It seems that when school starts, birthday party season does also around here. My daughter has already received multiple party invitations, which I view with mixed emotions. On one hand, I’m thrilled that she’ll enjoy a few hours of diversion with her little friends. We had no parties at all during the summer. On the other hand, I don’t like how most birthday parties are planned and executed with such a ‘disposable’ mentality. The amount of waste generated by a typical birthday party disturbs me because I feel it sends the wrong message to our kids.
It all starts with the gifts. Most parents don't want to spend big dollars on high-quality items for a kid they barely know, so it is mostly anything can get wrapped in costly non-recyclable paper and handed over. No offense, but some of these gifts are cheap, Chinese-made plastic toys that often break within hours of opening. Eventually they get pitched in the garbage, since recycling won’t take them, or stored pointlessly because it feels so wrong to throw away a brand-new present. At the end of the gift-opening ritual is a flurry of non-recyclable packaging, mountains of torn tissue paper, shredded wrapping paper, and crushed bags, not to mention the cardboard and plastic packaging that all the toys come in, pile up high.
And then, the waste follows us home in the form of loot bags. There is candy that I must confiscate, since my son would eat it all, and our jovial post-party mood is usually destroyed by a tantrum at that point. There are also cute little toys from the dollar store, but they fall apart so quickly that my son is heartbroken. For weeks after, I find bits and pieces of non-functioning plastic motorcycles and action figurines that end up in the garbage.
Hey, but please, don’t get me wrong; I think it’s very important to celebrate birthday parties and I hope for my child’s sake that the invitations keep coming. But since when did it become necessary to consume so much in order to celebrate something so basic?
Here some tips to less waste:
1. Use real dishes and wash them to avoid waste.
2. Avoid paper invitations and invite over the phone or by e-mail.
3. Parents could tell birthday party guests not to bring gifts at all.
4. Guests could pool money to buy a single high quality gift that is really going to be used.
There are so many lessons we can teach our children with example if we want them to be conscious of their footprint on this planet. That’s probably the best long-term birthday gift we could give them anyways.