Hosting a child’s birthday party is no easy task even in the best of circumstances. Odds are that if you’re raising a young, middle-class child in America today, they are going to have certain expectations for their birthday party . . . a cake, presents, and some sort of festive gathering for their friends.
Is it possible to make such an event an eco-friendly affair? Fresh off hosting a birthday party for both of my kids in October, I can say it’s not a complete myth, but it isn’t always easy!
Here are some tips for hosting an environmentally sound shindig that will satisfy your kids’ whims and hopefully please the whole family.
- Choose the venue. This is probably the most important decision to make. If you’re lucky enough to be able to host your child’s party in late spring to mid-autumn, I recommend going with an outdoor site. No electricity required, and (bonus!) your house won’t get torn to shreds during the festivities. Last year we had our kids’ party at Lake Metroparks Farmpark and this year at a pavilion at Penitentiary Glen. The kids and their friends adored the outdoor activities and being able to run free outside! If you wish, you can add on an organized activity or some entertainment, like a clown, simple craft, or scavenger hunt.
- Plan your menu. Food with the least amount of packaging is probably the route you want to go. Buy fresh fruit and veggies to assemble snack trays (or have a grandparent volunteer to do this!). Pizza and cake boxes can’t be recycled due to food contamination, but at least they’re biodegradable. Serve food from large, reusable bowls and trays. Try to arrange for only as much food as you think people will eat to avoid waste. Bring extra paper bags to send leftovers home with your friends, or donate what’s left to a local homeless shelter. Reduce plastic use by serving drinks from pitchers or large jugs instead of supplying individual water bottles or pop cans. (Most large drink jugs are still accepted at local recycling centers.)
- Rethink your paper products. Instead of buying Styrofoam dishes, this year I bought a bulk set of compostable plates, cups and silverware. There’s a company right in Highland Heights that sells eco-friendly tableware (check out Green Paper Products on the web). Buy a bulk package and you’ll be in business for a few years’ worth of parties! I have to admit, I’m a sucker for fancy invitations, but eco-friendlier options are to invite your guests via social media or paper-free invitation sites like Punchbowl.
- Minimize the decorations. I know kids love balloons, but especially if you’re doing an outdoor party, latex balloons can pose a risk to wildlife. Make some simple table decorations that you can reuse year after year, or use seasonal items to spruce up the venue (like gourds and pumpkins for fall affairs). If your kids are artistic, they can make their own birthday drawings to decorate for the party!
- Be smart about gifts. We usually try to tell our guests “no gifts” because, frankly, our kids have way too much stuff. But most generous souls will bring a gift anyway. You may not have a lot of control over what they buy, but if you’re in the market for a gift, try to avoid toys that are wrapped up in too much plastic. Unpackaged toys like balls, sporting gear, jump ropes, books, and even stuffed animals appeal to kids of all ages and can be reused and passed on to new owners later. We also enjoy the wooden toys and puzzles by Melissa and Doug. If possible, buy directly at your local store instead of having items shipped to your home. And, if all else fails, everyone loves cash! Instead of wrapping paper, try your grandma’s old trick of wrapping presents in newspaper pages, or if the gift is in a cardboard box, simply let your child open the gift directly out of the box. It’s just as exciting for them to see what’s inside the box even if it’s not covered in pretty paper!
It’s been fun, though I have to say, I’m glad to have a year’s rest ahead before we have to plan another birthday party. And I’m also proud to say, no . . . we did not let any birthday food go to waste. After 10 days straight of eating cake for dessert, my waistline may suffer, but our landfills are safe for the moment.