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Earth-Friendly Tips for Children's Parties

Any parent who has thrown a child’s birthday party knows all about the aftermath: piles of wadded-up paper napkins, stacks of paper plates smeared with trans-fat-packed frosting and melted ice cream, shreds of piñata strewn amidst the remnants of the sugar-addled guests, and several leftover ‘goodie bags’ full of cheap candy and plastic, useless trinkets. That’s a lot of waste and poor nutrition – hard for an eco-aware, health-minded parent to swallow.

Is there another way – a way that won’t make your child complain that his or her party wasn’t quite as cool as his or her friends’ parties? Can one throw a child’s birthday party in a way that will reduce trash and waste, offer more nutritious foods, and improve the quality of each child’s experience? Try these earth-friendly party tips to help make your child's birthday both memorable and environmentally responsible.

Start by updating from the old practice of sending paper party invitations: go paperless! Paperlesspost.com offers elegant, upscale online invitations that are quick, easy, and affordable. The site is well organized and user-friendly; it’s a snap to create a beautiful and economical invitation for any occasion.

Try bamboo or compostable tableware. As these options become increasingly popular, more and more choices show up in stores and online. You can have an even smaller impact on the waste stream if you use unbleached coffee filters or large fig leaves instead of paper plates– this is something really fun I’ve tried with children’s parties!

If you’re thinking of having place cards or party favors, consider unconventional, eco-friendly items like organic seed packets, stones, small potted herbs, or glass jars filled with colorful organic sweets – you can find organic gummy worms or jellybeans locally or order them online. If you want these favors to do double duty as place cards, just write a name on them.

Try crafting charming napkin treatments with garden twine wrapped several times around a rolled cloth napkin and tied with a loose knot. Tuck in a couple of Yummy Earth organic lollipops (http://www.yummyearth.com/) for color – another way to offer party favors without the dreaded plastic-and-tissue-wasting ‘goodie bag.’

Plant a "fruit patch" for your centerpiece: pre-order a flat of wheatgrass from your local farmers' market and "plant" it with assorted organic melon balls, berries, grapes, and other seasonal fruits on wooden skewers. Cover the edges of the flat by tucking in a strip of fabric around all sides. Use the wheatgrass to make a healthy juice for a great start to your next morning (any juicer model that works for vegetables should work for wheatgrass) or leave the tray of grass for your cats and dogs to nibble. Return the plastic flat to the grower to reuse on your next farmer's market visit.

As an alternative to standard supermarket cake or cake mixes, try the wonderful vegan cupcake recipes in the new cookbook Babycakes, by Erin McKenna (Clarkson Potter, 2009). These are among the tastiest cupcakes I’ve ever eaten, vegan or not – cupcakes from McKenna’s vegan bakery in NYC were voted best in the city by New York magazine in 2006! If you want to serve ice cream too, serve it in Let's Do Organic ice cream cones, which are delicious and waste free (http://www.edwardandsons.com/ldo_shop_cones.itml).

Create a cozy outdoor room using sturdy rope tied between posts or trees and draped in burlap, which you can purchase very inexpensively at a remnant store. The remnants can be held in place with wooden clothespins, or you can use large safety pins to secure them. You can reuse the fabric later to create canopies or tablecloth overlays for outdoor dinners. I have six burlap panels from the remnant store that I’ve used dozens of times – just make sure that you air them out a few days before the party!

For a girl’s elegant outdoor tea party, you could then set a table and chairs inside your outdoor room. Layer the table with vintage tablecloths; arrange recycled jars filled with organic farmers market flowers, or place the "fruit patch" centerpiece described above at the table’s center for a charming tea party. For favors, buy small jars of local honey and a few assorted tea sachets. Bundle them in natural soy wax paper and tie with some recycled ribbon to create the perfect fancy tea-party favor! Tuck a leaf with each person’s name into the ribbon and the gift will double as a place card.

If sustainability is important to you, you’ll really enjoy how it shows up in all of these lovely details. I hope you’ll use these tips as a springboard for your own creativity. After all, designing a party can be a big drag if you don’t find a way to use it as an expression of yourself and the guest of honor!

How can you create a beautiful earth-friendly party that everyone will enjoy and remember? As soon as you begin to play around with these ideas, you’ll see how easy and affordable it can be to have a high-quality, low waste party for your child’s special day.

About the Author

Merryl Brown is the President of Merryl Brown Events, a Santa Barbara based sustainable events company that is known for its elegant, classic events that are created within a framework of sustainable practices.

www.merrylbrownevents.com

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