5 Tips for Sustainable Birthdays and Reducing your Carbon Footprint
Birthdays are a special occasion for many. In addition to giving and receiving gifts, it can be an opportunity to reflect and give thanks for another year. Most celebrate the day of their birth by throwing a party and inviting their friends and family to attend. These parties can vary widely, but more often than not, involve food, friends, and festivities–much of which creates a measurable carbon footprint. The challenge for those conscious of their effect on the environment is throwing a fun-filled event that will not negatively impact the planet. Rather than forgoing the fun, we are here to help you plan an eco-friendly birthday party that your guests and the environment will be sure to love.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of a Birthday Party?
From a simple family get together to an elaborate celebration with guests flying in from around the world, birthdays are as unique as the people who celebrate them. As parties increase in size and complexity, their carbon footprint increases as well. For many, the partying begins at an early age. According to a recent poll of more than 5,000 parents, 25 percent of parents spend between $200 and $500 for their child’s first birthday alone.  Many variables will go into the calculation of your event’s carbon footprint, including:
- The event location
- Heating or cooling of the event space
- Party favors
- Gifts, wrapping paper, bags
- Guest transportation
- Food & drinks
- Tableware & cutlery & More!
Birthday Parties Increase Greenhouse Gas Emissions
With everything that goes into throwing a birthday party, it should not surprise you that throwing these parties cause many greenhouse gas emissions. Below we will break down a few of the worst offenders and give some practical tips on how to limit their effect.
Transportation & Venue
The most significant contributor to an event’s carbon footprint is often the venue and how people plan on arriving. Guests driving an average passenger vehicle will emit just over 400 grams of CO2 per mile, and if family or friends need to fly there, that number dramatically increases.  For every mile flown, you can expect around 53 pounds of CO2 emitted.  What all that means is, the more local you can keep your venue and guest list, the smaller your footprint will be.
No birthday party is complete without a few decorations, but many are not be the best for the planet. For example, nearly every birthday will have at least a few ballons floating around, but have you ever wondered about their impact on the environment? When a balloon floats away, they could end up in waterways or habitats where birds, fish, and other wildlife may mistake them for food. And, even though latex is considered biodegradable, most balloons contain other chemicals that could keep them around for up to 4 years–causing considerable damage in the meantime. 
Tables, Chairs, & Flatware
Most birthday parties revolve around food. That means you will probably have some tables, chairs, flatware, and utensils for your guests to get their fill. While tables and chairs may have an impact when they are manufactured, most can be used again and again, reducing their footprints over their lifetime. However, the same is not true for things like disposable plates and cutlery. Plastic and paper plates are causing irreparable damage. For starters, paper plates contribute to timber production, which harms wildlife and delicate ecosystems. Worse yet, most paper plates can’t even be recycled after they are contaminated with food waste, making their impact even greater.  Likewise, plastic forks, spoons, and knives, which are popular at many party tables, are thrown away by the billion each year–with the majority never being recycled. The result is an ever-increasing bombardment of plastic in our landfills and oceans that will take decades to clean up. 
Games, Themes, & Party Favors
Speaking of plastics, your party’s theme, games, and favors can contribute even more to this growing environmental issue. Favors for kid’s parties can be especially egregious. Not only are these small plastic toys and trinkets often made from petroleum-based plastics, but they are usually made in places like China. This means your favors had to be shipped thousands of miles in carbon-emitting ships and trucks before even arriving at your local party store. 
When selecting a location for your event, you may want to consider how green your venue is. If renting a space, consider asking if they are using renewable energy to heat, cool, and power things like music and lights. In the United States, about 29 percent of emissions come from fossil fuels, including coal and natural gas–making an unwelcome contribution to global warming.  Doing your part to use and support renewable energy sources like solar and wind power can go a long way to reducing the footprint of your party.
5 Eco-Friendly Birthday Party Tips
Even with all the barriers to throwing a green birthday bash, there is still hope. Below are four simple ways anyone can throw an eco-friendly birthday party.
1. Keep it Local
The more you can keep things local, the better it will be for the environment. Beyond selecting a central location where guests could walk or ride their bikes, you should also be thinking local for food, drinks, and decorations. Everything you purchase will have a footprint of its own, so try buying local food, flowers, and other supplies that will only need to travel a minimal distance.
2. Send Digital Invites
In today’s digital age, there is no need to contribute more paper to the landfill. Instead, try to invite guests in person, over the phone, or send out digital invites through your favorite social media platform or email.
3. Skip the Plastic & Non-Recyclable Paper
Like we mentioned above, a birthday celebration can quickly get filled with plastics and paper goods that will wreak havoc on the environment. For this reason, avoid them whenever possible. Cloth napkins and tablecloths could be a good start, and selecting greener decorations like potted flowers will give your party a fun look without any of the waste. And when it comes to the plastic filled goody bags, try something homemade instead, like cookies, playdough, or even soap!
4. Use Reusable Plates & Forks
When getting rid of plastics and paper for your party, be sure not to forget things like plates, forks, and knives. While reusable ceramic plates may take some extra time to wash, it goes a long way to help reduce waste. The same goes for plastic cutlery. Whenever possible purchase something reusable or try to find utensils made from recyclable materials, such as wood or bamboo
5. Give Green Gifts
If you are a guest at a birthday party, many of these decisions will be out of your control. However, you can still go green when it comes to your gifts. Shop sustainable and zero waste goods, or when appropriate, give a donation in their name for an environmental cause, such as planting trees.
Offsetting Your Birthday’s Carbon Footprint
Another incredible gift that is easy to give is a carbon offset subscription from terrapass. These offsets support third-party verified programs that are helping reduce global warming and fight against climate change. Likewise, you can use carbon offsets, like those offered by terraPass, to offset the carbon footprint of your entire event. Get started today with our free carbon calculator, and you can find out how much carbon you can help reduce today.
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- Clayton, Jack. “1 Air Mile.” 1 Air Mile · BlueSkyModel, blueskymodel.org/air-mile.
- “Balloons.” Environmental Nature Center, www.encenter.org/visit-us/programs/birthday-parties/balloons/.
- Logan, Catalina. “Environmental Effect of Paper Plates.” Sciencing, 2 July 2019, sciencing.com/environmental-effect-of-paper-plates-5478412.html.
- Whitaker, Hannah. “Why Carrying Your Own Fork and Spoon Helps Solve the Plastic Crisis.” How Bringing Your Own Cutlery Helps Solve the Plastic Crisis, 18 Oct. 2019, www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/06/carrying-your-own-fork-spoon-help-plastic-crisis/#close.
- Katiraee, Layla. “Goody Bags Aren’t Great for the Environment. What Can We Give Instead?” SciMoms, 2 Feb. 2019, scimoms.com/goody-bags-environment/.
- “Benefits of Renewable Energy Use.” Union of Concerned Scientists, www.ucsusa.org/resources/benefits-renewable-energy-use.
Take the first step.
Start small. Be conscious of the impact your actions have on the environment and figure out what you can do to lessen the blow. Calculate, conserve, and offset.
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