It was a overcast October morning - at least on this side of the Bay. The sun had streaked across the sky over in our neck of the woods - the less crunchy neck of the woods - but here, grey hung like an unwrung blanket on a clothesline.
I know. It doesn't sound very heroic but I've got two birthdays sandwiching Christmas and only a handful of ways to "green" them - besides cancelling the party altogether.
So, camera in hand, I readily partook of eco-fruits of my sister's labors. I then gathered around with a gaggle of green moms to share ideas for simplifying celebrations. Below are ideas I (and every green mom in a thirty mile radius) has come up with. Maybe you can add a few of your own.
WHITTLE AWAY AT WASTE
Birthday parties have become so extravagant, that cutting back on the waste shouldn't be difficult - especially in this economy.
- Send out an evite instead of a paper invite. You can personalize the evite, make it easy for folks to RSVP and, added bonus, everyone can be nosy and see who's coming.
- Use reusables as much as possible. My sister went out and purchased dozens of utensils from her local Goodwill for her daughters' birthday party. She figures that she will use them over and over again at every birthday, not to mention barbecue, retirement party and holiday gathering. Another friend borrows wine glasses from all of her neighbors instead of buying disposable. Cloth napkins are also easy and I've seen some folks create unique cloth napkins that the children also get to take home as favors.
- If you cannot reuse, choose the lesser of two evils. Paper plates with high recycled content, compostable cups and utensils made from paper or bioplastic are at least better options that the traditional disposables.
- Leave the garbage can wanting. Recycle and compost what you can. My sister had her daughter create signs for Recycle, Compost and Dirty Utensil containers.
BATTLE CONSUMERISM AND CLUTTER
This is the elephant in the room at every party hosted by a green mom. What to do with the endless sea of gifts and favors and takeaways.
- Last year, I specified "no gifts" in the party invitations. Mostly, folks listened. We ended up with a plethora of thoughtful cards and only one gift.
- Request a donation in lieu of a gift - if you are comfortable with that.
- When giving gifts, gift certificates for an experience (e.g., the movies) or a consumable (e.g., frozen yogurt) beat the pants off of the traditional plastic action hero.
- Be charitable. One friend never gives gifts. Instead, she and her children pick a charity most related to the party theme and donate to that charity. For instance, if it is a jungle party, they might donate to a rain forest preservation organization. If it is a teenage mutant ninja turtle party, they donate to a turtle rescue organization. Check out Guidestar for a list of charities.
Long gone are the days when a party was a piece of cake and a thank you for coming when you departed. Favor bags have gotten out of control with more and more plastic stuff, pricier and pricier items until a kid never leaves a party without demanding, hand outstretched, "Where's my goodie bag??" Here are coping mechanisms if you, like I, are not brave to answer that outstretched hand with a big fat nothing, you spoiled brat.
- Give quality. Last year, we handed out a Melissa & Doug wooden musical instrument for one party and Thomas Trains (bought on clearance) for another. The cost was comparable to the usual bag o' junk and I figured those instruments and trains weren't likely to land in a landfill.
- Give an experience. Some friends give a small gift certificate for an ice cream or a frozen yogurt.
- Give a project. This ties in with the last category - the Entertainment. Have children decorate something - fairy wings or a hat during the party - and that is what they take home. One friend took it a step further. She put out all kinds of "trash" - Styrofoam, egg cartons, fabric scraps and invited the party guests to make their own puppet for a Muppet party.
- Give . . . to each other. The gift exchange. Every child attending the party - including the birthday boy or girl - brings a themed item. The item is wrapped and, at the end of the party, each child - again, including the birthday boy or girl - chooses and opens one gift. Themes can vary - a book, puzzle, game, musical instrument, dress up clothes, art supplies - but there is usually a price limit (e.g., $10 or under) and gifts may also be second hand or homemade. My niece's gift exchange is below. She, as the guest of honor, and each of her guests took home their gift exchange item and I heard not one complaint.
I have a feeling that backyard birthday parties of pinatas and homemade cake will be making a come back in this economy. The tiresome round of Pump It Up parties (yes, I've been guilty of a hosting a couple) will probably start to wind down.
In their place, children may learn to entertain themselves - with the swing set in the backyard, the sandbox, legos, the front yard climbing tree, or projects like my friend's scrap puppet project.
If you are still inclined to provide some sort of entertainment, put your money into your community. Hire local talent. My sister hired a friend of a friend who played the guitar and sang children's songs with the party-goers. We're toying with the idea of a puppet show from a local puppeteer who has written his own scrips and handmade his own puppets. It is significantly cheaper than a gymnastics party or jumpie house and gives the gift of imagination. Let's keep art and culture alive. We may need it for morale if the economy continues its current descent.
So there you have it. Every idea I stole from every green mom I could find. With these resources, I hope to build a better birthday party . . . unless I can steal a few more ideas from you?