We love our kids, and when it comes time to celebrate their birthdays, we want to make them feel special and have a day to remember, especially in our current environment.
Seize the silver lining of a reduced guest list to brush up on your eco-friendly party skills. Baby steps now will help you avoid the waste and trash mountains that normally remain at the end of the celebration you’ll have when we can all get together again.
For now, here are our tips to help you create an amazing, memorable birthday that’s simple to execute and minimizes waste. Win-Win-Win!
Three words: Reduce, reuse, recycle. For the long-term, consider buying a few staple decorations like an un-themed ‘Happy Birthday’ sign and a cloth or sturdy paper garland or banner (think stars, happy faces, etc.).You’ll be able to re-use these supplies for multiple family members and holidays.
Feeling crafty? You can use twine, clothespins, and letters either cut out from or written on cloth scraps, sturdy tagboard, or chalkboard paper to create your own festive banner. Add and rearrange letters to fit any celebration!
From there, do a quick comb through your home and pull cute keepsakes, figurines, posters, stickers, framed photos, and even toys to decorate. Does your child want a train-theme birthday? Grab their train set from the toy bin and create a fun table display. Superheroes more their thing? Plastic action figures, once gently cleaned, make awesome cake toppers.
If at all possible, we recommend skipping the balloons. Even in the best of situations, they are destined for the trash can. Adding to that, they are generally non-biodegradable and can be devastating to wildlife if they find their way into our waterways & oceans. It’s an easy exclusion to make. Instead, create balloon-shaped paper decorations or pom-poms from materials already destined for the recycle bin.
If you’re including out-of-household attendees, make sure you include a “no balloons please” notice on invitations.
Princess or fairy party? Fresh flowers are always festive. Enlist your kiddo’s help with the harvest, for bonus fun.
Instead of buying party hats, have an activity where kids can make their own wearable party favor! Have fabric scraps? Masks (decorative, or protective) and capes are great options, depending on how much you have available. If you have cardboard and a hearty glue (fabric, craft, or hot glue work best), you can make crowns or tiaras. Glue on sparkle or sequins for some added bling.
Replace plastic bags and cheap toy party favors with a crafty alternative, made with the guest’s own hand(s). Pull together small pots, a bit of soil, and seeds for a take-home plant. Create and decorate popsicle stick frames letting your guest know you’ll print and send them party photos to place in the frame. Even a simple painted rock can be a nice moment.
Pinterest has loads of ideas on how to get crafty and you can select a set of instructions that include earth-friendly materials.
If our Pacific Northwest weather holds up, take everyone outside. Use your yard for a birthday-themed treasure hunt (similar to an Easter Egg hunt). You can leave clues, or draw a pirate-style map that leads to hidden gifts.
No yard? No problem! After the glue sets, take the party on the road and show off your new wearable craft. A family walk/parade is also a great way for parents and kids alike to walk
Plates, Silverware, Tablecloth, etc.
We understand it makes zero sense to have nice china plates and white linen at a kid’s party (we’re laughing just thinking about that scenario).
Consider substituting cloth napkins and tablecloths for their plastic and disposable options. Bartell’s also has a great selection of melamine, of bamboo and compostable plates, cups, utensils, and straws that will keep the cheap plastic-coated alternatives out of the landfill.
Do you have extra cups and plates hanging around from your summer BBQ? Consider using those first before going out and buying a whole stack of new ones. If you’re concerned about presentation, you could strategically mix and match the older stuff with something new, have kids decorate their cups with washable pens and stickers (another craft activity!), or use the older stuff to hold craft activities or appetizers and save the new stuff for the table. If you have a large paper roll, cover the table tape a big strip to the table for a double-duty tablecloth and art project by putting crayons on the table for kids to unleash their imaginations.
Keep things casual. Bring out your coffee mugs, adult-sized plastic tumblers, and don’t-care-if-it-gets-broken glassware for the adults to enjoy a fortified punch or another festive bevy while the kids party.
Gifts & Thank You Notes
Birthday boys and girls love the anticipation and thrill of presents on their birthday, and family & friends (we’re looking at you grandparents) love to give them! In a normal environment, the chaos that surrounds the opening gifts can be overwhelming for kids and parents alike. We like to limit party-time opens to one or two presents given by your most irregularly seen invitees. Hold the rest for later so that each gift gets time to shine.
Additionally, it’s also very appropriate to make an online list of gifts that intersect your kid’s interest with reduced wastefulness and environmental impact. Links can be shared via text message, email, or eVite. This can also help you reinforce the fact that a few quality gifts will hold your child’s longer than a heap of lesser tchotchkes that will end up in the donate pile (or trash can) just a month or two after the big event.
Here are some more ideas to make the most of gift-giving:
- For very young children (especially the big 1st birthday party), consider a “no gifts” request for the large party (post COVID of course). You can tell grandparents and close family to bring gifts another time if they insist. In lieu of gifts, you could encourage guests to make a donation instead to a local charity for kids, like Treehouse For Kids, a non-profit that supports foster children.
- Have close friends and family go in on a bigger gift together! This is a great option for older kids with more expensive needs/wants. Funds can be collected ahead of time using electronic money transferring services like Venmo, Paypal, or Zelle or send a real-money gift card so you can purchase the gift ahead of the party. Then there can be a grand reveal during the party for all the guests, in-person and virtual, to see. Have someone at-the-ready to capture the moment with a camera for sharing with everyone unable to attend.
- Do your friends have toys their kids no longer use? Consider a toy swap for birthdays give old toys extended life in a new home.
- Instead of wrapping paper, many of which because of their coatings, shouldn’t be recycled, use gift or tote bags.
- Don’t forget the thank you notes! Virtual and personal aren’t mutually exclusive. Send a thank-you email or eCard, with a quote by the party boy or girl about why they like the present. You can get some delightfully cute and honest responses that will be appreciated by any parent. Just make sure we use our nice words.
Do you have any other ideas to share with us? Tell us in the comments!