The ins and outs of a “green” birthday party.
For my daughter Jade’s fifth birthday I tried my best at doing her birthday a bit more “green”.
To me that meant trying to produce less waste, and use less plastic, junky stuff.
While there were a few misses along the way, here are some tips for a fantastic birthday party with an added eco-friendly (mostly) element.
There’s no place like home
Initially I proposed going out somewhere for Jade’s birthday party. The thought of not having to clean up after a house-full of five years was appealing. But Jade would have none of it. The kid knows what she likes. And she has a particular thing for birthdays (at home, apparently). Ok, yes, her birthdays one through four were at home and were pretty amazing. By setting the bar pretty high, I’m now destined to a lifetime of cleaning up squished birthday cake off the walls.
The thing is, while there were a million dishes, squished cake, sparkles, and toys everywhere, I have to say I also love the house birthday party. It just feels more, not to be cheesy, but more heartfelt.
And from an eco perspective, it’s a good way to go.
You can control exactly what the kids eat (no yucky fake icing on my kid’s cake), what you decorate with (no plastic streamers), what you serve the food on (no disposable plates/cups/forks), and what goes into the loot bag (no junk).
So once again the Martha Stewart party planner came out in me. And a good dash of eco-mama for extra measure.
Pick a Theme any theme
I love a theme for a party. It helps me to sort out the games, décor, food, invites, etc.
Last year we did a “garden fairy” themed party (more flowers and butterflies, less Disney Tinkerbell). It was a hit. I made headbands with flowers for each of the girls, had the kids decorate fairy wands, did fairy-themed dance contests, etc. And no fairy party is complete without a bashing in a piñata shaped like a butterfly.
The girls all came dressed in their finest wings. How cute…
This year we landed on a dance party. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, except that there would be lots of twisting and hopping involved…
Last year I did customized printable invitations from a card designer on Etsy. They looked amazing. This year I was a bit more rushed and left it too late so just had to resort to my own devices. I downloaded an invite template online, printed on recycled paper, and then pasted to construction paper. Jade added her own touch with the stickers and names of each guest.
I think they were adorable, and so super cheap, green, and easy.
Bake your own
Like I said, my five year old knows what she likes. Each year she comes up with some new concoction she requests for her cake. Last year it was banana chocolate with sprinkles.
Yes, those are chocolate dipped organic strawberries. Yum.
This year she wanted something less chocolate-y. I was in shock. This kid loves chocolate. From a young age she had this way of oozing reverence to the chocolate gods … “CHOOOOOcolate”.
Instead we did decorate-your-own lemon cupcakes, with a couple of different icing options (chocolate, raspberry/lemon, and lemon).
Here’s a tip: instead of using any red food colouring (bad stuff), add raspberry jam to a lemon icing base. Pretty and delicious.
The girls had a ball decorating their cupcakes. They picked their flavour of icing and then went to town with organic chocolate chips, organic raspberries, organic gummy bears (yes they do exist) and well, some not so organic sprinkles, smarties, etc..
It was DIY yum!
Simple decorations – i.e., avoid the Dollar Store
Everyone wants to save money and the dollar store seems like the place to go. But here’s the thing, because everything is so cheap, you just end up buying more and more and more.
Then the shock and guilt sets in of having spent $100 on a bunch of junk that you don’t really need, falls apart, and is just generally a bunch of crap. (This is true in other discount places – best to just avoid them altogether!)
Instead, to source out decorations (and craft supplies) I went to a local arts and crafts paper store, the Paper Place across from Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto.
This place, oh man, is heaven for DIY folks and people like me who love colour and patterns. This is where I bought the paper for my DIY wedding invites 6 years ago, and since then the store has expanded into more crafting stuff, and it is even more fabulous.
I bought some paper buntings and tissue paper flower pompom thingies. To the bunting I added some cut-outs to spell Happy Birthday. We can re-use this for years to come.
And the tissue paper flower pompom thingies are now hanging in Jade’s room. Re-usable, natural products and within the budget.
We didn’t even need balloons. The whole look was so simple and pretty.
A great way to keep the kids occupied for the first 30 minutes when everyone is arriving is with a fun craft activity.
For previous years we’ve done decorate your own loot bag (using paper bags, pretty eco-friendly), decorate your own party hats (just using construction paper, also pretty eco-friendly), decorate your own fairy wand, etc. etc..
This year we did decorate your own photo frame. I bought some inexpensive wood frames from Ikea and used up a bunch of existing craft supplies. The girls knocked this activity out of the park …
Confession alert: I did a stop at the dollar store. I went with Jade and as we walked in to the store she was instantly struck by a terrible smell. The smell of plastic. Polystyrene. BPA. PVC. Bad Stuff Smell.
Ah well, did I mention I’m also a last minute mama? We had no choice, I needed some stickers and fast! I bought $4 worth of stickers and high-tailed it out of there. This was a “miss” in my mostly green birthday party attempt.
Just Gotta Dance
After lunch and the cupcake sugar high, it was time to bust some moves. This was definitely the highlight of the party!
I downloaded from i-Tunes a fun selection of dance music. We cleared a dance floor and let the magic begin. We did the craziest dance moves, the best spinning, twisting, hopping. Freeze dance contests. And of course a conga line. We covered the classics from the 50s, the Beatles, I’m a Gummy Bear, Stayin Alive, I Like to Move It, etc.
One of my favourite moments was when the Nutcrakcer: Waltz of the Flower came on. The girls instantly transformed into prima ballerinas twirling, skipping, leaping and pirouetting. So cute!
And no dance party is complete without Gangnam Style. Everyone went wild with the dance moves.
Jade LOVES to dance. Can you tell?
Even the baby was getting into it!
Reduce Reuse Re-Loot
A key goal of my eco-birthday plan was to ‘green’ the loot bag. Jade has tins-full of junky broken toys from loot bags of past. No doubt the kid loves all this stuff (and seems to be a budding hoarder), but I’d love a bit less of it.
The biggest challenge was the bag. I could do the paper bag thing again.
But then I came upon this Canadian company called Little Thank Yous.
They make re-usable cotton bags, made locally with super cute designs. This was a no-brainer for me. I went with the ballet slippers one (naturally).
They are $4 each which means a bit less in the loot bag overall but the bag itself is a part of the “loot”.
No surprise: I am big into supporting small businesses. As a small business owner myself, I know it can be hard to compete with the big boxes where everything is mass produced who knows where, by who knows whom, in who knows what kind of working conditions, and with rock bottom prices.
I would rather buy less stuff, stuff that is better quality and by producers who treat workers fairly and with dignity.
I think these are good values to pass along to our kids. I talk to Jade about this all the time.
One of my first places to look for kids stuff is Little Peeps in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood. They’ve got a great selection of hand-picked items with a healthy, environmentally-friendly focus.
Jade was thrilled with her birthday gift: two new dresses (she’s sporting the Tea Collections dress in the shot above). And a cute organic cotton dress by Kate Quinn Organics.
To fill up the loot bag, first stop was the Grassroots Store on the Danforth.
I found some fun “poo” paper (yes, paper made from elephant poo – Jade thought it was hilarious) and some eco pencils. I’m so impressed by the amazing selection of cute toxic-free kids stuff at Grassroots.
I also dropped in to 100 Mile Child – my go-to for fun and locally-made birthday party gifts. They even have “eco” balloons made from latex rubber (good to know for next time!). I found some cute hair clips to add to the loot bags.
More laughter, less junk
It can definitely require a bit more effort to be green. But there are lots of options out there.
If we could all strive to use a little less plastic, be more deliberate in what and where we purchase things, and focus more on love and laughter and less on “stuff” , I think the planet could be a greener, cleaner, happier and healthier place.
I know this little girl sure thinks the effort is worth it!
Leave a comment if you have any more tips to share for an eco-birthday!