Here's the dirt: Kids' birthday parties generate a lot of trash. Wrapping paper, disposable plates and cups, paper tablecloths, birthday cards, balloons, favors and other items add up to several bags of garbage. By making more environmentally friendly choices, you can keep the earth green — and save a little green in your wallet.
One way to start is to choose an earth-friendly theme such as a garden party, butterfly celebration or a bug safari. If your child prefers a less environmentally conscious theme, with a little creativity, you can still make his dreams come true without the big carbon footprint.
Keeping the party small is another good move. You don't have to invite every child in the class. In fact, your child may feel overwhelmed with too many guests. Here are a few more ways to make any party green:
One of the easiest tips for a green party is to use online rather than paper invitations. You'll save on paper and postage, and it's an easy way for other harried parents to reply. Either email families directly or use a site like Evite.
If you prefer traditional invitations, use paper that's already around the house. Print out invitations from your computer on recycled paper. Involve kids in coloring and decorating the cards: that will be half the fun! Hand deliver as many of the invitations as possible. You'll save money on gas and get some exercise.
Some of the biggest sources of waste at children's parties are the plates, napkins, tablecloths, cups and cutlery that get tossed away after one use. Rather than buying paper products, offer reusable, kid-friendly cups and plates. Using real teacups at a tea party adds a touch of sophistication. And if you pick them up at a garage sale or thrift shop, you won't mind if a few get broken. Rinse them after using, have the kids fill them with flowers, and they'll have a great party favor.
If you want a festive tablecloth, decorate an old sheet to fit your theme. You can also use your computer or recycled paper to print custom placemats to match your plan. Use fabric pens to customize cloth napkins with the names of your guests for another unique (and reusable) party favor.
Even though goody bags have become the norm at kiddy parties, you don't have to succumb to the madness. Parents everywhere should vow to stop filling little plastic bags with candy and cheap toys! This is not to say you can't send guests home with a small token. Consider having them make a craft like a popsicle stick picture frame or a tie-dyed pillow case. Or, substitute a small paperback book or some art supplies for the goody bag. Tie up the treat in an inexpensive bandana for a train party or send home a packet of seeds in a small clay pot for a garden party.
Forget the streamers and balloons that often pop before the party finishes (and can be a choking hazard for small children). Instead, use materials you already have on hand to create longer lasting decorations. Hang bananas from the ceiling for a Curious George party or drape vines and branches across the table for an It's a Big, Big World event. Use recycled paper to make banners and party hats, which guests can color themselves.
If possible, stock up on treats from your local farmer's market rather than the nearest big box retailer. The closer you are to the source of the food, the less resources will be wasted transporting it. Depending on where and when you host your party, you may be able to find fresh-picked berries, peaches or other fruits kids enjoy.
Making your own birthday cake rather than purchasing one from the grocery store can also be a green choice. Baking at home gives you control over the ingredients (especially important if guests have food allergies). Also, store-bought cakes often come in disposable pans and cardboard boxes, generating extra trash.
Avoid juice boxes, bottled water and other single-serving beverages that create lots of waste. Fill a pitcher with water or milk and supply some sturdy plastic cups instead. Once again, creativity is key. Labeling a big thermos with the words “Gas Tank” will keep young race car fans returning to fill up their tanks. Letting guests sprinkle fairy dust (a pinch of colored sugar) on their lemonade can work party magic.
When you're invited to other birthday parties, resist the urge to buy expensive wrapping paper and ribbons. Either recycle the gift bags you've already received or use other paper you have around the house like the comics section from the newspaper. You can also have your child decorate brown paper bags and wrap gifts in original works of art. Leftover fabric also works well.
Often the gifts themselves are a source of waste at parties, especially if your children already have more toys than you can store. Talk to your child about asking guests not to bring gifts or inviting guests to make a donation to a children's charity in lieu of a gift.
If you're hosting a family party, ask relatives to give "activity gifts." A hike with a favorite uncle, lunch with grandmother or a playdate with a young cousin will create lasting memories.
Some of the best-loved party games require little or no materials. Hopscotch, musical chairs, capture the flag and charades, for example, require minimal supplies and have engaged party goers for generations.
Place a large, clearly labeled recycling bin where young guests can reach it and talk to them about the importance of limiting trash. Set a reasonable goal for yourself (such as producing only one bag of trash for the whole party) to help keep you and the guests focused on reusing and recycling.
Even if you can't manage to make every aspect of the celebration earth-friendly, know that even small changes make the world a healthier place. And really, a better planet is the best birthday gift you can give to a child.
Find activities, parenting tips, games from your child's favorite PBS KIDS programs and more.