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Birthday Parties

Hosting a birthday party is a chance to celebrate the special people in our lives. It's fun to have friends and family over to share food, drinks, activities, and games, but even though birthdays are only once a year big parties can have an impact on your carbon footprint. Think about how many parties you have gone to with disposable tablecloths, cups, plates, tableware and wrapping paper. At the end of the party, all of that ends up in the landfill. It doesn't have to be that way. Here are some tips, tricks, and ideas to make kid and adult birthday parties eco-friendlier.  

Image by Annie Spratt

INVITING YOUR GUESTS

Invites can go out by email, text, or phone to save paper and transportation, but if you like the old-fashioned method, you can make your paper invites and envelopes from recycles magazines, calendars, seed catalogs, or other colorful paper. 

SETTING THE SCENE

Decorations don't need to be overboard or themed. Instead, invest in a few colorful, good-quality decorations that can be used over and over again for any event you're hosting. I like colorful lights, prayer flags, a bouquet of flowers from your garden in the summer, or a potted plant in the winter. Unfortunately balloons, every kid's favorite decoration, are dangerous for animals and end up in the landfill, but there are biodegradable balloons available now, if you don't want to go without. 

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SETTING THE TABLE

Fabric tablecloths - from Goodwill or made from a sheet - look nice and can be washed instead of thrown away. We also use picnic blankets and extra sheets for picnics in the yard. Use fabric napkins or cut up an old sheet or curtains into squares instead. Then just wash and store them for the next party. I highly recommend investing in a set of stainless steel cups. We use them instead of glass at home and they work great for parties too. They don't break and they're easy to clean. Bamboo is another option.  We try to offer food that can be served on a napkin instead of a plate and doesn't require silverware like veggies, cupcakes, and pizza, but you could get a set of stainless steel or bamboo plates.  Another option is compostable tableware, but make sure it is compostable in a household compost bin and doesn't need to be sent to a specific facility. 

FEEDING YOUR GUESTS

Birthday parties are a chance to show off your favorite low waste treat and snack recipes to a crowd or to support a local store, restaurant, or caterer. Choose something package free, like fresh fruit and veggies and dip, cupcakes in silicone wrappers, popsicles in reusable molds, or homemade popcorn. You can also make a bunch of these pizzas. Aim to serve food that can be served on napkins and that doesn't require silverware. Less waste and less clean-up go hand in hand! 

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FUN & GAMES

It's easy to find zero-waste activities for outdoor parties like sports, games, and fires. You can also have your party at a local park, playground, or sports field for more space. Low waste activities for kids include chalk, minimalist crafts, refillable bubbles, and old-fashioned games like jump roping, potato sack races, etc. I have more ideas for low waste outdoor fun here. Indoor games and activities can also be low or zero waste, including crafts, scavenger hunts and other games, and cards. I am not a party planner and like to keep things simple, so we usually opt for outdoor parties and simple crafts and activities, but lots of websites are devoted to fun party ideas, if you want to investigate further. Just steer clear of buying anything new unless you're going to reuse it over and over. 

SENDING FAVORS HOME

For adult parties, I highly recommend forgoing favors altogether or keeping them very simple, like a packet of seeds or a small potted plant. For kids, we often have an activity or craft that becomes the favor, like crown-making, slime-making, or mask-making. It's a win-win: kids go home with something they made themselves instead of a random thing we picked out for them, plus they have something to keep them busy during the party. Consumables, handmade snack bags filled with snacks, seeds and a tiny pot, or low dollar amount gift cards to a local bookshop make great favors. Another idea, recommended by a friend, is to create a playlist for the party and email it to everyone as a favor and a way to remember all the fun. 

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GIFTS or NO GIFTS,
that is the question.

Our family all lives close by, which is wonderful, but can also result in an abundance of gifts. For family parties, we try to steer family members toward gifts we know will be used and appreciated. If the kids are reading a certain series or need a new bike, we will alert our parents or siblings. Same goes for adult gifting. Gift certificates for activities are always welcome too. 
We try to request no gifts for friend parties, but often people feel uncomfortable coming to a party without a gift for a child (personally, I'm always happy to oblige). If you want to walk the line, you could request a simple and specific gift, like seeds for their gardens, beads for a necklace, or craft supplies. Then no one goes overboard and your child still receives gifts.