An eco-friendly party theme can help set the tone. A flower, garden, sports, or bug party are all fun ideas that you can pull off right in your own back yard or local park. A little creativity can get you a lot further than simply buying out the superhero/princess section at iParty.
A short invite list is also a good idea. A good rule of thumb is capping the number of invitees to the number of your child's age. If your child is turning four, then four pint-sized guests is enough. I know many will disagree with me and it can be hard to buck the trend, but you don't really HAVE to invite every child in the class. Remember, the party is about your child (not you fulfilling any perceived social obligations) and too many guests can leave a child feeling overwhelmed.
Invitations can go out online either via email or a site like Evite. You'll save paper and money and make it easier for people to respond. If you prefer more traditional invitations, consider printing them at home on recycled paper and hand delivering them to any friends and family you'd be seeing anyways.
For decorations, try making your own with materials you already have on hand or purchasing items you can use again. Just google your theme and you'll be amazed at all the crafty ideas out there.
When it comes to any type of party, the worst environmental offender is usually all the disposable plates, cups, utensils, napkins, and tablecloths. Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks and spoons every year to circle the equator 300 times! Instead of buying paper or plastic tableware, offer reusable options. If you don't have enough at home (here's a good example of why it's good to keep the guest list small), you can always check out thrift stores for an eclectic mix of tableware. Other options are reusable plastic cutlery and compostable paper plates.
Make recycling easy for guests by placing clearly labeled recycling bins in a convenient location everyone can reach.
The principles of eating green apply to party food as well. Prepare as much as you can at home and opt for local and organic when possible. Your kids can help prepare food, giving you the opportunity to discuss healthy eating and them a sense of pride from preparing food for their family and friends. Guests can help make or decorate cookies or cupcakes as a party activity. Reduce waste by filling pitchers with water, juice, and milk rather than offering juice/milk boxes and bottled water. Baking your own birthday cake gives you control over the ingredients and avoids all the packaging waste of store-bought cakes.
Some of the funnest party games and activities require little or no materials. Just a few options to consider: musical chairs, limbo, Simon says, charades, lip-sync contest, three-legged race, red rover, hopscotch, and duck, duck, goose. Crafts can double as an activity and a favor. Children can decorate a picture frame, make a friendship bracelet or other accessory, or tie dye a shirt.
Talk to your child about asking guests to either not bring a gift or to make a donation to a charity in lieu of a gift. When you send out invitations with the site ECHOage, your guests can go online to RSVP and contribute to both a birthday gift and charity of your child's choice. Alternatively, you can ask close friends and family (or anyone who asks for a gift suggestion) to give your child an activity or experience gift, such as a trip to the zoo, a ticket to a show, a YMCA/recreation department class, or a pass to a museum. Gifts that get kids outside, like bikes, sleds, kites, bug kits, and orienteering gear, are also a good option. Since it makes it easier and less expensive for your guests, you can ask that any gifts be wrapped in recycled materials such as newspaper, magazines or leftover fabric.
Instead of giving each guest a goodie bag full of candy and plastic junk, consider giving a small donation to a nonprofit in their honor. Otherwise, you can at least make the gift something more practical – art supplies, a craft they can make at the party, a puppet or other non-plastic toy, a garden kit with a packet of seeds and little clay pot, a small bug kit, etc.
The most important part of a green birthday party is the lesson you provide for your child. Make sure to talk to your birthday boy or girl about why you make the choices you do. Of course it is impossible to make every aspect of a child's birthday party eco-friendly, but you can be a great example of how even small steps can make a big difference.