Birthday celebrations happily come around every year. While we should celebrate every day, our birthdays are often a time where we invite people over, gather in larger groups, celebrate our kids, and spend quality time with people we care about. But we can enjoy all kinds of celebrations with friends and family while also being kinder to the planet.
It’s easy (and trendy) to simplify, and there are so many ways to make a big difference while having a great time together. If you’re throwing a kids party then you also get to set a good example for them, and inspire other kids and their parents too.
Here are 10 smart party tips – hopefully they will also stir up some ideas of your own, for your next eco-happy, very fun, and most impressive event from start to finish, no matter the milestone you are celebrating.
1/ Invite your guests virtually. Skip the printed paper cards and save trees! Emailed invites still allow you to be clever and communicate a theme (try Paperless Post). Think about how much time you’ll save – and the fact that you can actually have RSVPs logged online.
2/ Use what you’ve got. You know all of that serving stuff in the back of your cupboards? Use it! You might have to do a little extra clean-up at the end of the night, but isn’t reducing waste and saving money worth the few extra minutes? Also, consider using cups, not drinking boxes, and tap water in pitchers instead of individual plastic bottles of water. Fill and refill as needed with your choices of beverages, like water, organic juices, and organic wine for the adults (here are some of our favourite party drinks and organic booze).
3/ Avoid M.C.I.S. – Personalize cups. If you’re going to use disposables, make sure you prevent M.C.I.S. – Mistaken Cup Identity Syndrome (you know, when someone takes a cup and puts it down next to another, and then both people have to get new cups?). If you are using disposables, buy cups made from better materials (labeled “compostable” – and make sure that you actually compost them or it’s just landfill like anything else). Have everyone mark their cup with a marker (get creative!). You can also use window markers to write on your glassware (it will come off in the wash, but not on your guests’ hands), or better yet, a different accent coloured glass straw in everyone’s drinks serve as double duty for identification and eliminating those plastic straws or stir sticks (Strawesome has awesome options).
4/ Blow them away! Use organic soy or domestically made beeswax candles in your cake, which, unlike petroleum-based candles, won’t emit toxic fumes and black clouds (and check to make sure the wicks are lead and zinc free).
5/ Bake it, don’t fake it. Bake your cake or cupcakes from scratch or from a box of organic mix. This is also a great opportunity to involve your kids in food preparation – if they are old enough, they will take great pride in it. If you are doing a sweet table, an assortment of cookies and squares (and fruit) are all great, easy to serve, real food options. If you’re already in buying mode, Sweets from the Earth is always a great vegan, nut-free choice in Toronto that our family relies on).
6/ Go local. Buy organic and local fruits and veggies! Put pieces of fruit onto bamboo or reusable stainless skewers and stick them into an upside down section of watermelon or a half of any other fruit for a great and bright display. Now look what you’ve done – you’ll not only have pesticide, chemical, fertilizer and hormone-free centerpieces, but buying local produce (and other items) means they’ve traveled a shorter distance to get to your party (using less fuel). If you really want to impress, start growing fruits and veggies in your own backyard (Young Urban Farmers will yield you the best organic crops the season has to offer, that’s who I use, trust and appreciate.) It doesn’t get more local than that.
7/ Ask, and you shall receive. Think about the presents you or your child is going to receive, then think about the wrapping and cards and ribbon on each. It’s a great opportunity for your children to learn to give and receive and give back, and this is a perfect opportunity to teach that lesson. Perhaps you ask for unwrapped gifts to begin with (or at least those wrapped in newspaper or magazine or a reusable gift bag). One year, we nicely requested one unwrapped book from each guest. The guests each got to walk into the party and give a gift, my children received their gifts and graciously learned to accept and say thank you, and then once back at home we took many books that were given along with many we had already enjoyed, and donated them to our school, so the kids learned to give again. There is still consumption involved, however, we are not aiming for perfection, just change and hoping to instill strong values in our children, right? Another option could be to ask for a donation. Gifted is the meaningful way to ask for cash, and you can donate a portion to a charity of your choice.
8/ So you’ve reduced, now reuse again. Give away your party décor! You can buy little herb plants or succulents to decorate your party – they will purify the air and look beautiful, and then you can give them away as party favors instead of loot bags. Your centerpieces will look great, smell great, and continue to remind everyone about your great party each time they see them in their own homes.
9/ You’ve reduced, you’ve reused, now recycle. Check absolutely everything you’re about to throw away to see if you can use it again (even if it’s to send home extra food with a guest). If you can’t use it, make sure everything goes in the right “bin” and gets recycled or composted. And, be sure to use polyethylene-free compostable and biodegradable garbage bags.
10/ Give Good Loot. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: SIMPLIFY! Try giving each guest a book (you or your child can even write a dedication on the inside cover). Making homemade baked goods and packing in a reusable container is always a fun activity to do with your children. Other great ideas include soy crayons with tree free paper, a picture of each child in a picture frame, a download of a game, or anything else that is “easy” on the environment and may inspire others. Stay away from the packaging unless it’s reusable – think of where that goes immediately after it’s unwrapped!
The typical birthday party (especially the kid’s ones) has been a real cross section of what’s wrong with our world: over-stimulation, not focusing on the right thing, and throwing tons of things away, including your money. There’s still a way to have your child receive presents, there’s still a way to give party favors, and there’s still a way to eat cake, all in ways that are better for our kids’ health and the world. It’s all within our control, and we can celebrate as we please.
Do what you can for all of your parties, and then relax in knowing you’ve done the best that you can, and celebrate better every year, for many happy, healthy years to come. You have the power to inspire others also. What a gift every celebration can be.