The Simplest Way to a Green Birthday Party: Plan Small | Seventh Generation
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The Simplest Way to a Green Birthday Party: Plan Small

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12 comments
Author: greenyourdecor

Birthday GirlIt's crazy how quickly our kids grow up. I feel like a just brought my daughter home from the hospital yesterday, and already she is turning four. Our busy lives left us little time to plan a get-together for her birthday, so we wound up hosting a small, intimate, and very inadvertently green party. Here's how we did it, and how you can do the same:

1. Plan around an experience rather than gifts
On the rare occasions when we venture into the local mall, my daughter always wants to take a turn in the inflatable jump house or bungy jumps that are set up in the middle of the shopping center. So for her birthday, my husband had the idea to rent an inflatable bounce house for her to enjoy for a whole day. It was a reasonably-priced rental, and we're pretty sure it's a birthday present she'll never forget -- unlike the soon-forgotten toys she received for Christmas. Plus, it's greener to rent rather than buy. We found the inflatable bounce house through the mall -- my husband had the forethought to get a business card from the operators. You can also call the mall office to get a referral. We compared prices by searching Google for "party inflatables" in our area.

You can plan a similar experiential treat for your child: If bounce houses aren't your thing, consider going to the aquarium or spending the day in the park. Whatever you choose, make it something special that you can do together as a family. Your outing will create more lasting memories than the hot new toy, which will lose its novelty after a few uses.

2. Smaller parties create less waste
If you've ever ventured into a party supply store, you know that they are the epitome of all things disposable, from cups and plates to streamers, balloons, and cheap party favors. When you have a small gathering, it's a lot easier to use regular plates and silverware that can be washed and reused. For our guest list of 13 people, nine of whom were immediate family members, the load of dishes was only slightly larger than usual, and it was worth it to avoid huge bags of trash at the end of the day. And since we planned so small, we ditched the disposable decor altogether. We added a fabric tablecloth we already had to the usually bare table and picked a few flowers for a centerpiece, and voila! A new look for a total cost of $0 that didn't have to go in the trash after the party.

3. Invite people verbally, or send invitations via email
Another benefit of having a small party is that it was incredibly easy to invite guests by phone. No paper, no problem. If you must send out invitations, opt for an email invite instead of a traditional one. In addition to saving paper, most online invitations are free.

4. Opt for useful gifts instead of just more stuff
We did want to give our daughter a few gifts, but nothing too over-the-top. So we opted for some small but useful gifts from the heart: a handmade organic blanket and an eco-friendly backpack set that included a stuffed toy and a book about learning to save water. She loved them.

5. Make gifts optional, and ask guests to ditch the wrapping paper
Chances are, your child doesn't need a bunch of new stuff. And unless many of your friends share your values, lots of that new stuff will probably be made of non-renewable resources or potentially toxic materials. Let your guests know that you'd prefer their company more than their presents. But if they insist on bringing a gift, tell them that while old newspaper makes for great gift wrap, reusable bags are a much better option. My family has been using the same three giftbags for the past five years. And for my daughter, we just put her few gifts inside a pretty, reusable shopping bag that she now enjoys taking with her when we go to the grocery store.

6. Use a small party as an opportunity to teach about giving
If you have young children, you know how much "stuff" they tend to accumulate. Toys and trinkets can become overwhelming, and we have to purge the collection at least once a year. Because we had such a small birthday party, we asked our daughter to pick a few gifts from her toy box that she could give to her guests as party favors. The guests appreciated the gesture and got something new and cool, rather than a goody bag full of useless trinkets, and we got to teach our daughter that birthdays aren't just about what you get.

7. Say no to regular balloons
Balloons are non-recyclable and often end up in waterways, where they can pose a threat to wildlife. We bought one mylar balloon that we tied to the mailbox to alert our guests to the party location, and we kept it afterward to put in a scrapbook for our daughter.

Make no mistake -- there were parts of the party we wished had been greener. For example, I would have preferred an organic carrot cake to the sugar laden cupcakes we purchased, but I'm no baker. On the positive side, the common denominator in all the aspects of our party planning was simplicity. Keeping celebrations simple usually leads to more fun for the guests and less waste for the hosts.

What ideas do you have for more eco-friendly celebrations? I wish I had tapped into the collective wisdom of the Seventh Generation Nation before the party. Feel free to share your tips and experiences in the comments below.

photo: Emran Kassim

12
Comments

albqcandy picture
albqcandy
09/23/09
I sometimes reuse office paper to wrap a gift. I work in the construction industry and there is a ton of paper waste. I try to recycle all or most of it. (If the others would try harder then it would be all!!!) Our construction plans come in 24 x 36 size sheets which is perfect as wrapping paper. Just turn it around to have the white side out and voilà gift wrap and instead of buying or making a card write on it!
jcatmom picture
jcatmom
09/12/09
one birthday year, we asked for guests to not give our daughter gifts, but if they'd like to, they could bring a stuffed bear to donate to the Victims Assistance at our local police station. The bears are given out to children who have been involved in some sort of tragedy to comfort them by the police. Everyone brought bears and also small pillows which my daughter and I took by the police station the next week after her birthday. All the guests really enjoyed doing this for a child in need & some guests still brought gifts.
LUVBUG picture
LUVBUG
09/12/09
LUVBUG I GET THE "LOOK" TOO WHEN I SCOOP UP ALL THE USED WRAP, BAGS, RIBBON AND TISSUE PAPER DURING CHRISTMAS AND BIRTHDAYS. (ESPECIALLY MY NEPHEWS WIFE, SHE IS VERY WASTEFULL.) I JUST SMILE AT EVERYONE, BECAUSE, ALL THAT WONDERFULL PAPER IS A HUGE RESOURCE OF NOT ONLY RE-WRAP, BUT ALSO, MAKING CARDS AND ORNAMENTS, BOOKMARKS, PAPERDOLLS, ORIGAMI......OH THE LIST IS ENDLESS!! I HAVE ALSO CUT UP TISSUE PAPER AND COOL PRINTED PAPER AND WORKED THEM INTO MY PAINTINGS! I JUST FIGURE, THEIR LOSS, MY GAIN!
Bxschill picture
Bxschill
09/10/09
I liked your article and have done some of the things you mentioned at my daughters' birthday parties. It was a good reminder to avoid all the throw away "stuff". When would be a more important time to set a good example and live by your values that at a childs birthday party? Also, I related to your comment about your family reusing the same three gift bags. I was raised in a frugal household where we reuse favorite gift bags and paper until they are so worn that they are more a sentimental part of the gift than a covering! My mother and I have been passing a favorite tin back and forth for years. Whenever there's an occasion to receive a homemade treat, we feel honored that this pretty tin has been returned. My in-laws, on the other hand, just don't get it. They always trash the wrappings (not even recycling). I assume they find my reuse of gift wrap cheap and tacky. But after years of seeing my DH & I smooth old paper and ribbons and take them home, his family has begun to follow our lead and resuse greeting cards to make gift tags. I have learned not to underestimate the power of my own good example!
prairieanarchist picture
prairieanarchist
09/10/09
I did several of these ideas for my daughter's 3rd birthday. One thing I did not do was invite just a few people - we had way too many kids and parents and it got a bit too crazy for my little one, who ended up having a meltdown! Fortunately, she only remembers the princess bouncy:) One other thing that I did was use a fantastic online service called "Echo Age" <a href="http://www.echoage.com" target="_blank">www.echoage.com</a>. It is an invitation service, but it also asks that instead of guests all bringing individual gifts, they can contribute to a single gift that you name on the site. They can make any donation, as little or large as they like, or just good wishes. Also, HALF the money they contribute goes to a charitable cause that YOU choose! I really liked doing that. Last year it was more for me than my daughter, but over time I think she'll learn a lot and we will learn to value gifts more. I had a couple old-school people question it a bit, but almost everybody said they loved the idea, and we've gotten a couple of other invites through EchoAge since!
readeh1 picture
readeh1
09/10/09
I love the idea of the "white elephant " exchange in lieu of gifts. Everyone goes home with something new. A grab bag in a pillowcase, would prevent fighting over who gets what. An organic carrot cake with apple sauce instead of sugar would be moist and not raising their insulin level. Recipes online. Some pizzarias have whole grain pies. Ask if anyone is allergic to cheese or wheat. No soda. Watered down fruit juice or 2% milk (in plastic cups)is ok. A table cloth all could put messages on is a great idea! no pinatas. I've seen too many kids hurt by the stick. Throw a rubber circle into a box, or rubber horse shoes or vollyball (maybe with a beach ball for little ones) with a low net are fun activities. Dancing to kid music cd's is fun too. Keep up the "green" suggestions. luv them.
AtHomeWithFive picture
AtHomeWithFive
09/10/09
One of my sons will be 12 in a week. We are having his party at a park where he and all his friends can be outdoors --no electricity required. We are taking a lot of sports equipment, footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, badminton, croquet, kites, etc. Hopefully the adults will "play" as well.
LUVBUG picture
LUVBUG
09/10/09
LUVBUG MY DAUGHTERS BIRTHDAY IS NOT UNTIL MAY, BUT, I HAVE BEEN COLLECTING IDEAS TO CREATE A FUN FILLED, GREEN PARTY. WE ARE PLANNING ON A DAY AT THE PARK. INSTEAD OF BALLOONS, WE WILL PURCHASE BEACH BALLS INSTEAD, HOPEFULLY WE WILL BE ABLE TO LOCATE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY ONES, AND THEN LET EACH CHILD TAKE ONE HOME. AS FAR AS GIFTS, WE ARE GOING TO GO WITH THE "WHITE ELEPHANT" EXCHANGE. I WILL ASK EACH CHILD ATTENDING THE PARTY TO BRING SOMETHING THEY WANT TO EXCHANGE, INSTEAD OF A NEW GIFT JUST FOR MY DAUGHTER. THAT WAY, EVERYONE TAKES SOMETHING HOME THAT IS NEW TO THEM, AND THE KIDS LEARN THAT BIRTHDAYS ARE NOT ABOUT THE GIFTS. SURPRISINGLY, MY DAUGHTER IS ALL FOR IT. SHE HAS MORE THAN ENOUGH STUFF. I BAKE, SO THE CAKE WILL BE MADE WITH ORGANIC INGREDIENTS. IT'S FUNNY, I USED TO GET WORKED UP ABOUT GIVING MY DAUGHTER A PARTY, BUT I SOON REALIZED, THAT SHE JUST WANTS TIME WITH HER FRIENDS TO PLAY. AS THE SAYING GOES "KEEP IT SIMPLE....STUPID". I CONSTANTLY SAY THAT TO MYSELF ALL THE TIME!!!!
anotherjen picture
anotherjen
09/09/09
I appreciate the thoughtfulness of this post. So often I have seen families who are environmentally aware throw all their priorities out the window when their child has a birthday. When our daughter turned one last year, I put a lot of thought into hosting an environmentally friendly birthday party. Her birthday party was kept quite small and included close family members. Our invitations were actually photo collage cards that included 12 small photos - a photo from the 7th of every month (to mark the anniversary of her birthday). The idea was to have an invitation and a keepsake all in one. There were numerous other things we did but the idea that got the most "buzz" from our guests was her birthday tablecloth. We purchased a fabric tablecloth and provided our guests with fabric markers so that they could write their birthday wishes for our daughter. Every year, we plan on bringing out the tablecloth to write new messages and greetings to our little girl. I'm sure in a few years, the most exciting day of the year will be when she comes downstairs to have her breakfast and sees her birthday tablecloth on the kitchen table. Thanks again for your post - it was enlightening.
Denene@MyBrownBaby picture
Denene@MyBrownBaby
08/20/09
I really enjoyed reading this--particularly because it makes our ability to be more "green" seem so much easier than any one mom could imagine. What terrific ideas! We did something similar to what you suggested during our daughters' recent birthdays... instead of having a huge party, we took them on a trip to the beach, sang happy birthday while we played in the ocean, and then enjoyed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on our beach blankets. That day, we gave our girls the best gift they could ever ask for: our time, our undivided attention, and wonderful memories. And it sure eliminated a lot of the waste that would have been created had we done the usual huge party with a bazillion kids and lots of throwaway products... I look forward to reading more of your posts... I absolutely adore your blog, and can't wait to see more of your ideas here!
greenyourdecor picture
greenyourdecor
08/12/09
We did it sort of by accident :) We try to be Earth conscious in all things, but we weren't really planning a "green" party. It just worked out that way, and that goes to show that anyone can do it.
TheConsumerQueen picture
TheConsumerQueen
08/11/09
When you spell it out like that it sounds so easy TY!