By Jonah Lisa Dyer
Creating sustainable parties might not be as fast and easy as buying a Princess Party Set and cleaning up into a giant trash bag, but you’ll find that wonderful memories aren’t compromised, powerful lessons are taught without words, and you can save a good chunk of money. Best of all, the impact your child’s celebration has on the planet will be drastically reduced, and that is perhaps the finest gift you can give.
The easiest first step to making kids’ birthday parties sustainable is to ditch the themed paper plates, napkins, tablecloths, and decorations. If your kids just must have Dora the Explorer or Star Wars represented at the party, use the cake or a special gift for that purpose, instead of paper products that can be used only once.
Durable party ware is a smart, one-time investment that can be used for every member of the family for years to come. Festive melamine sets are available at MD Nursey and The Wardrobe in Driggs. Both Broulim’s and the Jackson Whole Grocer stock reusable Preserve tableware made from recycled #5 plastic. Kmart in Jackson carries good old-fashioned Corelle, made from 100 percent fused glass that is nearly unbreakable. Old-school aluminum sets, colorful Fiestaware, and even old mismatched china all work well and great bargains can be found at thrift stores, garage sales, and on eBay.
Reusable cloth napkins made from kid-friendly patterned fabrics require minimal sewing skills. If you don’t sew, just cut out six-by-six inch squares with pinking shears (zig-zag scissors) so they won’t fray in the wash. A reusable, festive tablecloth means you can still wipe up easily after the melee. Look for vintage vinyl tablecloths or just cut yardage of oil cloth or flannel-backed vinyl from a fabric store.
Party decorations can be sustainable too. Birthday banners made from fabric scraps, old T-shirts, or construction paper spelling out a message and strung on ribbon or rope look fabulous. You can hand sew them or just use a stapler. Create items that will become a part of your family’s birthday tradition year after year, like a silly hat or a Happy Birthday pillowcase that gets slipped over the chair back of the birthday boy or girl. Put up a strand of Christmas lights or let your child decorate the windows with Window Crayons. There are a million ways to go.
Keep a party tub that includes all your durable party supplies. With everything together, setup is easy, and you can take your sustainable party conviction with you to the park, the ski hill, the art center, the recreation center, or wherever you like. For cleanup, pack a sponge and a use a ziplock bag to tote decorations. Wipe down the tablecloth, pack everything into the tub, and load the plates and utensils into the dishwasher when you get home. By keeping these items exclusively for parties, you imbue your kids with that “special factor” that makes them feel great.
Throw a giving party instead of a getting party and you’ll teach a good lesson in sustainability while having a lot of fun. After all, most children will receive plenty of gifts from their parents and extended family. Do they really need another pile of gifts from friends, too? But rather than taking the joy of giving away from the invited guests, request that everyone bring something to donate to a local charity instead of a gift for your child, or have a gift exchange where everyone comes with a gift and leaves with a gift.
Help your child choose a charity that’s appropriate to their age, understanding, and interests. An avid reader might want to collect books for the local library. An animal-lover could ask for bags of pet food to donate to an area shelter. A birthday near the holidays would be a great opportunity to collect toys for Subs for Santa. Have your child decorate a large cardboard box or basket for collecting the items at the party. In the days following the big bash, take your child to the organization’s headquarters to make the donation in person, so she can see her good will at work and be thanked for her generosity. It’s a lesson kids will carry with them far longer than the Power Ranger action figure will stick around.
Instead of $3 to $5 dollars’ worth of trinkets and candy per kid, send guests home with one cool items like:
- A bird call
- A pocket field guide to bugs, animal tracks, butterflies, birds, or flowers
- Classic Yo-yos or Frisbees
- A box of crayons or markers
- A magnifying glass
- Small potted flower or seedling
- Gift certificates for an ice cream cone
Forget the bag and display the favors in a basket or bowl by the door. Remember, the party favor is really just an item that helps parents transition younger children out the door. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. We are all in this together. The more reasonable and sustainable each of us makes our celebrations, the easier it is for the next one in line.
Email free invitations through evite.com instead of mailing paper ones. This saves paper, postage, and fuel. Friends can RSVP with the click of a button, and you can even set up an automatic party reminder.
Charitable Giving Ideas
If you'd like to host a giving party, but the idea seems foreign to guests, reel them in with a themed donation like:
- New books for the library
- Canned goods for the food bank
- Soldier packages for the National Guard
- Pet supplies for the animal shelter
- Coats for your church’s coat drive
- Toys for Subs for Santa
- School supplies for needy children
- Art supplies for the local arts councils