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As the war on plastic gains momentum, many more of us are searching for ways we can cut down on single-use plastic.
I’ve written about 20 Zero-Waste Snacks for Children, and more widely about ethical decision-making as a family in I Want to Save the Planet…But I’m Late for the School Run. Guest-blogger Joanne shared ways of parenting sustainably for new parents.
But one of my concerns is the amount of plastic tat we end up giving out in our kids’ party bags. It’s not technically ‘single-use’, but its shelf-life is so small that it might as well be. With four kids all having September birthdays, my mission this summer is to find alternative party bag ideas to the usual plastic tat and numerous plastic-wrapped sweets!
Yeah, I’ve read all the ideas about giving a book instead, or a seed in a pot, and while these are absolute magic as far as I’m concerned, I’m afraid my kids are lagging behind on the Yummy Mummy front: the more I enthuse about what a lovely gift that is, the more they stamp their feet and insist upon a Bag of Tat instead.
What happens to it all? It’s either lovingly played with for each of the nine minutes of its lifespan, or else it’s put in our Small Things Basket (planned originally as a clever toy-tidying tack, this has now become the bane of my life) to be lost forever in a sea of finger monsters and plastic pots of putty so tiny that an ant would struggle to get in there.
Surely there must be a way to provide the much-loved Bag of Small Items without using plastic?
It stands to reason that we can switch the plastic bag for a paper one very easily (with the added bonus that they can be customised to the party theme, and any unused bags can be used for a different party). I tend to use either these brown paper bags or white bags – and these colourful ones are fun when you have a specific colour scheme for the party.
But what about the contents?
Eco Party Bag Ideas
It gives me great pleasure to present to you a list of 50 alternative party bag ideas which aren’t made of plastic – ta-dah!
A short explanation on pricing: all of the following items work out as £2 or less EACH (at time of writing), although you’ll see that many of them are bought in packs, therefore the cost is higher.
I’ve refused to go above £2 per single item, because if you’re putting together a bagful of stuff, you really don’t want individual items costing more than that.
And although £2 sounds like a lot to spend on one item, I would always match one item of this value with several other much-cheaper items, creating an overall cost of, say, £3 ish per bag. Obviously everyone has a different budget, so just ditch the £2 ideas if you want, or include more if that’s your thing.
I’ve also tried to avoid ideas which use plastic packaging. This hasn’t always been possible, and I’ve mentioned it if this is the case.
On a similar note, I can’t guarantee that items ordered online won’t arrive in some plastic packaging.
Right, now that’s out of the way, let’s get on with the show:
Wooden party bag fillers
We often think of wooden toys as expensive, but here are a few which fall into the £2-or-less category:
1. Coloured pencils – these colouring pencils come in a cardboard packet, so are perfect if you’re looking to avoid plastic! You get six little packs, so they’re a great choice when making multiple party bags. You can also get similar from Baker Ross. (NB Because Baker Ross specialises in cheap bulk-buys, their products often come grouped together in a plastic bag – but this will be several items within one bag, so isn’t as bad as it could be! This goes for any BR product listed below.)
2. Scentos scented pencils – something a little different, just £4 for 12, but could easily be split up.
3. 12 dual-sided crayola pencils – £4.24 for 12 – again, they’re fun enough to split up without kids feeling hard done by!
4. Wooden toy – their stock is constantly changing, so I don’t have a link to share, but when I went into Poundland I discovered both a wooden toy clock and wooden abacus, each for £2 – worth checking what they have!
5. Boxes – various styles and sizes, these could be personalised for each child or even decorated by the children as a party activity – which kid doesn’t like a small box to store their small tat, eh? The Works has a great selection.
7. Charcoal pencils – £3.90 for 30, you could split these up. They’d make a great gift for an older child, or an arty party.
8. Fun clothes pegs – £3.99 for 18 – divide up!
9. Bamboo toothbrushes – £6.96 for 5 – and maybe you’ll even convert the families of the children who bring these home from your child’s party!
10. Dice – £3.99 for 10. Bargain. Who’s never lost a dice and needed a replacement? A very useful little party bag item.
11. Jitter bug pencil sharpeners – £1.29 each. I love these so much that I’m recommending them even though I’m not an affiliate!
12. Pencil box – £4.95 for 4. Another useful gift, which could be personalised in advance or decorated by kids during the party. Also: pirate ships, coasters, dinosaurs, jigsaws and many more wooden items available from Baker Ross! (I LOVE Baker Ross for parties!)
Paper/card party bag fillers
13. A5 rainbow pad – just 75p from Wilko.
14. Card games – £1 for 4 – plastic-wrapped, but at least you get four items per bag.
15. Playing cards – £1 – great gift for an older child (why not print out the rules of Solitaire and include them too?).
16. Activity packs – £4 for 4 – with various themes like Disney Princess, Spiderman and so on, each containing a pencil, notepad, sticker box and sticker sheet – that’s a lot of non-plastic for the one plastic packet they fill.
17. Scrapbook papers – £1 – I found small packs of these in both The Works and Poundland, but as both shops change stock regularly and therefore don’t have these items online, it’d be worth you having a browse in person.
18. Board books – check out The Works and pound shops for cheap, small board books which would fit nicely into a young child’s party bag.
19. Fiction books – for older kids, try the Horrible Histories books (£20 for 20) or Captain Underpants (£10 for 10) – both at The Works. Update: the Horrible Histories are now sold out at The Works but are available elsewhere for the same price. And The Works will change their stock regularly, so keep an eye out for other deals!
20. Jigsaw puzzle – many come wrapped in plastic, but these Trefl mini 54 piece puzzles are plastic-free! On Amazon you can buy four for £6.99 – however, I found them in The Works for just £1 each!
21. Washi tape – £4.99 for 10 – a gorgeous addition for any child who enjoys craft.
22. Paper dolls – £2 from Flying Tiger. They don’t sell online, so check here to see if you have a store near you.
23. Activity book – £2 – also Flying Tiger, but too beautiful not to include here, even if you do have to get off your backside to go and find an Actual Store!
24. Novelty note pads – various prices, depending on theme, but most work out around 25p each.
25. Stripy paper straws – £3 for 100 – in cardboard box so no plastic! They’re from Morrison’s, so add them to your grocery shop and put a few in each bag.
26. Mini colouring books – £3.95 for 16. Bargain!
Fabric party bag fillers
27. Ribbons – various prices – seasonal ones are often massively reduced. Send your child’s friends home with some useful craft ribbon!
28. DIY pencil case/cosmetic case – £12.99 for 10 – repurpose according to the age of the child who’s receiving it! These could be personalised in advance or decorated at the party. The case is canvas, with a zip made of metal, not plastic – BOOM!
29. Puppets – £1. I found some in Poundland, so I can’t provide a link as their stock changes regularly – but, again, do go in and have a rummage. These would make lovely gifts for small kids!
30. Soft toys – £1 – also from Poundland, see above!
31. Deck chair – £2 from Flying Tiger. Give to older kids/teens for their phone, small bits and pieces, or just as an ornament! (Find your nearest store here.)
Party bag fillers made from other materials
32. Chalks – the cheapest I found was 75p for 12. At this price you could give one per child, or split them up.
33. Giant chalks – £3.99 for 8, but they’re absolutely HUGE so one per bag is plenty! And they’re great fun – we’ve used these before for party bags. Sadly, they’re wrapped in plastic, but as before it’s just one packet per 8 ‘gifts’.
34. Seed packets – starting from 25p. Great gift at any time of year, especially when paired with…
35. Terracotta plant pots – £4.95 for 4 (cheaper when ordering 16). Great for decorating!
37. Heart shape slate board – £1 – practical and beautiful!
38. Crayons – £1 for 30 from The Entertainer were the cheapest I found without plastic wrapping, but are clearly a kind of ‘go in and get them’ type deal, as they’re nowhere to be seen online! Plenty of places sell crayons with no plastic packaging though 🙂
39. Excavation kit – £2 from Flying Tiger. This would be amazing for a dinosaur party, or Ancient Egypt theme!
40. Grass in a tin – £2 – again Flying Tiger. When I brought this home, my nearly 10 year old son was enamoured: a tin can with a face on it, containing compost and grass seeds (sadly in a small plastic packet – but it is small). Within a week, our little tin can face had hair! Lots of it! I find it harder to buy party bag gifts for my kids’ friends the older they get, but this one is quirky enough to fit the bill.
41. Metal drinking straws – £5.99 for 8 – a fantastic, and longer-lasting, alternative to a plastic straw.
42. Flying gliders – various prices, according to design. Check Baker Ross’ fantastic array of themes, including colour-in ones!
43. Ceramic tile magnets – £4.95 for 10. Brilliant to decorate and display at home. Baker Ross also do ceramic coasters, tealight holders and money banks – check them out!
Edible party favours
(For more ideas, check out 20 Zero-Waste Snacks for Children.)
44. Bear YoYos- c.45p each. They come in paper packets, in a cardboard box. Perfect! (Sidenote: we’ve always called these YoYo Bears and I’ve literally only just discovered while writing this that they’re actually Bear YoYos! Doh!)
45. Smarties tubes – well done Smarties for ditching your plastic lids 🙂 Check online for wholesale deals to make it cheaper (I spotted £19.99 for 48) and avoid the plastic wrappers which you get if you buy the four-packs.
46. Homemade cookie (or shop-bought in paper bags/fresh from bakery).
47. Cake – in paper bag or greaseproof paper.
48. Box of raisins – a classic party bag filler! (Tip: buy separate small boxes rather than the plastic-wrapped multipacks – there’s usually very little price difference, if any.)
49. ‘Milky Minis’ – the Poundland equivalent of Kinder Bars. Whereas the Kinder Bars are now wrapped in plastic (even though the box is cardboard), the Poundland version is all paper (and cheaper).
50. Candy sticks – £5.95 for 48. I used to love these as a kid!
To explore the wider issues of ethical decision-making within a family, check out I Want to Save the Planet…But I’m Late for the School Run.
Over to you…what are your top party bag fillers which avoid plastic?