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Children’s birthday party bags are a scourge. Here are some alternatives

It’s hard to know when the practice of party bags took hold, but children are obsessed with them. And so too are parents actually

What are they?

A party bag is a bag of small gifts that many young children have come to expect on leaving a birthday party.

Think a patterned plastic bag containing a toy with tiny components that’s impossible to assemble, a novelty eraser that doesn’t really work, a plastic bubble wand that’s going straight in the bin and more sweets – usually jellies in another plastic bag.

Host a birthday party for any under-10-year-old and as soon as parents arrive for pick-up, expect a pile-on from kids looking for the party bags.

Why do we do it?

It’s hard to know when the practice of party bags took hold, but children are in its grip. Well, it’s the parents actually.


Maybe the idea comes from a good place – a way of thanking guests for attending, or sending them home on a high? Or maybe the makers of useless plastic tat sold us the concept and right now they are thinking: “I wonder what else we can get these crazy people to do?”

Parenting platform Netmums polled its Instagram followers, and 67 per cent of respondents said party bags “cost too much and the stuff gets thrown away”. Some 33 per cent however said party bags were “essential”.

Why should I care?

Party bags can cost about €3 a pop, so €30 for 10 guests. If this has become your practice, you’ll have spent about €150 on this by your child’s 10th birthday.

The disposal of all of this stuff is contributing to the recipient household’s bin charges too. There’s the time – you’ve got to shop for the things and put themin the bags. Then there’s the fact you think party bags are actually completely daft and you are only doing them because everyone does it and you are totally caving to social pressure – what price self-respect?!

It’s just a bit of fun . . .

Is it fun though? And for who, exactly? It’s a bit of hype for kids for about 10 seconds until the bag is cast aside. The single-use plastic bags and bits quickly end up in the bin or the Hoover – that’s if it’s not all lost between the car seats on the way home. What a waste of all that energy spent on production, packaging and transportation.

So why do we do it? Is it parents not wanting to look stingy? Or it could be that we can’t deal with the wrath of a group of partied-out seven-year-olds when we tell them: “There are no party bags. All this plastic is killing the dolphins. The stuff in the bags is crap anyway. Get a grip.”

Oh, that felt good.

What can I do?

  • You could try to go eco.
  • Use recyclable or genuinely useful products instead of plastic.
  • Some people do paper bags with things such as pencils and a paper pad.
  • You could include a packet of seeds, but unless you are going to go to the child’s home to help with planting, an environmental benefit is not assured.
  • It’s still all just more stuff, though. Save yourself time and money and save the planet’s resources by not providing party bags.
  • If you are using a venue and it offers a party bag as part of the package, ask what’s in it. If it’s plastic tat in a plastic bag, you can just say: “No thanks.” Gag the guests with a caramel square as they leave if you must.
  • If a kid asks you or your child: “Where’s my party bag?” a suggested response is: “There isn’t one and the dolphins say ‘Thanks’.”