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It'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.