Birthday celebrations happily come around every year. While we should celebrate every day, our birthdays are often a time where we gather in larger groups, invite people over, have parties for our kids and we can enjoy all kinds of celebrations with friends and family, while also being gentler on the planet. It’s easy (and trendy) to simplify and do more of a good thing. There are so many ways to make a big difference, while having a great time together and if it’s a kids birthday party, you are also setting a good example for them and inspiring other kids, and their parents too.
Here are 10 (of many) 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.
- 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. If you do love spending extra time, you could always use recycled materials to make your own cards from magazines, newspapers, wrapping paper etc.
- If you’ve got it, flaunt it. You know all of that serving stuff you’ve got? Use it! You might have to do a little extra clean-up at the end of the night, but isn’t saving the world worth a few extra minutes? Also, use cups, NOT drinking boxes and tap water in pitchers/bottles instead of individual plastic bottles of water – it’s kinder and cheaper, too! Fill and refill as needed with your choices of beverages, like water, organic juices, and organic wine and spirits for the adults.
- 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).
- 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).
- Bake it, don’t fake it. From scratch, or a mix, bake your own organic cupcakes. It’s so much easier to simply hand out cupcakes to everyone rather slicing and serving cake for those chaotic minutes. 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 – who is your local healthier baker?).
- 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-and chemical-and fertilizer-and hormone-free centerpieces, but buying local produce (and other items) means they’ve traveled a short distance (versus thousands of miles) 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.
- 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. Ask your guests to bring along a cash gift (or cheque) for your chosen charity. You can decorate an old shoe box (look, reusing again!), cut a slot in the top and then people can donate at the party and feel the connection (without the amount being known, which is greatly appreciated). Your child can count the money (good extra curricular activity!) and you can send a cheque on their behalf to the organization – a tax receipt for you and a world of good for all.
- So you’ve reduced, now reuse again. Give away the décor! You can buy little plants and decorate your party – they will keep the air clean and then they can be given away as loot bags…without the bag! And, if you want the plants to keep giving too, when in season, look in Toronto at Evergreen Brickworks Garden Market for amazing certified organic seeds and plants – all to grow your own vegetables, herbs or fruits. Your centerpieces can look great, smell great and continue to remind everyone about your great party each time they pick, trim and enjoy their as-local-as-you-get eating.
- 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 & biodegradable garbage bags.
- 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: overstimulation, not focusing on the right thing and throwing tons of things away, including lots of your money. There’s still a way to have your child receive presents, there’s still a way to give loot bags, and there’s still a way to eat cake in a way that’s better for our kids’ health and the world. It’s all under our control, and we can celebrate as we please.
Do what you can for all of your parties, and 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.