My daughter just turned five. Yes, five! Can we stop the time please?
Obviously she loves celebrating her birthdays and I’m happy to organise one, but at the same time I’m a bit afraid that she’s developing certain standard to birthday celebrations here in Asia. In The Netherlands we are very down to earth and don’t make much effort to make birthdays special. You are just one in a million born on this date after all. While here in Kuala Lumpur, children are treated like princesses and queens: the whole day is programmed with decoration, catering, clowns and entertainers… You name it, it happens here.
Frist I was overwhelmed and could not appreciate it at all. But then I started thinking about how great it must feel for the kids to feel so special that one day in a year. So I decided prepare a bit more flashy birthday for my daughter. But the Dutch in me just couldn’t get over one thing about those big birthday parties: the amount of TRASH! I can’t stop seeing all the plastic cups and plates thrown away, all the balloons, the garland, the decoration, not to even mention the party bags, oh dear…
I think a birthday party is actually a great opportunity to teach the kids about sustainability. We can try to save energy, recycle, reuse things and try to minimise disposable things as much as possible. And still we’re having the same amount of FUN!
So these are the steps I took for my birthday party:
Sustainable party decoration
1. Skip the balloons. Really, it’s not less fun without balloons. These things are so harmful for the environment. Especially helium ones, they escape and get stuck in trees or fall in water. Birds eat them, animals get stuck in the strings and fish eat them because they look like jellyfish in the water.
2. Consider a garland that you can use again. I use the fabric ones over and over again. I even have garland with the names of my kids. It’s fantastic!
3. Use confetti from leaves! A brilliant idea to have a lot of fun without harming the nature a bit. A great craft idea as well. But maybe just outdoors…
Recycled wrappers for presents
1. Wrap your present in pages of an old magazine or newspaper.
2. Try furoshiki, it’s a Japanese way of wrapping presents in a pretty piece of cloth. Click here to see how to do it.
3. Make a drawstring bag to put in the present so the person who receives it can use the bag again. This is a great tutorial.
Minimise trash from the party
1. If you use a caterer, request they serve the food in trays or recyclable boxes, rather than the styrofoam boxes.
2. A big tray with sandwiches, slices of pizza and veggies works well and you’ll hardly have any trash.
3. If the party is not too big, use your own plastic cups and plates. If you don’t have enough, ask if you can borrow a few from your neighbour. If the party is really too big, use plastic OR paper cups and plates and make sure they get recycled after use. It’s very easy to make a recycling centre in the corner. Try to use the cups and plates as many times as possible, so let the kids write their name on it, or make them draw something on the side, so they’ll know which one is theirs.
4. Think about an eco party bag. No plastic trash, no unnecessary toys. We’ve put together a list of ideas to put in the bag. I particularly like the idea of books – think ahead when the book sales are on and stock up on those 2-5 RM books for a party bag that lasts after the birthday. With older kids you may need to consult the start of the day to avoid disappointment, as happened to one of us.
5. This one sounds a bit whiny, but think about the birthday cake. Order or make a cake without trash. Really, the amount of plastic and paper I see around birthday cakes. At least if you order one, recycle the box and the plastics.
6. Last Christmas we put together a list of presents that are not toys – perfect for birthdays, too!
Last but not least, to finish my daughters birthday party we planted some seeds together. Now let’s hope the flowers will grow and she’ll remember her awesome – and sustainable – birthday!