Birthday parties for kids have turned into something of an environmental nightmare in a lot of ways. All the paper used once and thrown away, plastic toys given not only to the birthday boy or girl, but often to every guest, the competition in many areas for each family to outdo the one before.
It gets pretty ugly.
The challenge is that it’s not a comfortable thing telling people what they should give for gifts. It pretty much goes against the usual etiquette. Registration for birthday presents isn’t all that common yet, so it can be difficult to get the idea across.
One thing I have noticed, however, is that if you make the theme clear on the invitation, at least some of the guests will bring gifts relevant to that theme. Declare a gardening theme and your child is likely to get at least some garden tools and seeds as gifts. Just think about what kinds of gifts would be welcome and try to figure out a theme relevant to it to have a shot at welcome gifts without telling your guests what kinds of things to buy directly.
Of course, if you’re comfortable putting on the invitations that you want a particular kind of gift, charitable donation or no gifts at all, do so. I know many people are glad to know what kinds of things to buy, etiquette or no.
I’ve always been a believer in keeping things simple. No buying themed paper plates, napkins, cups, gift baggies, etc. No renting bounce houses. Invite the kids and tell them to go play when they get there. Organize them only for things like opening presents and cutting cake. Children don’t need all that much direction to have fun.
Healthy food and kids can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. Believe it or not, many children do like vegetables pretty well. It helps if you provide dip for those that want it, but if you can keep the food healthy, organic and/or local, you’re a step ahead of the game.
Depending on the age group, the cake can be another target. I’ve noticed that most kids don’t like cake so much; they like frosting. Just look around at any child’s birthday party and notice how many pieces of cake are stripped of frosting but otherwise untouched. If the birthday boy or girl is agreeable, you may want to substitute cookies or another treat that will actually be eaten.
Gift wrap can be a pain, but at least some of it can be reused. We always save any gift bags used, so that they see at least a second use before someone else disposes of them. Wrapping paper is more challenging, but many types can now be recycled at the very least. Or you may be able to come up with craft ideas for some of the more interesting papers.
Those little gift baggies that are pretty much an expectation anymore are one of the big challenges to a green birthday party. They’re often plastic, filled with more plastic toys that will last a couple of days tops, as a rule. Not ideal by a long shot.
My own recommendation is to get a bit more creative. Get some little pots, soil and seeds and have the kids plant something. Flowers, tomatoes, whatever. It’s an activity combined with a gift for those attending the party.
Or if you want to do gift bags, think about fabric ones. If you sew you can make some quickly out of scrap cloth, or just buy some inexpensive ones. Fill them with things that will last better than the plastic junk you see most of the time, or some snacks.
You may be surprised at how much you can do to cut back on the waste generated by birthday parties. You may only have limited control over what your guests bring, but you can certainly decide what you will do for your part.