Fun eco-friendly alternatives to balloons
A party isn’t a party without some decorations (well, and a cake!).
At the top of the decoration list is usually balloons which have become synonymous with parties. However, there are problems with balloons.
Many of the party kits on our network offer reusable decorations as alternatives to balloons. Read on for our suggestions for making parties a little more sustainable without spoiling the fun!
The problem with balloons
Balloons have become a pretty standard party affair and many of us will have happy childhood memories of chasing a balloon. However there’s an ugly side to balloons that many of us aren’t aware of.
Unfortunately wildlife often mistake balloon litter for food. After ingesting a balloon it can cause blockages in the animal's digestive system from which they will likely die. This is common in seabirds, turtles and dolphins but also terrestrial animals like cows. Animals may become entangled in balloon debris and string.
The balloons that cause harm are the ones that have ended up as litter in our environment. These can be balloons deliberately released or ones we may have carefully put in the bin but escaped due to poor waste management. There can be no guarantee that they won’t become an appealing lunch to an animal and balloon marine litter is growing .
Latex balloons can be advertised as biodegradable as they are made of a natural material. While they may eventually break down, this could take up to four years .
For the facts about balloons visit Balloonsblow.org
Finding eco-friendly alternatives to balloons
Balloons are normally single-use so even if they don’t become litter and a danger to wildlife, they still generate waste, which we are very passionate about avoiding!
Here are some great ideas to replace balloons at your next party…
Bunting is by far the most popular reusable decoration you will find in a party kit. It comes in many different types and can even be themed. Bunting is a pretty durable decoration and can be used year after year.
Make your own bunting from scrap fabric or for themed bunting use an old printed duvet cover - these can be found in charity shops and on Facebook Marketplace and eBay.
But if sewing isn’t your thing, there are loads of no-sew options. Bunting can be made from old t-shirts, felt, ribbons, rag-tie or even old birthday cards.
Or buy or hire bunting from:
Indie Kate: https://www.facebook.com/IndieKateUpcycled/
Rebel Bunting: https://www.rebelbunting.com/
Bunting by Jen: https://www.buntingbyjen.co.uk/
In addition to bunting there are lots of other things which can be used to make garlands.
A simple garland can be made from a string of pom-poms or paper tassels, which are really fun and easy to coordinate with a theme’s colours. Pom-poms are easy to make from balls of yarn. Ask friends and family for donations or even unravel an old jumper.
Felt shapes or felt bobbles are also a great way to make a garland which can be used again and again.
Paper decorations are not as sturdy as bunting and garlands but if you’re careful these decorations can be reused for many parties. Here’s our favourites…
Paper Honeycomb & Pom-Poms Balls
Paper honeycomb balls and pom-poms are the most delicate of the paper decorations but do look amazing. These work well with bunting and are the most balloon-like decorations.
It is possible to make your own honeycomb balls from tissue paper and glue, but be warned it is pretty labour intensive! Making your own tissue paper pom-poms is much quicker and they look really effective; you will need 10-20 sheets of tissue paper or magazine, scissors and some string or ribbon.
Make your own honeycomb ball https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWsEVvSCCU0
Make your own paper pom poms https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7hPbdCYEYM
Aren’t these colours amazing?! Paper fans come in all sizes and colours and it’s fairly easy to make your own from coloured paper, tissue paper or even newspaper dyed with a bit of food colouring.
Paper fans fold away for easy storage making them much easier to keep for a future party than a tissue paper pom-pom.
You do have to be careful not to tear the fans along the folds and, in our experience, they don’t hold up well on windy days but they are our favourite of all the paper decorations.
Paper chains may seem a bit retro but they are easy to make. They are a great way to reuse what you already have (so very low cost!) and look great. Make your own from newspaper, magazines or even the kid’s drawings. Cut the paper into strips, fold into a ring and glue or tape. Then loop the next strip through the previous chain and secure, repeating until the chain is long enough.
Similar to paper fans, these paper stars fold down making them easy to store for the next party, and made from card, they are a bit more durable. They are available in a variety of colours and patterns, and have the advantage of adding a bit more depth to your party decorations than paper fans.
The above paper star is from Plastic Free Party Bags. Save 10% using the code ‘partykitnetwork’.
Or make your own star decorations from loo roll inner tubes. Cut a loo roll into six rings and then stick together with tape or glue. These can then be painted to fit your theme. The above star was made using 5 loo roll tubes. Hang with a bit of string or ribbon.
More design ideas for making decorations from loo roll inner tubes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FM-OaZf4uuo
Crepe paper streamers are also possibly a bit retro, but fully biodegradable. Like honeycomb balls, they are quite delicate but if you spend a bit of time carefully rolling up after the party they can be used again. They could also be reused to wrap presents or even as a padding inside a box, if they are beyond a reuse state as decorations.
Paper lanterns are made from a bamboo or metal frame with a paper share. Like paper pom-poms, the ball shape offers a decoration close to balloons. They also fold down so are fairly easy to store and reuse.
Paper pinwheel spinners are a great make-you-own party decoration. You just need some paper, some glue, scissors, drawing pin and a wooden batten or stick.
How to make your own pinwheels: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0Rugzrpgv8
Or for pinwheels which are safer for younger children, there’s a guide for making pinwheels without sharp pins here: https://rufflesandrainboots.com/toddler-safe-pinwheel-tutorial/
Japanese Paper Balloons
For eco-friendly balloons which you still inflate, traditional Japanese paper balloons can be reused and are both colourful and fun. You can get them in a variety of shapes and colours, including lots of different animal shapes.
Feeling creative? Origami is a great way to add to the theme of your party. Origami shapes can be used as table decorations or made into garlands.
Have a look on YouTube - there are loads of origami how-to videos for all sorts of animals and shapes. Use scrap paper or the kids drawings for an even more sustainable decoration.
This is another one for the more crafty, shapes from painted papier-mâché can really bring a theme alive.
You just need strips of old newspaper which you stick together with a solution made from equal parts water and flour. Create your masterpiece and allow it to fully dry before painting or covering in décopatch.
Streamers are usually made from paper, but how about making some from ribbon? These can easily be reused year after year; or even repurposed for wrapping gifts when you are done with them.
Fairy lights aren’t just for Christmas! Adding a string of fairy lights is a quick way to bring some sparkle to your party. For more sustainable fairy lights use LED lights or solar powered, but the best option is to use what you already have or to borrow from a friend.
Party hats have got a reusable make-over. Check out these reusable reversible celebration crown from PuchiTreasures
More Creative Ideas from Do Loop
Party Kit Network member, Adél is the founder of Do Loop which offers themed reusable decorations for hire via post. They have some great ideas for decorations which are both impactful and reusable.
Dinosaur theme using reusable decorations. Photos: Do Loop
The decorations available for hire include toys, vinyl cut outs, light boxes, felt bunting and banners, LED candles and even a real knights helmet to complete the look for a knights and dragons themed party!
If you’ve been inspired to have a go at making your own decorations, there’s a treasure trove of scrapstores across the UK which provide access to scrap fabrics and more. Find your local scrapstore at Reusefuluk.org
Or for more ways to repurpose scrap materials for your party take a look at this blog post by network member, Katie.
Are we spoiling the fun?
There are lots of ways to decorate a party without balloons; it really is possible to protect wildlife and still have a colourful fun-filled party. But are we spoiling the fun?
To recreate the fun of bouncing a balloon or classic party games which require a balloon, why not use an inflatable beach ball instead? These can be used again and again, and at end-of-life can by reused by Wyatt & Jack who upcycle inflatables into fab bags.
Contact your local party kit to find out which reusable decorations they can offer. Find your local party kit