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Family Matters

The Greener Party - A Great Way to Celebrate Earth Day!

February 23rd, 2014

By Teresa Osiowy

You love your kids. You love your planet. Nothing can bring those two realities into conflict like the birthday party experience. Never before have parents had so much conflicting advice at hand to help them endlessly second guess their every move as parents.  When I find myself waffling, I ask myself “How will this impact my children long term?”  The answer to that can be hard to know. This I do know.  The example I set for them about caring for others and the planet when they are small will shape how they do this once they’re grown. It could be the best gift, birthday or otherwise, that they’ll ever receive.

So, if you’re ready to take a first step toward greener parties for a healthier planet, here are 10 ideas to get you started:

1.    Celebrate Nature - Children who have memorable early experiences in nature are more likely to grow to be great stewards of the world around them. With this in mind you might choose an activity that helps instill a love for nature.  An easy way to do this is to plan a nature scavenger hunt in a natural area near your home. A hike and picnic at a park, and tobogganing are all great ways to party outside.  With older kids, an energetic game of Capture the Flag or a hike will make for an unforgettable celebration.

2.    Nurture Your Young Animal Lover -Is your young one gifted with a love of animals? Why not take advantage of the birthday party opportunities available at pet stores, local nature center, a Zoo or the Humane Society?  Or, if you prefer, you might choose to create your own animal- lover birthday party by hosting it at a non-commercial farm or ranch or even at home using an animal theme designed with or by your kids.

3.    Think Globally, Act Locally - This simple message has great power to change the world that we live in. Why not make this your party-theme?  Hosting at home or at a venue located within close range of most guests reduces the environmental impact of driving. Serve food that has been grown or produced locally. Invite guests to join in on the theme by giving locally made gifts. Though reducing the environmental impact of just one birthday party may appear insignificant, raising the awareness level of a group of young friends can have a lasting influence on how they choose to live in the future.

4.    Use What You Can Reuse - While we are all familiar with the slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the most effective way to help our planet is the first action in the slogan: REDUCE.  We have become a society that  consumes disposables. In doing so, we consume precious resources of water and energy and add waste products to our world at an alarming rate.  One easy change we can make is to hang onto the kids’ plastic dishes once they’ve outgrown them and re-purpose them as party and picnic dishes. Nothing is easier than filling a green grocery bin or laundry basket with dishes, a couple colourful cloth tablecloths, cloth napkins and the rest of the party gear and heading off to your venue. Once home, it’s just a quick load of the dishwasher for you instead of another load for the landfill.  Learning to use what we already have at hand saves money and the environment.

5.    Replace Responsibly - If you must invest in party dishes and other party gear, this is a great time to switch to items that are made from bamboo or other reusable, sustainable materials and that are biodegradable once they wear out.  Dishes and linens made from natural materials are beautiful, elegant and are a treat to the senses of both young and old.

6.    Gifts That Give Twice - Do you regularly find yourself hosting ridiculously large birthday parties complete with overwhelming mounds of gifts? If so, this idea may be for you. It’s becoming so popular, in fact, I’d venture to call it a trend. One of the best ways to reduce the environmental impact of a birthday party is to ask for charitable donations in lieu of gifts. It may sound crazy the first time you hear of it. Here’s how it works. With your child, select a cause that you care about and would like to contribute to. You may or may not decide to set a fundraising goal. If you do, be sure to keep it very attainable, after all, this isn’t about creating pressure on you or your child. Decide if you’d like to set it up through a business that specializes in facilitating birthday party charitable donations and can organize a mini campaign for you or if you’d prefer to set it up on your own.  If setting it up on your own, you may choose to have your child sign up as a fundraiser for a specific charity (our son continues to fundraise for the Stephen Lewis Foundation two years after his “donations in lieu of gifts” party) or just collect donations from guests and make one lump sum donation to your cause. One perk of using the services of a business that runs your mini-campaign is that, often times, part of the money donated by guests goes toward the cause your child selects and part goes toward a meaningful gift for your child, an effective compromise.  It’s important to be sensitive and consider carefully whether your child is ready for ‘no gifts’ or even reduced gifts. For children who are ready, helping out with a cause they care about can be an empowering experience as they learn that they can use their own resources to make a significant difference in the world. Gifts that save on the environment while helping out a cause you believe in... give twice!

7.    Tree-lovers’ Invites - Looking for other simple ways to reduce your party footprint? It’s easy to send invites electronically using social media, or create your own using online resources and email those that you can, only printing paper invites for those guests who you can’t reach online, in person or by telephone.

8.    Yards of Cards - Reduce, reuse, and recycle doesn’t have to be limited to those occasions that you host.  A small change of habit multiplied by a huge number of party guests equals an enormous change over time.  As you have no doubt noticed, cards are big business and the number of life events ‘requiring’ a card multiplies each year.  Here too, many people are choosing to send e-cards to help the environment. Is your intention for adding a birthday card to a gift just to label the gift?  Well then, label the gift by writing the To and From right on the wrap or taping it to the bag.  Alternately, create a small slip of a card or make a crafty card from recycled items. My personal favorite card reducing tip is the tradition that my grandmother and her sister had of sending the same birthday card back and forth to each other over a period of many years.  Though more of a testament to their sense of humour, today it’s also an environmentally savvy way to reduce the amount of paper, ink and by-products that we process.

9.    Rethinking Loot Bags - Loot Bag, a necessary evil or a commercialized custom we can live without? If you’ve ever pondered how you became trapped in this endless swap of petrochemical polymer toys, pencils that refuse to sharpen straight, and other birthday paraphernalia, you are truly not alone.  Not to be a party pooper in the eyes of those who truly enjoy creating the perfect, theme-based loot bag (believe me, I have been there too), but in the face of global climate change, isn’t it time we rethink this odd custom?  Every parent I know honestly hates bringing home all that plastic destined for the dump. There are other options. If you must send something, consider sending one useful item - unwrapped - such as a storybook or a wooden model truck to build.  Work with your child to create a handmade treasure, choose something made by an artisan from the developing world or decide to shop locally.  This year we took the big step and found that the best loot bag solution of all...is no loot bag....at all.

10. Wrapping Up - Let’s take a moment to consider the wrap we give and the wrap we get.  It’s easy to reduce, reuse and recycle here. Can you reuse gift bags you receive or donate them to someone who will?  Perhaps you could skip adding tissue paper to gift bags that you give?  How about recycling wrapping paper or donating it to the art programme at your local school? Of course, the bold move here is no wrapping at all.  Are you ready to refuse to add more refuse to the planet?

Still not sure where to start?  Ask your kids!  The only thing that surprises me more than kids’ great ideas is the fact that we adults still forget to ask for them.  Zoiks!  If the idea is theirs it’s likely you’ll get the buy-in needed to make it fly. It’s hard to imagine what a powerful example we set for our children in everything that we do.  Rest assured, the baby steps you make today in teaching them to care for others and the planet will have a huge and lasting impact in the world. You don’t have to be an environmental expert to pick one small idea and get started.  It’s simple, you love your kids, so love their planet too!

Teresa Osiowy is an author and educator living a life-long learning adventure.  She loves her kids and her planet.

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