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Green Birthday Party Ideas, Please

Green Birthday Party Ideas, Please

Paper hats, plastic forks, wrapping paper, plastic cups, latex balloons, plastic party favors, paper napkins, vinyl tablecloths, and loads of artificially colored food and high-fructose corn syrup. Ahhh, children’s birthday parties–a few hours of glee and a heaping pile for the landfill.

In the past six years I have thrown a total of 10 birthday parties for my two girls. And although they have always had a load of the homemade thrown in, I must confess that when planning the early ones I was so wrought with nerves in anticipation of all the little people and their parents in my house that I definitely leaned toward a model of disposability.

But the bags and bags of trash after those first parties still bring a slight shudder of shame–and I have done my best to repent and put my best green foot forward in these festive endeavors. It just feels right. Birthday parties can be such a tremendous expression of waste and consumption, I don’t want my kids to identify those actions with the joy of their parties. It seems like a bad association to nurture.

As it turns out, skipping the Dora party kit for something outside of the box is completely fun. I thought I’d share some of the things we’ve done to green our parties, but since I have, to the best of my calculations, about 26 more birthdays until my kids pack off to college, I thought I’d ask you to share some of your ideas here too. So first, four of the solutions I have arrived at, then–if you’d be so kind–will you share your green birthday tips in the comment field below?

Instead of Balloons
Balloons are treated with ammonia, tetramethyl thiuram disulfide, zinc oxide and added plasticizers (and are harmful to marine life if they make it to the ocean rather than the landfill (where they aren’t so great either). Instead, make giant pompoms to hang from the ceiling from recycled tissue paper or pre-used wrapping paper.

Instead of Plastic Junk Goodie Bags
Have a take-home craft project for the favor. Some projects my kids have loved include: Making ojos de dios using twigs and yarn remnants; making fairy wands using long twigs and fabric scraps, old notions, sequins, pipe cleaners, etc.; decorating organic cotton tote bags with giant rubber stamps and soy-based ink. How about making and giving naturally scented and colored homemade play-dough? Or give a book, a little pack of craft supplies, or a well-thought small gift.

Instead of a Commercial Pinata
Making a perfect pinata can be challenging, but at the very least, making a funny-looking pinata is so rewarding, and the kids will love it even more (because chances are it will look wonderfully silly, like accidentally Dr. Seuss, at least mine have). Fill it with fruit leather, organic lollipops, yogurt raisins, and useful trinkets (hair clips, erasers, crayons, etc.).

Instead of Disposable Tableware
Over the years I have added to my collection of non-disposable party-ware: A case of wine glasses from a restaurant supply store, dozens of cloth cocktail napkins from eBay, thrift shop flatware, and a few stacks of strategically mix-matched dessert plates from flea markets. Now granted, glass and ceramic may not be the best materials used in a house of rambunctious 4-year-olds, but they work great for the parents. Add in a sleeve of eco-friendly paper cups and plates; and serve cupcakes and finger food to alleviate the need for plastic forks.

I’d love to hear about gift-wrapping, alternative gift-giving, green themes. Send me whatever you’ve got by commenting below. Thanks!

Read more: Children, Family, Green Decorating, Holidays, Life, , , , ,

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


+ add your own
10:41AM PDT on Apr 17, 2011

I put a note in the invitation for my son's 1st Birthday to skip the card and sign my son's Birthday Banner at the party. I plan to have a cloth banner for everyone to leave birthday messages on. I figure it can save trees, save guests money on the card, and also save space for me so I'm not scrap booking 30 cards! I'm having a friend of mine who writes children's music come to do a sing-a-long at the party, which is being held in a church basement.

I'm serving cupcakes and the number 1 shaped cookies for dessert to minimize the use of forks. And thanks to this article, I'm looking into cloth or biodegradable table cloths and considering investing in reusable plastic party ware to keep for future gatherings. And finally, I purchased rainbow colored plastic decorations for my first son's birthday and will be using them again. They're actually a Mexican banner that I thought looked colorful and fun!I'm still looking into favors, but I'm liking the seeds and pot idea...

7:21PM PDT on Sep 15, 2010

Very cool!

9:45AM PDT on Aug 22, 2010

I held a green party for my daughter last month, and all of her friends wrapped their gift in a brown grocery bag, and instead of buying a bunch of game accessories, we cut out circles and squares from the wrapping paper to make our treasure hunt clues. There are so many ways to make Treasure Hunts fun for everyone, for any occasion. Try checking out Nancy Kruse's book, "Treasure Hunt-A Book of Clues for Parties".
Use a Wedding Planner

7:49PM PDT on Aug 17, 2010

We just had my daughters 4th birthday at Fairies and Dragons and she absoltuely loved it, so did we and so did all of the girls who came and their parents.

12:31PM PDT on Aug 12, 2010

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4:02AM PDT on Jul 29, 2010

i will post another comment after my next event this weekend and tell you how it went.

4:01AM PDT on Jul 29, 2010

I have to say that i am sick of all the plastic objects we use daily, being a wedding planner, event planner, etc. This article is really useful for me. The giant pompoms idea is really practical and green and i will try to sell it as much as possible from now on. Thank you for sharing all this.

7:44PM PDT on Jul 17, 2009

I have always hated those silly plastic bag party favors filled with, well, junk. I gave a box of dollar bin sidewalk chalk inside a dollar bin beach pail with each child's name written on the outside. Cheap, and I know for a fact (as I have seen them) that they are all being used and enjoyed. I buy plastic tumbler cups whenever I see them on sale-- I now have enough of a collection to use them for parties. Yes, it's dishes, but it's one less thing I have to buy for every party. (I use my plates and silverware, but never seemed to have enough cups). Kids stuff can be served on plastic plates and I often buy a pack of sippies, write the kids names on them (as part of their favor) and serve juice or water in those.

12:01PM PDT on Apr 10, 2009

Does anyone know where to buy soy based ink for stamps? Would it be permanent on cotton or hemp tote bags?

7:18AM PDT on Apr 6, 2009

This year my younger son decided he didn't want a party "because everyone brings you silly stuff you don't need anyway".
Instead he opted for a cash gift to the value I would have spent on invites, the party and his gift from mom and dad.
No stress, no mess, no waste, and I have a very happy kid with a wad of cash in his hand. He's going shopping for those better but more expensive toys he really wants.

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