Throw an environmentally-friendly birthday party

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 size fives.

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 and teaches green parenting classes at the Chicago Academy of Sciences’ Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

Green can be fun

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

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

And while most kids expect a cache of presents, green gift giving can be one of the trickiest components of throwing a carbon-neutral party.

“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, and specialize in eco-friendly gifts.

At, 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 way.”

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 haul.”

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.

Other options

Another option to a green party is throwing an unorthodox party.

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, and, which gives offset revenue to Great Lakes region farmers, landowners or businesses registered with the Chicago Climate Exchange.

“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,” Richards says.

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