Goody Bags: Why Do We Keep Giving Them Despite Their Environmental Footprint?

Alternative goody bags: metal reusable pails with brightly colored containers of playdough and kinetic sand.

Open my son’s drawer of toys and at the very bottom, you’ll find fistfuls of whistles, bracelets, keychains, and small plastic figurines that we’ve collected over the years from goody bags given away at birthday parties. They’re branded with Paw Patrol, Hot Wheel, Shimmer & Shine, and a bunch of other Nickelodeon characters that have come and gone over the years. My son doesn’t play with them, they’re seldom recyclable because they have different materials and they’re not toys that can be sold or even given away.

According to recent estimates, 70% of the world’s toys are manufactured in China. This means that in addition to the environmental footprint of the petroleum-based plastic, we are dealing with the environmental impact of the toy’s transportation from China to your local store. To make matters worse, we are putting the burden of making these toys on people working under circumstances that may be far from ideal due to China’s inadequate labor laws.

My son loves receiving goody-bags. But that joy is quite short-lived: on the car ride home he goes through the bag, begs to eat the candy, and if we’re lucky, he’ll play with a few of the items for 1-2 days. But that’s it. Every time we empty the drawer of toys to give things away or hand them down, the plastic little items just end up getting thrown back into the drawer. Needless to say, I’m not a fan.

I know I’m not alone in this sentiment. An article in Parents’ magazine highlights that only 49% of respondents to their poll favor keeping goody-bags or party favors. I understand why we give away goody-bag and it is for these reasons that I have continued to give them out: it’s an opportunity for your child to reciprocate the generosity that they’ve been shown, it can serve as a reminder of a great day spent together, and there’s also the social pressure of not wanting to be “that parent who doesn’t give goody-bags”.

For the record: I’m that parent who can’t get her act together to send out thank you cards. My goal here isn’t to put down parents who generously give party favors. Neither am I advocating that we should shatter our children’s hearts if they really want to give a particular item to their friends. But if your child is like mine and doesn’t have very strong feelings about what goes in the goody-bag, then perhaps we should consider gifts that have a lower environmental footprint and won’t outlive us all as they fail to degrade in the city dump.


Here are some suggestions that I gathered from various sources and my own experience. Remember to use paper bags, reuseable bags, or better yet, no bags!!

  • Small paper book or coloring book
  • Cardboard pot with a packet of seeds
  • Arts/crafts made at the party.
    • Again, this requires a certain level of planning and artistic ability. For my son’s 4th birthday, the kids all painted their own wooden picture frames. As part of my grandiose plan, I took lots of pictures during the party. I was going to print some out for the frames and send them together with the thank you cards. You can guess what happened…
    • For my son’s sixth birthday, I finally got my act together: we had cookie decorating as one of the activities, and the children got to take their creations home.
  • Coupon or gift certificate to a zoo, restaurant, ice cream parlor, museum, etc. Many places offer discounts if you buy multiples but this can still end up being pretty pricey.
  • Arts/crafts materials
  • Your child’s favorite candy.
    • If you’re the creative type, you can make a label with your child’s name on it. One party we went to had even customized the ingredient’s list to the child’s personality (50gr of joy, 100% daily dose of energy, etc).
    • If you or your kid is a baker, you can try baking cookies/treats in advance and bundling them up in small paper packages.

If you have any additional ideas, feel free to share them on our Facebook page. For additional ideas on how to curb our consumption of cheap plastics, please see this post.


If you want to go the extra mile and have an entirely “green” party, here are some websites with suggestions:

Image of alternative goody bags by patchattack via Flickr.