“Junk.” “Just garbage.” “Landfill—all of it!” These are just some of the DMs that flooded my messages when I posted about my hatred of goody bags on Instagram. There were a few moms who made an exception for a thoughtfully curated sack, but the overwhelming majority agreed: Goody bags are a huge waste.
Lately, it feels like my home has been invaded. There’s a giant Ziploc of sugary candy in my kitchen cabinet. My family’s office supply drawer overflows with cheap novelty pencils, erasers, and mini packs of crayons. Down at the bottom of my son’s toy bins you’ll find tiny, crappy plastic toys — all of them broken or missing pieces. Amazingly almost all of this has arrived in our house since school started in September — and my son hasn’t been to a single party!
I’ve never been a fan of the goody bag. For each of my son’s birthdays, I’ve studiously sought out take-home treats that gave me less eco-guilt (a paper sack of marshmallows, homemade wooden bead necklaces). That may make me snobby, annoying, and joykilling, but the wastefulness of the usual party favor bag just drives me up the wall. Almost everything my son brings home from parties is immediately destined to end up in a landfill. It’s a waste of material and, frankly, a poor use of the parents’ money. Until this year, I just threw my hands up and sighed.
But the 2020-21 school year has me newly frustrated. Last year, our school called for a hiatus on classroom celebrations due to coronavirus concerns. I know the kids missed the cupcakes and it felt silly to forbid a treat when the kids were all taking their masks off to eat meals, but I was relieved to avoid the little favors that often came home from these class parties.
This year, the party ban has been lifted at school, and with it has come an avalanche of garbage. The first parent to break the seal was tentative in their birthday offering: donuts for the class on the child’s big day. But by the second class birthday, someone, perhaps in a moment of genuine generosity or pent-up enthusiasm from the year before, decided that goody bags were in order. Since then, not a birthday passes without a plastic bag coming home filled with, well, junk: Tiny containers of slime, those sticky hands that immediately get covered in bits of dirt, and “useful” plastic bookmarks.
My son is already talking about what he’d like to give his classmates for Valentines’ Day, and his dreams are extravagant. I’m not a total scrooge: We’ll participate in the class card exchange, and I’m not above a piece of candy tucked into the envelope, but there will not be any favors with our cards. I am deeply dreading the doo-dads he’ll bring home.
Could we all collectively say, “Enough!”? It’s 2022 and most people can see we are in a true climate emergency. As birthday parties and classroom celebrations return, I’m pleading with my fellow parents to stop buying the cheap, disposable playthings that offer mere minutes of joy. This behavior encourages kids to embrace our throwaway culture; it promotes mindless consumption.
It’s also a vicious cycle: Once one kid has distributed goody bags, the other kids want to give them out too. Each one seems more extravagant than the last. And please, don’t just replace the plastic junk with “green” alternatives, which are inevitably pricier: That packet of seeds or the natural beeswax crayons are still a waste of money and resources. So, who’s with me? Could we end the party favor madness; if not at home, at least in our children’s classrooms? Give them all the candy and cupcakes, but no more junk.
One last suggestion: If, like me, you have a mounting pile of these tiny plastic playthings, my friend Jodi Levine gave me a brilliant idea of what to do with them. Save the favors your child receives throughout the year and use them to stuff a piñata for your own child’s birthday. At least then, we’ll be giving those garbage-y toys a second life. Surely we have enough in circulation to last until our kids forget this wasteful tradition?
LAURA FENTON is the author of The Little Book of Living Small and a small space and sustainable living expert. She lives with her husband and their son in Jackson Heights, Queens, in New York City. You can find her on Instagram @laura.alice.fenton.
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