Saturday, April 19, 2008

Make Your Child's Birthday an Earth-day!

By Cindy Fey
Blogging at

Our family of four tries to do our part for the environment. My husband Randy and I carpool, turn down the thermostat and try to teach our daughters the new three R's: recycling, reusing and reducing. But after throwing a fourth birthday party for our daughter Mia where we ended up with bags and bags of waste, I knew we had to make a bigger commitment.

Here are some suggestions for making your child's birthday party more earth-friendly. You'll find that it's not very difficult to stick to your everyday green habits while creating happy party memories. And even if your child has her heart set on Bob the Builder paper napkins, don't fret. Just making a few changes can make a big difference.

Recycled stationery for invites and thank you notes can be found on the Net in a world of patterns and colors. Everything from garlic skin to flowers, from old maps to junk mail has been reused in papers that can be found at sites such as and You can even find odorless paper made from elephant droppings! (

To create invitations for Mia's fifth birthday party, I collected artwork she had made on sturdy construction paper. We printed the actual event information on smaller sheets of 100% recycled newsprint and glued these inside the larger sheets of artwork. We folded the construction paper, sealed and addressed them and sent them through the mail. All arrived safely at their destination and each one was unique.

An even greener option is going paperless altogether. On-line invitation sites such as the popular and can keep track of your RSVP's, let other invitees see who is coming and even organize car-pooling!

For room decorations, consider using sustainable choices such as cut flowers, plants, or reusable Japanese paper lanterns. Try cutting your child's artwork into triangles, then hanging them from a string as festive flags.

Most inflatable balloons are made of latex, an all-natural, bio-degradable product. But what comes up must come down. Those brightly colored helium balloons that look so festive the day of the party can turn into litter and a choking hazard for wildlife if released into the sky. If you do use latex balloons, be sure to dispose of them responsibly.

Mylar balloons last a little longer than latex, but are not biodegradable. Try saving the deflated balloon and using the shiny material as wrapping material for a small gift.

At my daughter's October birthday, we decorated the tables with tiny pots of colorful pansies. The room looked bright and festive and each child had a plant to take home!

Paper and Plastic
Probably the biggest source of waste at any party comes from the serving of the food. Fortunately, many options exist to reduce what we send to the landfill. Avoid single serving containers like juice and raisin boxes. For a small party, use and wash your own plates, utensils and cups. Use cloth napkins and tablecloths instead of single-use paper ones. Bedsheets work well for tablecloths. Don't worry if not everything matches - the kids will be too busy having fun to care!

Preserve Tableware ( make lightweight but durable plates, bowls and flatware from recycled materials that are also dishwasher safe and recyclable. Our family has used this product for more than one birthday party away from home. It took minimal effort to carry the dirty dishes home in grocery bags and wash them. We will be able to use them again and again.

When using food from a deli, restaurant or caterer, ask if you can provide your own trays or platters ahead of time. This way, you can avoid throwing away large disposable plastic trays and containers.

Goodie Bags
Instead of filling a plastic bag with tiny breakable plastic bits made in China, why not have your guests create something functional as a fun activity during the party? Tulip bulbs or packets of seeds make great green gifties and the children will enjoy painting flower pots for their new plants. Decorating picture frames, baskets or vases can make for a quiet lull in between cake and a game of Red Light, Green Light.

We should never forget that after honoring the birthday child, the main purpose of throwing a party is to give pleasure to our guests, not dictate how we want them to behave. We have had little luck asking for "no gifts;" sometime we have to accept that there is a learning curve involved in adopting green habits. For our two-year-old Nora's birthday, we had success inviting guests to feel free to recycle a used toy or book. A book or toy swap is another way to show children how much fun "reuse" can be!

With a little extra effort, your children and their guests can have a fun and memorable party and be kind to Mother Earth at the same time!