Written by Ilke
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birthdaybashChildren’s parties have become real commercial events. Now this is a touchy topic isn’t it? I think it has to do with the fact we all try to be perfect parents. Today, I will add another challenge to your parties, but maybe it will eventually might make things easier, and at least you might feel much better about it! Each party has quite an impact on the environment.  How can you make a difference? Here are some ideas to pick from (both for parents who are creative and those who do not even have the time to think of being creative!) to make these parties at least a bit more eco-friendly. Time to rethink and dare to change some things!

  1. Think small! In some countries they apply a simple rule: invite as many guests as the age of your child - e.g. when your child turns 6 then invite 6 – and often this is about the amount they can handle and enjoy fully! Another possibility is to “group” anniversaries together with some other parents - both for the parties and for the treat at school (e.g. at some schools they decided to do only 4 celebrations a year per class).
  2. Electronic invite. What about a nice email instead of a paper invitation? IF you choose to stick with paper, use recycled paper: you can either buy these cards in shops like Oxfam or make them at home (together with the children). A bit of creativity can even give you many alternative ideas: I once got a “message in a (reused) bottle” with some sand and shells in it to count the age of the child!
  3. Stay at home. Celebrating at home usually involves the least driving for other parents. You could even suggest parents to do car-sharing to bring their kids: it also gives the parents involved some more spare time for themselves! If not all the kids fit in the house, you might consider to choose for a nature-loving place: e.g. at a children’s farm, a zoo, a horse manege, a place for donkeys, or for the bigger ones at the Museum for natural sciences (KMNW). These places often have a birthday party package ready for you.
  4. Go “old fashioned”. How to keep them all busy while looking through our green glasses? I would suggest the old fashioned way: play riddle games, ball games, (recycling) crafts (e.g. making music instruments out of old boxes and rubber bands), and origami or paper airplane models to fold. And why not let the children add these crafts to their party bag to take home?
  5. Washable plates. Again, stick with the “old fashioned”. Usually a lot of waste comes from the one-time usable cutlery and tablecloths. Why not go for the washable plates and glasses like they used to do, or try out some compostable ones? And why not cut down on those balloons and just have a few very colourful ones here and there.
  6. Organic food. Try to find some simple, healthy and preferably organic food: e.g. filtered tap water (or from glass bottles) with some real fruit grenade in it (instead of individually wrapped artificial stuff), or fresh cut fruit and veggies (maybe combined with cheese) on wooden party sticks, or homemade or artisanal made cake with basic (preferably organic) ingredients. These are our kids! They deserve the pure and natural stuff instead of all the artificial colours, the organically grown instead of the chemicals used in agriculture, the whole grain, and raw cane sugar instead of the white processed flour and sugar.
  7. Party bags? Some use paper bags (decorated with drawings, or cut out figures or coloured recycled strings or ribbons) or something which can be reused afterwards, e.g. like a little rotan basket, a bucket, a cotton bag, or a piece of old cloth (square or round shaped) sewn together with a ribbon at the border. Inside bags: avoid plastic! You could include seeds to plant (e.g. tomato, peas, sunflowers are popular ones), or a seed planted in a little garden pot, wooden spinning tops, a little ink stamp, a single pastry or cookie baking form. You can get a lot of inspiration looking at shops like Oxfam wereldwinkels, Dille &Kamille, Nature et Decouvertes. And what about a riddle or an instruction on how to make something (origami, airplane, a toy). And then the sweets... The main thing is that we should try to avoid individual wrappings...and some might even choose some quality cookies or candies.
  8. Many guests, one gift. How many presents does your child get a year and how many are left aside? How about asking for a small contribution for you to buy one special present for your child? I know it might be less charming, but you cancel maybe 20 car trips to toy shops and 20 wrappings (unless you apply rule 1 and invite just few guests)! You could announce the present beforehand and ask parents to sign a card or have the kids write their names on the gift. Or consider donating part of it to charity. Have you ever thought about a present swapping party? Or ask the invited children to bring one of their own old favourite toys as a present? Keeping the original boxes of presents they get could be nice for giving it a second life in another family. If you want to buy some original presents you could have a look at the shops of Oxfam, Nature et Decouvertes, and the Zoo or even some online nature shops (e.g. www.vivara.be or www.natuurpunt.be or www.vogelbescherming.be and search for “winkel”). Some of the profit of all these shops mentioned will go to the environment. You can find many fun eco-presents these days , like sustainable wooden toys, solar energy kits, or cars and torches on solar energy or working on a dynamo. If you buy a present, you could keep the receipt and tell the parents that you could change it if they want to or give them the ticket in a sealed envelope. In some countries gift receipts or present exchange tickets are very common, but this is not the case in Belgium: you can only change with the original receipt.
  9. Hunt the presents. Try to keep all the used wrapping paper and ribbons! Once they are a bit older, maybe your kids can learn how to unwrap slowly and fold the paper themselves? To pass the time at your party, you could do an unwrapping game (e.g. with the children in a circle and them turning a bottle in the middle to point at the next one who can give a present). You might consider not wrapping at all and just putting a ribbon around the gift, or putting it in a reusable bag. For your own party you could agree with the parents beforehand that they do not wrap the presents and do a treasure hunt with the children to find them.
  10. Digital thanks. And then we are back at the beginning with the “thank you” cards! Maybe you could add a digital picture to the “thank you” email.

Imagine if all of us would only implement a few of these ideas, how big an impact we would achieve together! We can all make a big difference even with just one step at a time. Maybe you can also discuss things with other parents and get more ideas!

This article was published in the June 2011 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.

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