Green Birthday Parties

May 2, 2011

My oldest son turns the big one-o today. Double digits already! Why did I not realize this would happen so quickly? I actually feel slightly ridiculous – I was warned many, many, many times that childhood goes by just exactly this quickly.

Every new parent has heard this, or variations of it: “Enjoy it – it goes by so quickly”.  Parents must endure this sort of advice though a haze of sleep deprivation and wonky hormones, or through a second pregnancy while their toddler is making a living hell out of the trip to the grocery store, or when you are so thankful to have 2 hours to yourself on the first day of school.

Only the fact that this advice comes from other parents (who, presumably, know what you are going through) makes it tolerable. Barely. And deep down, you know they are right. But it’s really really hard to have perspective when you are the parent of one or more under-six-year-old children making unreasonable demands on your personal space, energy, sleep, and furniture.

It’s been a long time since my big boy was as little and cute as this.

And then suddenly you find yourself on the other side of that advice. Seeing someone with a brand-new baby or an adorable chubby toddler, seven years or ten years since you last held your own brand-new baby or chased your own toddler, and you can NOT tamp down the fierce urge to tell that exhausted new parent to “enjoy it – it goes by so quickly”! Really, though, (this is the tear-jerking part) you are giving this advice to yourself and your precious last years with your own children at home. Pause for tissues.

So, of course, in my deep new-found wisdom of 10 years of parenthood, I ignored my own advice completely and spent the past week in a whirlwind of child-neglect: party preparations, cake-creation, work, scheduling, and trying to reconcile myself the fact that my baby wants an $$$$$$ miniature music player, and not Star Wars Lego, for his present.
Son? What son? He was just the object of the party. :(

But today I am back and grounded.

(Delicious, low-impact party snacks)

Long ago, I planned to write a post about environmentally-friendly children’s birthday parties. It got lost in the shuffle, as so many things in my life seem to do. But I am resurrecting it today, mainly in honour of my sons and nieces and nephews who will inherit our landfills, partly in honour of my big boy’s 10th, and partly so that this post doesn’t become entirely maudlin.

I have to say it: children’s birthday parties irritate me to an absurd degree. Not because of the noise and mess, but because of the piles and piles of garbage they create in the form of dispoable plates, cups, and cutlery, wrapping paper, balloons, junk food, and cheap plastic toys that pass as gift bags. They are a display in consumerism and waste, all in the name of a celebration of life! (Need I say that our children or their children will not have much of a life if we keep on this way?)

Ok, that was the biggest and most judgemental partisan rant you’ll ever hear me make. Phew.

Before I go into details, I just want to say that a green birthday party does not involve birthday child deprivation. My kids still get the whole shebang – chocolatey cake, goodie bags, decadent snacks, fun, friends, and family time.

My 10-step strategic plan for Green, low-waste birthday parties is:

Re-usable metal forks in a funky container

1) Use re-usable cutlery and cups and wash them after the party.

2) Buy compostable plates – these can be washed and re-used several times and composted when finally kaput (or first thing, when there is an extra-dirty icing-smeared plate you are too tired to wash.)

3) Bring buckets or bags to take home the compost and recycling, and put them in an obvious place so that any parent or child who is helping will not miss them. Remember that paper napkins are compostable

birthday party compost

4) Instead of individual juice-packs, buy bigger jugs of juice and recycle them when you are done. Or, bring a pitcher for water.

5) Gifts – have a toonie-party, or ask parents to chip in for one big group gift (what would your child rather get: a giant pack of the latest Harry Potter Lego, or 10 cheap plastic toys that will break in under a week?)
Aside – I will admit that once my kids got to a certain age, this no longer worked so well. But older children are in some ways easier to buy for: books, graphic novels, music, a small pack of buidling blocks or mechanical parts – these are at least lasting toys.

6) Recycle all wrapping paper and save all gift bags for re-use.

Gourds as Goodie Bags

7) Goodie bags – think outside the box – plants, seeds for the garden, flowers, mini-pumkins, vegetable starts – these have all been goodie bag fodder for my sons’ parties. For my spring son’s birthday, I choose a selection of edible and decorative seedlings from the nursery and let the kids choose a plant as they leave the party. They are always, always excited about this. Last year, I had to break up two boys who were fighting over the chocolate-mint seedling. I am not kidding. For my fall son’s birthday, I buy a bunch of weird and crazy-looking gourds from the farmers’ market and leave them on the table as a decoration. At the end of the party, each child chooses their very own to take home and use as a halloween decoration.
Of course, I always give out a little treat as well: maple sugar suckers, little Fair-trade chocolates, etc.

Plants as Goodie Bags, plus re-usable cups and compostable plates

8) Limit gargage-creating snacks, as in anything pre-packaged, overly packaged, or indiviually-wrapped. My kids always get some chips or cheesies as a treat, but we also have fresh fruit, veggies, crackers and cheese, and a homemade cake.

9) Try, as much as possible, to buy sustainable food for snacks. Whether this means organic or local or bulk or minimally-processed, or any combo thereof, just do it. The garbage at the end of the party is only part of the equation.

10) Balloons – okay, I give. There isn’t much you can do about this. And what is a birthday party without ballons? Buy these (amd the Cheesies) knowing that they are the exceptions that prove the rule of your Green party. (Did I just make a pun there? And on federal election day, to boot!)

I know it’s not always easy to go the extra mile and wash the cups and cutlery, hound party kids to compost, and search out nifty goodie bag ideas. But I could never live with myself if I did not do this. The result  – My kids have a great birthday party and I have an intact conscience.

maple suckers

Comments (4)

  1. These are some great ideas. Little kids (and now many of us as adults) especially love plants that we can watch grow, or eat at some point.

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