Who doesn’t love a good birthday party? Most of us have great childhood memories of fun-filled celebrations. But birthdays, like Christmas and Halloween, are too often a time of over-consumption. Gifts bought quickly and carelessly, balloons left to blow into waterways, endless paper plates, styrofoam cups and mountains of cheap plastic toys.Taking the extra time to plan an eco-party will make your children’s birthday parties much more healthy, less toxic and better for the planet. Kids are also a lot more intelligent than we give them credit for; they know the earth is in trouble and they wonder why adults don’t seem too concerned about it. Children look to adults for guidance - we can teach them about caring for the earth in a fun, solutions-based manner by incorporating green practices into all our seasonal celebrations.
Host an eco-theme party for your children. Gather a bunch of clean materials that would normally end up in the landfill and have the kids make art out of recycled materials. Another fun project is to have the children paint, write and draw their suggestions for making the earth a better place on a giant canvas. The earth artwork can be displayed at your child’s school, community library or municipal hall.
Cheap birthday gifts are often made in foreign countries and shipped long distances to local shopping malls or toy stores.
We have to find ways to cut down on paper consumption. Our paper habit is killing the planet as globally we consume some 370 million tons per year. Less than 20% of the world’s remaining forests are believed to be intact. Try to send all party invites by e-mail or consider calling parents directly. If you plan to invite an entire class, ask the teacher to make an announcement and write the party details on the blackboard.
If you are really set on inviting children via a paper invitation, consider getting creative and reusing paper from around the house. Old cardboard makes a great background for an invitation as does newspaper scraps. Paper stores are now stocking tree-free papers or recycled papers which can be used for a more sustainable invitation. Be sure to stamp or write a prominent RECYCLE ME somewhere on the invite.
It is still considered impolite to arrive at a North American birthday party without a gift. Although many of the gifts that are exchanged are cheap electronic goods or plastics toys. These ‘throw-away’ gifts are often made in foreign countries and shipped long distances to local shopping malls or toy stores.
Host a gift free party. Increasingly green parents are including information on their (e-mail) invitations that instead of gifts a donation will be made to a charitable organization. A friend recently hosted a birthday party where a tree was planted for each person that attended the birthday party. Green or altruistic gifts are becoming popular as individuals attempt to make more sustainable choices and cut down on unnecessary consumption.
To ensure children are not being exposed to ‘Frankenfoods’ opt for organic or genetically unmodified ice cream, sweets and baked goods.
Birthday parties don’t have to be filled with toxic chemicals, allergy causing additives and dyes, and genetically modified ingredients to be fun. Instead, try to have as many organic foods as possible and perhaps even consider hosting a 100 Mile Birthday Party. A 100-mile party entails only using ingredients grown/made from within 100 miles (hence the name) from your home.
Unfortunately in North America, if you opt for non-organic cookies, cakes, candies, popcorn and snacks, many will contain genetically modified ingredients. To ensure children are not being exposed to ‘Frankenfoods’ opt for organic or genetically unmodified ice cream, sweets and baked goods. Health food stores will offer an amazing organic cake that will have you wondering why you ever consumed chemical-filled traditional birthday cakes in the past.
Plates, Cups and Cutlery
For some reason, even the most careful parents still opt to have paper plates, styrofoam cups and plastic cutlery at children’s parties. Doing the dishes might take a bit more work after the party, but considering some of the styrofoam items will take an estimated 500-1000 years to break down in the landfill, it makes more sense to do the dishes.
Each year in the USA, more than 40 billion plastic utensils are thrown into landfills.
Paper plates might seem like a better option than styrofoam due to their ability to break down quicker in the landfill, but paper is also a non-sustainable resource at current global rates of consumption.
Plastic cutlery is made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. In a landfill, a piece of plastic may take between 500-1000 years to breakdown into smaller components. Each year in the USA, more than 40 billion plastic utensils are thrown into landfills.
Filling a small plastic bag made from petroleum (a non-renewable resource) with more plastic toys and chemical and dye filled candies, does not send a very healthy message to young people. Instead consider filling a small biodegradable bag with a tree seedling or a package of sunflowers, a Make A Difference list (go to our Ten Things Section to see some samples) and a few organic sweets or lollipops.
Trees For Life is a non-profit that plant trees in developing countries: http://www.treesforlife.org
Seeds of Diversity is a Canadian charitable organization working to conserve non-hybrid Canadian plants in the public domain: http://www.seeds.ca
Alternative Gifts International offers gifts of peace and justice that are sustainable and build security in the recipient communities: http://www.alternativegifts.org
Greenpeace Presents For The Planet has gifts that protect forests, oceans, climate and natural habitat: http://www.presentsfortheplanet.ca
Natural Moms Blog, a guide to natural family life, offers a wide array of green options for birthdays and other holidays: http://www.naturemoms.com/
PlayPumps International works to provide access to clean drinking water to African communities. Water related diseases are responsible for more than 80% of all sickness in the developing world. PlayPump® water systems are sustainable water pumps powered by children playing. Installed near schools, the pumps double as an innovative water pump and a fun merry-go-round for kids. For more information visit: http://www.playpumps.org