Kids’ birthday parties often end up being over-the-top celebrations that are bad for the environment and your budget. If you’d like to set a good example and encourage kids to take action on climate change and reduce our carbon footprint, it’s time for a rethink.
Let’s consider your budget too. Instead of organizing a huge blowout for your child’s birthday, tone things down and throw an eco-friendly party instead. It can be equally awesome, but way better for the planet and your pocketbook. Here are some simple ways you can go green for your child’s next birthday bash.
Celebrate your kid’s special day the eco way and opt for a nature-themed party, which you can carry through from the invitations to the cake. Kids love to be outside even in the winter, so host a magical fairy party (wings optional) where kids build fairy houses made of twigs, leaves, and rocks, or have a teddy bear’s picnic where guests bring their favorite teddy and sit on picnic blankets in the backyard. If it’s cold, wet or windy, it’s easy to bring everything indoors with minimum effort.
If you’d prefer someone else to do some of the work, then there are a number of venues offering fabulous eco-friendly and educational parties all year round. At Rye Nature Center, young guests are encouraged to go outside even in winter. Children can warm up around a campfire, track animals in the snow or head indoors to meet resident animals. For kids keen on marine conservation, Norwalk Aquarium has three exciting eco party themes including Shark Safari, where mini party guests get to touch a live shark. The Aquarium also gets a big thumbs-up for eliminating single use plastic.
Save some trees and send virtual party invitations instead of paper ones, which usually end up in the trash anyway. Evite and Paperless Post offer a superb selection of free or premium digital invitations that are easy to customize and much cheaper than cards. It’s easy to track responses and follow up too. If you are fixed on sending physical cards, make sure you get ones that are made from recycled paper.
How many times have you thought, “Ugh! Another pointless plastic toy,” when your child unwraps a birthday present? Instead, create a gift list with a selection of eco-friendly toys and other items and send it out with your digital invitations. Oompa, an online eco-friendly toy provider, is a great source for ideas. If you don’t relish the idea of finding space for a big pile of presents, ask for contributions to your kid’s favorite experiences. These could be tickets to shows or an annual museum pass. Another superb idea is to arrange a book swap. Simply ask each child to wrap a gently used kid’s book from home, which they can exchange for another at the end of the party (this also can double as a party favor). If you’re feeling brave, go the whole hog and forget presents altogether. Instead, ask for donations to your child’s favorite animal charity.
Instead of a room filled with non-recyclable decorations destined for the trash, switch to ones made from recycled paper or other natural materials. You can find an array of possibilities on Etsy. Feeling creative? Then make DIY paper chains, popcorn garlands or colorful bunting made from old fabric. This is something your kids will love doing too. Another option is to buy high quality decorations that you can reuse again and again or pass on to someone else on the party circuit.
Helium balloons are a big no-no. Not only is there a world shortage of helium, but also the balloons often end up landing in water, which can harm marine life. Hang up colorful paper pompoms instead, which are just as pretty and considerably better for the environment.
There’s nothing worse than having to throw out a heap of plastic plates, cutlery, and cups knowing it will end up as landfill or incinerated. Instead you can order compostable party plates and utensils from online vendors such as Eco Party Time. If children are old enough, instead of plastic water bottles and juice boxes, serve drinks in glass mason jars with paper straws. Reusable plastic cups are a better option if you already own them.
You can go eco-friendly with party food too. Replace junk food and preservative-laden sugary treats, which will leave kids running wild and you dealing with the fallout, with homemade organic finger food that’s equally tasty but better for the kids. Delicious ideas include mini egg and bacon tarts, mac and cheese cups, fruit kebabs, carrot and cucumber sticks with ranch dressing and zucchini muffins. When it comes to the cake, opt for a nature theme or an animal design. The leftovers at the end of every kid’s party can be eye-popping. Bear in mind that youngsters are generally too excited to eat a lot and be mindful of how much food you prepare.
Have a few games up your sleeve that don’t need any props, but will delight the little ones. A nature scavenger hunt in the garden will keep kids of all ages entertained. If it’s too cold to go outside, organize a craft such as painting a wooden birdhouse or making animal masks out of cardboard. These can also double as party favors. Musical chairs, tug-of-war or freeze tag can also to be a hit.
We’re not sure how or why giving out goodie bags full of cheap, plastic toys and other junk ever became the protocol for kids’ parties. One solution is to buck the trend and skip them altogether, but if you think that is too bold a move, go for kid-pleasing eco party favors. Suggestions include small plant pots filled with soil and a packet of seeds, organic bath bombs or homemade play-dough.
And finally, let “reduce, reuse, recycle” be your mantra for the day and at the end of the party make sure you have separate bins for food waste, recycling (including wrapping paper), and hopefully very little trash.
Janine Clements is a Westchester-based eco-friendly journalist.