junk. It's bad for the environment, bad for the wallet, and bad for the parents who have to hunt down the "glow in the dark" ring, that their kid loved wearing for all of 40 minutes and now must throw it away or else their house will continue to become a graveyard of random plastic novelties. I swear, we have at least 20 bouncy balls in my house. I have never purchased any bouncy balls for the kids - ever - because they bounce it for all of 30 seconds and get bored. However, just mention throwing them away and all hell breaks loose! It's suddenly their most favorite toy in the world!


Most parents I know throw these items away when the kids aren't paying attention and they are rarely missed. Think of the time and money that went into buying them and the guilt associated with throwing them away so easily - so much waste! That's not to say I am some kind of saint who has never given out bags and bags of junky plastic favors. I have totally given in to the societal norms of handing out junk just to check it off the list and see the excited kids' faces when they open up their goodie bags. However, now my kids are getting older, their birthday parties (before the pandemic) usually consist of an activity or craft, that becomes the favor so there is no need to buy extra "stuff."


Here are some birthday activities (and subsequent favor) that my kids have had lots of fun participating in:

  • Tie-dye t-shirts or beach towels

  • Pinecone birdseed feeder

  • Reusable tote bag/drawstring bag decoration

  • Paint a mini birdhouse

  • Terracota planter - allowing the kids to plant their own flowers

  • Follow the instructor and paint a canvas


Now that the whole world has experienced the pandemic, household economics may have changed in many families as a result of job loss, fear of job loss, reduced hours, pay cuts etc. I hope one thing we can do away with when birthday parties are back in full force is giving out plastic birthday party favors. The world doesn't need more plastic junk in it and the kids bore of it all so quickly. From an organizer's perspective, that snap bracelet, spinning top, and whistle are just waiting to be "decluttered".


Still want to hand something out to thank your birthday party attendees? Here are some more sustainable or at the very least, interactive ideas for the kids:


  • A mini plant - it could be something the child can put in their own room and care for themselves.

  • Seeds in a mini pot so the kids can grow the plant themselves

  • Little Golden books - nurture that love of reading

  • Kites - Five Below usually has kites on sale in the spring time. The dollar store also has Muti-pack deals. Give the kids an excuse to be outside in the fresh air.

  • Baskin Robins gift cards - the denominations can be as low as $2

  • A pack of cards - that's hours of fun that you can keep for years to come

  • Organic bath bombs - to help the kids relax at home after the party

  • Character or fuzzy socks - something that is practical and reusable

  • Origami paper and instructions to make something from it - give kids the feeling of satisfaction having built something themselves

  • Homemade sweet treats - cake pops or cookies (allergies to be considered)

  • Sidewalk chalk - so they can be outside and be creative

  • Hair accessories like headbands or scrunchies

  • Jump rope - if its long enough, us parents can also use this is part of our exercise routine


If the kids bore of plastic favors so quickly; the parents waste time and money buying them; and they end up in a landfill ASAP, why can't society as a whole, decide not to buy them anymore? Honestly, I'd rather my child receive a nice "thank you" and a high-five instead of a bag full of plastic that I have to round up and throw away, whilst feeling guilty for the buyer and the environment. Also, it adds to the clutter of your home, which can be a real source of stress. We have all spent much more time in our homes in the last year than ever before and clutter seems to have become magnified. I know many people who have decluttered and/or reorganized (or at least started to) in an effort to reduce the chaos and achieve more function. Buying less - for ourselves and others - is a good way approach this.

So, who's with me on this idea of dropping plastic birthday party favors?

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