My daughter turned five recently. It’s easy to avoid plastic cups and paper plates when you’re partying at home–which is where we fĂȘted her when she was younger–but much harder when celebrating outside the home. Her co-op nursery school requests that all of the kids be invited to all birthday parties. I love this idea in theory but it’s hard to host 15 kids plus their parents plus our other friends and family in a New York City apartment. This many people don’t fit into our place! So this year we decided to invite her classmates to a concert at a venue where her father programs music. It was so fun.

Less fun? Organizing the food. Which is a bummer; food is normally what I love the most about parties. The venue has a restaurant which is a plus when you’re trying not to toss plastic forks and knives and paper plates — we could use their plates and glasses. But the place happens to be kosher, and I wanted everything we served to be organic. I learned pretty quickly that kosher and organic is a tough call. And that if we wanted to serve our own non-kosher birthday cake (the girl’s paternal grandmother used to be a caterer and makes a fabulous 100% organic version with cream cheese frosting and blueberries to spell out ’5′), we couldn’t use their kosher plates.

decorating the cake with blueberries

After much finagling and back and forth we settled on the following:

  • they made us a kosher/organic mac-and-cheese for many, with ingredients we sourced and purchased, so we were able to use their reusable plates and silverware
  • we bought local fruit juice that, prior to this party I had no idea was kosher and were able to use their glasses instead of disposable versions or juice boxes (they were slightly hesitant to give glassware to that many little kids, but it all worked out just fine)
  • our decorations were minimal — two cloth tablecloths the venue had, one sign, and no (plastic) balloons; we decorated each table with local apples from the farmers’ market (also apparently considered kosher), and sliced them up to go with the cake
  • we brought our own cake (and beeswax birthday candles)
  • we asked friends and family to please bring their own plate and fork for cake, and explained why; we also promised to love them and feed them cake if they didn’t bring a plate or a fork, and provided some extras from home for those who didn’t

extra plates, apples, presents

At the end of the day the waste tally was:

  1. wrapping paper from presents (which we will use in collages, I promise)
  2. napkins; I had forgotten to ask the venue about napkins to tell you the truth because my daughter really wanted to use Marimekko paper napkins, sent to her from Finland by relatives on her dad’s side
  3. a few bamboo forks and “biodegradable” paper plates
  4. several juice bottles in the recycling bin

A bonus of the day was that we started the conversation about waste-free parties with 20 plus other families. And no one even made too much fun of me for asking them to BYO plates. All in all, pretty good. And the birthday girl had a blast.

Have you thrown a “waste-free” party before? How did it go over? What was easy or hard about it? I already know where I will improve next year.

reusable plates and Marimekko napkins