It's that time of year again: cake, presents, and goodie-bags...it's Birthday party time! Planning a child's birthday party can be fun and dreadful at the same time. A party is a wonderful way to celebrate the life of your wee little one. However, all the waste that it can create can drive a 'green' parent nuts!
The last party we had for the kids ended in tears (from me, that is). Sure, some of the paper products were recycled in my clearly marked containers.. However most of our reusables ended up in the trash with unwanted cake and dinner tossed in with them. I attempted to dig them out, which was absolutely gross, however I was more frazzled by the thoughtlessness of some of my guests. Hadn't I, ever so nicely, instructed everyone to reuse and recycle properly? And we won't even mention the countless gifts and wrapping and money spent and...well, the list can go on and on.
Okay, so not everyone is 'green' savvy and even the best intentions can end up in a hit-or-miss situation. So what's a green parent to do? I'd like to share with you some, dare I say, fail proof ways to have a green birthday party!
First and foremost, I say make it a combination of a traditional and reinvented green birthday party. You can't expect everyone to jump on board and be amused by your ever-green ways. So let's compromise (or at least that is what it will look like on the surface :))
Invitations: There are tons of cool ways to do invites that will make you smile green. You can simply bi-pass paper all together and use an online invite service or email all of your guests individually. But what about those folks not online. Or worse, those who never read and/or respond to your emails?
Let's look at some paper options. Kids love to be involved in planning and helping out with their parties. So why not collect some paper from around the house and make your own invites out of handmade recycled paper. Paper making is fun and you can really jazz it up and make your invites unique. Another option would be to call everyone and leave a message, maybe telling them to check their email :).
Party Decorations: Streamers and balloons are so old school. Let's think with our green-caps.... For my son's upcoming birthday party, we are going to decorate some old sheets with fabric paints and use them as table cloths and napkins. We can reuse these for all birthday celebrations in the future too. Also, you can cut small streamers from the same fabric and use them as decorations, just simply hang them where they will dance in the breeze. This is a great idea to use in lieu of balloons. They just end up being swallowed by baby turtles. So sad. If you don't have any bed sheets you aren't using, I bet your local fabric store has some festive threads that you can get a yard or two of.
Presents: Oh, the presents. I have to say that this is the part I dread the most. Not only wondering what in the world to buy for someone else's kid and them not liking it, but what will everyone else buy my kids!? Plus, how much stuff do the kids really need? (I know, I'm a buzz kill.)
I don't know about you, but my kids have enough, and there are kids out there that don't. One option would be to host a party where instead of gifts for your kids, guests bring gently used or new toys to donate to a local shelter. Your child can pick which one and then help you make the delivery.
Another idea is to think local and register your child at a local toy store. And I don't mean the big-box corporate toy stores. Ask around, take a drive. We have such a store here and it's filled with special gifts and good quality games and toys you won't find at the big toy store.
You can even ask guests to get your child a book in lieu of a card and write a personal note in the book. What child doesn't love books! Also, you can send your guests home with a book in their goodie-bag. Everyone brings gently used books that they are done with for a new one. Sort of a book-swap party.
Another great idea is to instead ask for 'experience gifts' where someone can get your child a ticket to a show, a pass to a near by aquarium or museum. A camping trip anyone? These experiences will last a lifetime and won't break, make a disaster of the house, are more fun and can involve other members of the family too. Everyone wins :)
My favorite way to deffer gifts is to, instead of gifts, ask guests to bring their kids favorite dish for everyone to share. Not only do you get a great variety of foods, this also cuts down on your own party costs. This brings us to the best part of the party.
The food: Asking guests to bring food is great. If you are going to do it all yourself (for those supermoms and superdads out there) try to have all vegetarian foods so that all table scraps can be readily composted. Visit the farmer's market the week of for some fresh local produce.
If you do have to fire up the grill to satisfy the meat-eaters, buy local. Introduce your guests to some of the unknown local possibilities like local farmers and ranches. Not everyone knows about CSA's and local places where they can get fresh organic veggies and free-range meats.
Dishes and such: I like to use cloth whenever I can. Why cut down a tree to wipe my hands one time and toss? It's insane. Here you can use your reusable birthday bash table cloths and napkins. The washing machine does all the work. It's no big deal, looks great, and feels great too. You'll save money and the trees :) As for dishes and utensils, if you are partying at home, use your own dishes. There are also some great reusable dish sets out there. If you are out and about at your local park for your birthday bash, there are some great compostable alternatives. Potato forks, corn spoons, PCW paper products. Check online or at your local green grocery store.
Goodie-Bags and Games: Last but not least, the goodie-bags. The little bags you give your guests on the way out the door. Filled with tiny junky plastic toys that are not only a chocking hazard, but are cheap, break, and probably have toxic lead paint! Not to mention the candy. Kids + candy...honestly. But you can't not have them. The kids love to have something to go home with. They're kids ;) So let's think outside the bag, shall we.
Kids love crafts. So why not have them make something that they in turn take home, and in a bag that they decorate themselves! Or, better yet, you and your child can decorate some brown paper bags before the party that you can use. For my son's upcoming party, we are going to make some bags and the kids will use them to bring home their handmade bird feeders. Send the kids off to find pine cones., add peanut butter, sprinkle bird seed, and presto! Other ideas could include: Treasure hunts, have them make tie dye t-shirts, set up a paint-a-picture station, show them how to make homemade play dough.
With a little imagination and ingenuity, the possibilities are endless. I hope you enjoy your next birthday party 'green' style. I'm off to get mine underway. Wish me luck!
(this is a reprint from my blog in 2007 as seen at www.livegreensd.com/blog) If you'd like to reprint this blog or any part of it, you must first get my permission. Email me and I'll give it to you! Thanks!)