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4 tips for hosting a greener birthday party

You want your kid’s birthday party to be nothing but a positive experience for all involved. To keep it positive for the Earth and minimize any negative impact, we reached out to some of Chicago’s best-known environmental stewards for tips on hosting a birthday party with the environment in mind.

Gabby Petrelli, conservation action coordinator at Shedd Aquarium, says that “every action by every family can make a difference for our shared planet.” Parents can set a great example for kids by reducing waste and talking with them about conscious decisions you make about their party. It “can help start eco-friendly habits that last a lifetime,” she says.

Jessica Prescott-Smith, coordinator of family programs at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, notes that such steps are also good for the plants and while you don’t have to make kids stewards today, taking steps now leads to that happening naturally.

Here are some tips they shared on making birthday bashes more eco-friendly.

Make nature a fun part of your birthday bash.

Whether you host your party at home or head out to one of the many great venues in Chicagoland, consider incorporating outdoor fun into the event.

“If you can make that connection early on where kids have fun and beneficial exciting experiences in nature, they will care about nature. As they grow older, that translates into being stewards,” Prescott-Smith says.

Even something as simple as free playtime outside can be “memorable and fun,” she says. Worried about the forecast? She says young partygoers at the Chicago Botanic Garden go outside year-round and in all kinds of weather. Kids have a great time, rain or shine. She notes that “winter can be one of the most exciting times to get outside, because it is really easier to spot animal tracks and birds like cardinals.”

Stick with reusable items whenever you can.

Stick with durable dishes, platters and cutlery that can be washed and reused instead of single-use options. If you cannot avoid single-use items, use ones that are compostable, such as those made of bamboo, palm leaf or sugar cane. If plastic is the only option, select items that are plastic #1, which are typically clear, and can be recycled in Chicago.

When serving beverages, avoid juice pouches or single-use bottles if you can. Large refillable drink dispensers are an option that can be both cute and environmentally friendly.

For decorations, consider ones that can work year after year, like a fabric birthday banner or flag. Opt for paper streamers and confetti that are biodegrade.

Project your love of the planet.

Another option is to have party guests do a project that creates something usable and have that be the take-home item. Possibilities include upcycling an item that guests can take home, such as tie-dyeing an old T-shirt or making something like soap or tea that can be used. It could also be a project that inspires an ongoing connection with nature, such as painting a flowerpot or making a bird feeder.

Skip plastic party favors.

The little plastic items often found in goodie bags don’t hold children’s interest very long, but they do last a very long time in the landfill. Skip them all together and look at it as doing good for the environment and your fellow parents.

Instead, choose more eco-friendly options like a seed packet or even a plant that the guest can take home and nurture. Another great option for many party themes, give a book that matches the theme.

Not only will your guests thank you, the Earth will, too.


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This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.

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