After your child's birthday party fun is over, paper products,
destroyed decorations and crumpled gift wrap will overfill the
garbage can, countless gallons of gas will have been guzzled by
minivans toting guests to and from the event and dozens of the
newest plastic toys and electric gadgets will be the property of
your precious child.
All totaled, it's a carbon footprint that far exceeds your kid's
But what's a parent to do-deprive their son or daughter of a
quintessential childhood experience? The answer, eco-conscious
experts say, is a resounding no.
The key is determining what, exactly, parents want the party to
accomplish, says Manda Aufochs Gillespie, who created the green
parenting Web site thegreenmama.com and
teaches green parenting classes at the Chicago Academy of Sciences'
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
Sending compostable invitations-some come infused with
wildflower seeds and can be planted after received-is a great way
to kick off the green-themed party, Gillespie says.
In lieu of traditional decorations and party accouterments, try
using paper products made from 100 percent post-consumer waste or
biodegradable plates, cups and cutlery. Constructed of renewable
resources such as corn sugar or potatoes, as opposed to petroleum,
some compostable plastics can be found at Web sites such as www.biodegradablestore.com.
Biodegradable bamboo products, which break down in four to six
months on a composting pile, lend a more classy vibe to any
celebration, says Jill Richard, marketing coordinator at www.greenfeet.com.
And while most kids expect a cache of presents, green gift
giving can be one of the trickiest components of throwing a
"It could be we only want books or things that aren't imported
or if you want toys, I encourage people to come up with a clear
message, like we only want wooden toys."
Gillespie suggests clarifying-on those compostable
invitations-the exact sort of organic or earth-friendly gift you'd
like your child to receive and where it can be found.
Sites like treehugger.com, ourgreenhouse.com and gigglefishgifts.com
specialize in eco-friendly gifts.
At greenfeet.com, some
earth-friendly items include wooden blocks made out of naturally
felled trees, indoor gardening sets made from corn plastics and
innovative ecology-themed games, such as the Xeko rainforest
trading games which is about keeping things being in balance and
working together, Richard says. "So you might have animals playing
against each other and if you lose an animal, it effects your game
and you see how it effects the balance of the rainforest, so it's
really about teaching conservationism, but kids don't see it that
Despite higher price tags on green gifts, environmentalists urge
parents to look at the cost-benefit ratio.
"Most of the toys you'd typically buy are plastic and kind of
junky and not made for the long haul," Richard says. "... Most of
the things you do to be green end up saving you money over the long
And if a plastic or poorly made item slips into the gift pile,
parents can easily parlay it into a positive.
"If you're trying to reduce your carbon footprint, I also
encourage people to re-gift, which is great if it's something you
already have or don't want in your household," Gillespie says.
Another option to a green party is throwing an unorthodox
Similarly focused on celebrating life and having fun,
non-traditional events ask guests to give of themselves, rather
than a pricey gift, and provide guests a unique experience.
"What we did for my daughter's first birthday was planned a
party at the Marjorie Kovlar Center for the Victims of Torture,"
which has a free store for victims and their families, Gillespie
says. "We made CDs to listen to, we were together in rooms and
people volunteered time putting things together for the store,
ironing, labeling books and it was really fun.
"But it also meant at the end of the day, because people felt
they had gifted us and our daughter with donated time, we weren't
left with a bunch of toys we didn't need or want."
For older children, field trip parties-to sites built around
sustainability such as an organic garden, a wind farm or landfill
and a methane digester-not only negate the need for decorations and
gifts, but provide kids a hands-on encounter.
At the end of the day, whether you've thrown a birthday bash
with a green bent or gone on a field trip to a trash heap, the
surefire way to ensure you've not permanently dented the
environment is by doing a carbon offset. Offsets, such as tree
planting and renewable energy, negate the negative impact of the
gas consumed by party guests' vehicles and the energy required to
ship those organic products to your venue.
Carbon consumption calculators and offset credits available for
purchase are available at Web sites such as www.nativeenergy.com, www.terrapass.com and www.delta-institute.org,
which gives offset revenue to Great Lakes region farmers,
landowners or businesses registered with the Chicago Climate
"I think as parents making being eco-friendly a priority by
throwing eco-friendly parties, by recycling, by choosing things
that last, you're showing your kids that you love the earth,"
Robin Huiras is a freelance writer.
See more of Robin's stories here.
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