"Had I known!"
That's been my refrain time and again as I've learned about the far reaching effects of plastic.
Had I known that plastics never really go away, that all the ziploc bags I used for my kids snacks, the balloons tied up with colorful curly ribbon that I bought to surprise them on their birthdays, the glitter paints, plastic paintbrushes and stickers, the ridiculous plastic do-dads and knick-knacks I bought to reward them or make them smile, well, had I known those (entirely unnecessary) plastics would long outlive us all... that pound for pound, microgram for microgram, every single piece of plastic I've ever had pass through my household is now a burden to the planet and it's oceans and the amazing creatures in it, for all of time as we know it. Well I wouldn't have bought any of it in the first place!
But I didn't know.
But now I do.
There needs to be a big time revolution in packaging and product design (and overall human awareness), and it needs to happen yesterday. Like the day before the day before yesterday.
In the meantime, every single time we choose sustainable over plastic, it's that much less plastic in circulation.
Here are a few sustainable celebration suggestions
Obviously you have to cover up the scungy picnic table at the park, but fan the ugly plastic disposable kind for every reason imaginable.
Canvas Drop Cloths (get the kind without the plastic backing so you can run it through the washing machine)
Available at the hardware store, they're durable and inexpensive, and they get softer over time and I love them, they're what I use, but I'm a plain jane.
I googled "cotton table cloths" and there's a jillion options, like this one from H&M, it's organic to boot.
Or go on etsy.com, there are scads of cheap, adorable vintage tablecloths, and plenty of new ones too.
If you're handy with a sewing machine, you're probably familiar with fabric stores, even IKEA has awesome patterned fabrics for sale by the yard.
I've amassed a set of random pieces over time, and they're what we use on outings and camping. No big whoop if a piece is lost or ends up with someone else (not that I'm aware of losing any, it's just that I wouldn't fret over a missing spoon).
At the end of the party, I just put them all into a (non plastic) bag to bring home and run through the dishwasher.
You can buy whole sets of inexpensive cutlery from a discount or big box store, or you can go the mismatched route via garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores - also ebay and Etsy too.
If you're a little bit awesome, you can doll them up like so:
If you must go with disposable, Go Compostable
But get ACTUALLY compostable products like these birch pieces, don't bother with the air-quote "compostable" stuff made from potatoes or corn unless you're certain your city composts them - Here in Marin they are NOT composted, they go to landfill or worse, to the ocean with the rest of our plastic junk (they are not composted in Marin because our compost is certified organic (snobby snif), it can't be certified organic if it's all junked up with bioplastics).
If you'd like them compostable AND cute, the kindly craft-folk at Etsy will set you up with polka dots, stripes, hand-stamped personalization and washi tape, and whatever other awesome artsy stuff they do.
Same deal with the air-quote "compostable" cups - Avoid them unless you KNOW FOR A FACT your city composts them (NO, they can't go in your recycling - you're messing everything up if you do that). San Francisco does compost them (with their dirty compost that can only be used for landscaping - wink! I LOVE you SF), but in Marin, we do NOT compost those cups, we look down our snobby noses at them. Well I do.
So, go with paper, yes paper. Yes, even for iced drinks.
I have consumed iced beverages from paper cups for literally decades, and never ever one time has one disintegrated on me - not even when left in my car cup-holder overnight - not that I've ever done that if you are reading this David.
Seriously, choose paper and then put it in your compost bin and be done with it.
Enamel and Stainless are also great choices...
Eye roll at the red solo cup, even if you are in college - seriously, grow up - it's not even cute in an ironic way anymore.
Paper and tissue only. Ever.
Etsy is all over it.
Not even when they're tied with twine or string or hemp.
This isn't even taking into account the whole thing about the limited supply of helium.
look it up.
ALTERNATIVES TO BALLOONS
Look how cute and non-lethal these Paper Poms are!
I just found this merchant tonight and I think her items are delightful, not to mention reusable.
There are different sized "Poms" in every color, and even smaller poms on sticks, and honeycomb poms.
Such an odd tradition, but I bought into it when the kids were little, so no judgy.
NO ONE - especially children set to inherit the earth from their loving parents - NEEDS CHEAP PLASTIC CRAP.
Think about the message we're sending when we give kids a plastic bag filled with tacky, junky, plastic stuff.
Here you go kid, thanks for coming to our party, take this little plastic bag because inside there's a pencil shrink wrapped in glittery plastic with a vapid, doe-eyed mermaid on it, and there's a teeny tiny bottle of leaky bubble juice and an imitation Hot Wheel car and a freaking whistle with a Disney character on it. - NO NO NO. So dumb. SO DUMB.
Once it dawned on my cave-person brain just how dumb it was, I began giving out things like comic books along with a little boxes of pop-pops. There are loads of things we can give as parting favors (however odd or debatable the tradition) that aren't plastic.
When you begin to seek things that aren't plastic, you really start to see everything differently - plastic takes on a very negative connotation, and things of quality that last, take back their rightful place in our big person brains.