The Case For Zero Waste Birthdays

It’s March…uhhhhh, wait April (well, at least I started this blog in March) and on the west coast cherry blossoms are bursting throughout the city signifying Spring’s arrival. For parents of small children (like us), who’ve temporarily lost the ability to stop and admire the cherry blossom phenomenon due to wrangling and corralling our young, we are alerted to the change of season by something else.

The instantaneous rise in birthday party invitations.

Birthdays seem to be synonymous with Spring.  Unfortunately they’ve also become synonymous with waste. My children are both in preschool this year, so we are getting our first real taste of the birthday party circuit. With the arrival of Spring, attending a weekly party is practically routine, like going to swimming lessons or family dinner on Sunday.

To me, it seems corporate marketing has won when it comes to all the frills that go along with celebrations. Parents have bought into the idea of extravagance when it comes to celebrating children. Only a few decades ago, birthday parties were centered around the home with a few friends, family, games, good food and gifts. Yes, there were party hats and banners, and sometimes there was store bought cake in place of homemade. But the excess was not there.

I am not sure if it is simply savvy marketing or parental guilt from having to work longer hours or if it is simply feeling pressure to do what has become a social norm. Whatever it is, the level of excess when it comes to children’s celebrations is not only wasteful of resources and hard earned money, it is also sending our children the wrong message.

As parents we want our children to be taught about recycling, composting, endangered species, conservation of energy and water, so on and so forth. But the next step is teaching them about personal consumption and how our everyday habits contribute to the overall problem. The greatest lessons we can instill in our children are to live simply, consume less, and to give more than you take. By perpetuating the excessive wastefulness of birthday parties (and all other celebrations for that matter) we are doing our children a disservice. We are teaching them that there are exceptions to the rule as well as setting their expectations for future celebrations.

Now I suspect many of you are thinking I am this stingy, boring mom and that my children long for the parties their friends get.

I promise you I am not…. at least I don’t think I am!

There will be parties, cake, magicians, bouncy castles, friends and family, dance parties, sleepovers, movies, popcorn, geo-caching  and so much more. But these things will be paired with homemade cake (or bakery bought in my own container), simple food and decor, toonie or dollar jars instead of gifts and our own cutlery and dishes. The only things that will be missing are the things that do not matter, the balloons, goodie bags, streamers, single-use dishes, cutlery, cups, straws and table cloths.

Some may challenge my approach believing it is more work. And in all fairness, it might be. But I challenge any naysayer to ask themselves how much time and money is spent running around buying helium balloons, cake, goodie bag items, plastic plates, cups, and cutlery, then carting it all to the venue setting it up and taking it all down again? My way may require a little more clean up and perhaps restricting the guest list to how much dinnerware you own (or having to borrow your neighbours) but keeping it simple will save you time, stress and money in the end.

Think back to your most cherished birthday memories. Do you remember the theme, decor, presents or even the food? I suspect the answer is no. I would wager that you remember the entertainment, perhaps the cake or a favourite gift, but most of all you remember a feeling. The feeling of love and of being the center of attention for an entire day. This is what is truly important and no amount of excess can help to create it.