By DONNA DeFORBES/ecoRI News contributor
When it comes to children’s birthdays, most people are in the habit of doing what everybody else does, which typically means disposable plates, cups and décor in a popular licensed character theme and prettily wrapped presents of the latest toy.
Nearly all of this stuff, including the cheap plastic party favors, gets tossed within a few hours, which is a shame because much of it can be avoided.
Consider these eco-friendly birthday party alternatives:
Send electronic invitations; there are a variety of free options to choose from online.
Prefer traditional mail? Use recycled paper or seeded cards the guests can plant afterwards.
Tableware, food & drink
Buy plates and cups made from recycled content — there are a variety of compostable and biodegradable plates and cups.
For a home party, use real plates, mugs and cutlery. The water used to wash them afterward is much less then the water used to manufacture paper plates.
Don’t use individual dishes at all. Set out simple finger foods on a few serving plates.
Buy or make cloth napkins, and buy a festive, fabric tablecloth that can be reused every year.
Serve homemade drinks — lemonade, juice, water with fruit slices — in glass pitchers instead of buying individual juice boxes.
Have a recycling bin set up to dispose of recyclable plates and cups.
Decorate with cloth banners, colorful flowers, wind socks, fairy lights, etc. Invest in items that can be reused. Making a colorful fabric birthday banner can even be a craft that gets incorporated into the party.
If weather permits, choose an outdoor setting with seasonal nature as the décor.
Skip the paper party hats. Make one special birthday hat for the guest of honor, but create your own outrageous one from fabrics and materials around the house.
Use ribbon dancers or dancing inflatables instead of balloons. Mylar is not biodegradable, and latex balloons — supposedly the better option — are still harmful to the pets and wildlife that often ingest them.
Choose non-plastic favors that will last longer than a week, such as books, art supplies, cooking supplies and collected items from nature.
Package them in reusable cloth bags or recyclable paper bags.
Create a favor that has its own container such as terra cotta flower pots filled with plant seeds or decorative mugs filled with homemade treats.
Think outside the typical goodie bag. Print out memorable photos from the party for guests to take home or burn party CDs of favorite kid songs.
Gifts & gift wrap
Set a trend by specifying in your invitation a preferred type of gift: gently used toys or sustainable items made of natural materials or recycled content.
Create a party theme around an interest of your child’s, and tie it into a charity. During my daughter's princess obsession, we had an atypical princess-themed party where the girls learned about real-life princesses and guests donated toward pediatric AIDS in honor of Princess Diana. A few years later, we held a “Save the Wild Animals” party where kids' faces were painted as endangered animals and donations went to Defenders of Wildlife. Both themes were a big hit with both kids and parents. (Editor’s note: Hold an ecoRI News-themed birthday party; we even have a few clowns we could send.)
Wrap your gift in fabric scraps, newspaper or your child’s artwork.
Make the wrapping part of the gift — a bandana or long-sleeved T-shirt tied around a book.
Buy cloth bags that can be reused by the recipient for parties or shopping trips.
Instead of crinkled ribbon, decorate gifts with twine, wool yarn, funky shoelaces or bits of nature such as twigs, shells and colorful leaves.
Have kids make their own birthday cards or drawings instead of store-bought ones.
Instead of a card, paint a pretty stone with a child’s name and age or create an audio mp3 with a personal birthday message.
Donna DeForbes is the founder of Eco-Mothering.com, a blog that explores ways to make going green fun and easy for the whole family. She is a contributor to Earth911, The Green Mama, MammaBaby and author of the e-book “The Guilt-Free Guide to Greening Your Holidays.”