I can scarcely believe this, even as I write the words; the average children’s birthday party in the UK costs £129. In a recent survey, over 60% of mums admitted to spending between £51 and £200 on their little one’s bash. My own daughter’s 5th birthday party set me back £127 the other week. How did we reach the point where inviting a few friends to celebrate our child’s birthday cost so much? Have we lost our minds?
When we were young, birthday parties were much simpler affairs. With the recession and Government cuts promising a more austere time in the next few years, they may well have to be again. Actually, that may not be such a bad thing. Not when one considers the environmental cost of balloons, wrapping paper and goodie bags filled with plastic tat.
Let’s start with goodie bags, one of the silliest inventions of our age. These days, it is almost de rigeur to send guests away with goodie bags, but one has to ask why. The worthless plastic toys found within are quickly discarded, and find their way to landfill with astonishing speed. There they join the bags themselves, which are manufactured using oil and toxic dyes.
Readers brave enough to set a trend could be amongst the first parents to put an end to this nonsense. If that sounds a little Bah! humbug, there are eco-aware alternatives. Based in Surrey, Little Cherry is a company that specialises in providing Environmentally-friendly party goods. Buying online, mums and dads can choose either recyclable paper bags or re-useable, handmade cotton bags. They also sell interesting things to pop inside, everything from grass-heads and vegetable seed sticks to small wooden puzzles.
Petit Artisan is a London toy shop specialising in gifts of the ‘green persuasion’. They have a fantastic range of really interesting goodie bags, containing wooden or papier-mâché models for children to assemble and paint. Their range includes everything from dinosaurs to racing cars, jigsaws to colourful fish. The papier-mâché models are fair-trade, having been sourced from villages in the Philippines.
Home-baked cookies (made with organic sugar and flour, of course!) also make fantastic treats to pop inside goodie bags. Young children love baking, and a quick check at the ingredients list of some of the cheaper party foods supermarkets sell is enough to make any mum don her pinafore.
There is no need to go overboard when laying out the birthday party spread. At so many parties, too much food means too much waste. Remember only to serve as much food as is really needed, and try and include healthy treats like fresh fruit and sandwiches alongside the crisps and cakes.
Understandably, many parents shy away from serving food on the family’s best china. If this is you, please ensure you don’t use disposable plastic cups and plates. Nobody really knows how long it will take disposable plastic cups to decompose, but I came across a figure of 420 years when researching this article.
Paper and cardboard plates and cups can be recycled afterwards. Looking and feeling like plastic, Little Cherry’s compostable cups and straws are actually made from corn starch, a biodegradable by-product of food processing. There is also a full range of tableware at www.ecopartybags.co.uk Napkins made from recycled paper, cutlery made from potato starch and plates made from bagesse, the waste product from pressing sugar cane, are all available.
Such companies also offer biodegradable balloons, but when one considers the environmental impact of balloons, they are best avoided altogether. Each year, many British birds and mammals are killed when swallowing balloons, whilst the Marine Conservation Society reports a 260% increase in the number of old balloons found on our beaches over the last decade.
These companies also sell invitations and thank you cards made from recycled paper. However, invitations can be downloaded for free of the internet, then printed out and coloured at home. There are many interesting sites, including www.activitiesforkids.com and www.allfreeinvitations.com At www.gruffalo.com readers will also find things to decorate the party venue.
We often make the mistake of thinking our children are too sophisticated for the sort of games we used to play, but they love traditional games such as Musical Statues and Blind Man’s Buff. Use old newspaper when wrapping presents for Pass The Parcel, and recycle afterwards. Children can help draw the characters for Pin The Tail On The Donkey, or templates can be found on the internet and printed out at home. A good site for this is www.family-games-treasurehouse.com as it also suggests other fun party games to play with pre-school children.
Once the party is over, many people give thank-you cards, but these are a silly extravagance. Even the most eco-friendly cards, manufactured using the most sustainable practices, are unnecessary when a simple spoken thanks will do.
So far, we have talked about organising an eco-friendly birthday party. If you are taking a child to a party they have been invited to, there are things to remember to lessen your environmental impact. London firm Papergrain sell lovely birthday cards. Made from 100% recycled cardboard, with pretty designs by children’s illustrator Ingela Peterson, they are printed here in the UK. There are also websites offering templates for birthday cards to print out and colour in at home. Two excellent examples are www.greetingsisland.com and www.dltk-kids.com.
Wooden presents are generally kinder to the planet than those made from plastic, and they should not be wrapped in flash paper. A lot of wrapping paper is non-recyclable as it includes foil or plastic coatings. Place the child’s present inside a colourful gift bag instead, and it can be re-used time and again.
During my research for this article, I came across some real ‘sackcloth and ashes’ type websites, which threatened to take all the joy out of birthdays. Adopting our common sense suggestions will keep the fun, whilst saving money and being a little kinder to the environment.
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