By Helen Coronato
Many pregnancies are accompanied by a baby shower. In this age of greener consciousness, why not opt for an ecologically friendly shower? Eco-showers are the latest green trend to add momentum to the movement toward freedom from carbon emissions, as environmentally savvy women look for ways to host parties that honor the mother-to-be and Mother Earth with greener gift registries, reusable party decorations, and more meaningful activities and rituals.
You’re probably already doing your daily best to reduce, reuse, and recycle. But when it comes to celebrating special occasions, it’s all too easy to fall back on old, wasteful standbys: paper plates, plastic cutlery, paper streamers, and plastic party favors. Add to that the usual tons of boxed, wrapped, beribboned presents, and you have the makings of an eco-mess. It’s time to stop doing what we’ve always done, and start embracing new ideas for entertaining.
First things first: Baby showers are not about who can buy the biggest plastic toy, but about celebrating the beautiful new life about to be born, and the proud parents who are bringing that life into the world. While it’s traditional to head to the store for everything from invitations to thank-you notes, remember that all of these items will soon be headed for the landfill.
Fortunately, throwing the perfect green gala for baby and mother is easier—and less expensive— than you might think. We can celebrate special occasions without having to sacrifice our good intentions. In researching my book Eco-Friendly Families (Alpha, 2008), I discovered green alternatives for all sorts of special occasions. For this article, I’ve given a twist to the basic components of the time-honored baby shower: friends, food, fun, favors, family. If you’re planning on hosting a shower for a mother-to-be— or if you’re that mother—plan on honoring Mother Earth at the same time.
Green Your Guest List
How you spread the word about an upcoming baby eco-shower can help set the tone. Of the waste generated in the US, paper is at the top of the list, and one of the biggest sources of paper waste has your name written all over it: mail. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), paper products account for more than 40 percent of our trash. Help shrink paper waste by sending your invitations online. Invitation services such as www.evite.com are free, easy to use, and make keeping track of who has responded as easy as a click of the mouse. If some of your guests don’t have e-mail, send a simple invitation printed on recycled and recyclable paper.
From what to bring to the type of gifts to choose, you can make this shower the sort of event that people look forward to by giving clear, concise information that will intrigue, not annoy. You may be the consummate ecologically minded host who looks forward to honoring your friend, sister, daughter—or yourself—with a party that’s close to perfect, but don’t assume that everyone knows what an eco-shower is. So along with all the information announced on your invitation, be sure to include the event’s green theme. Here’s a good start: “Please join us for Anna’s Eco-Baby Shower. In keeping with Anna and her family’s commitment to the environment, we kindly ask that you consider the enclosed instructions when planning to join us for this special occasion. We look forward to seeing you and celebrating Anna!”
As you gather your tribe in celebration, do so with an eye toward organization and participation. Decide on your theme, then ask each guest to contribute to your eco-vision. List websites and local sources for such specialty items as cloth diapers, organic clothing and linens, and handmade, fair-trade gifts. Explore with the expectant mama the option of an eco-friendly registry, and if she agrees, include that information as well (see sidebar, “Green Gifts Online”).
Plastic items that off-gas or contain phthalates aren’t just undesirable, they’re unhealthy additions to the new baby’s immediate environment— and many traditional baby-care products contain parabens. Because a baby’s tiny system is highly vulnerable to such substances, it may serve all concerned to include gentle and diplomatic guidance in your invitation. For example: “Recent studies have shown that traditional baby personal-care products include unhealthy ingredients such as parabens. If you’re not sure what’s safe, check out the registry. Also, Whole Foods Market’s seal of Premium Body Care indicates products that are safe for baby.”
Make the Most of the Menu
Any successful party has great food—but how much food does a great party really need? We’ve come to associate satisfaction with overabundance—we enjoy seeing tables overflowing with selections, but all too often, such generosity leads to waste. This is especially alarming when we consider that in the current system of food distribution used by US supermarkets, food travels an average of 1,500 miles before it reaches your plate. So while chocolate-covered strawberries in November may look good, they don’t belong on a green menu. Instead of overwhelming a table with too much food, or serving out-of-season fruits and vegetables, tie your choice of dishes to your own region, and to the season in which the shower is taking place.
Instead of fruit in November, for example, make a hearty winter stew or veggie soup and serve it with fresh bread. These options are both simple and satisfying, and providing such comfort foods will do exactly that for your guests: comfort them. And you’ll be left with fewer leftovers. Keeping the foods simple also limits the number of serving dishes you’ll need, which means less cleanup. Eliminate the need for costly disposable paper products by using your everyday dishes, or borrow an extra set from a friend or neighbor. According to the EPA, the average American generates more than four-and-a-half pounds of trash and garbage every day—you can imagine how that figure is boosted by parties and celebrations. Instead of loading up the landfill, load up your dishwasher, and celebrate with a clean conscience.
Instead of a commercial “bride bingo” game, which relies on and reinforces the old babyshower model, ask each guest to bring a photo of herself and the guest of honor enjoying a favorite memory together. Pass around a blank journal made with handmade, fair-trade paper and ask each person to inscribe in it her favorite piece of maternal wisdom. Take a single spool of embroidery thread and loop the thread around each person’s wrist; once the circle is complete, pass around scissors so that each person can cut and tie her length of thread into a bracelet to be worn until the baby is born, as a concrete example of support for the mother-to-be.
Green Your Baby Gear
Advertisers have made a fortune convincing expectant parents that they need to buy a ton of baby gear before the birth, and I was no exception, registering for a slew of bouncers, mobiles, and bathtubs. It turned out that what I really needed was a second pair of hands. While there’s a place for baby gear, what new parents most need in the first months of familyhood is help. Skip the superstore registries and give thought to the question everyone has been asking for the past nine months: “What can I do to help?” Provide a sign-up sheet for guests, so that they can commit to bringing a covered-dish dinner after baby is born. Ask for a volunteer to manage the project—someone who can notify participants postpartum that their “dinner days” are coming up. Knowing that a healthy, homecooked meal will materialize can sometimes mean the difference between sanity and stress— or, at the very least, too many frozen pizzas. Encourage guests to wrap presents in ecofriendly ways by including a reminder in your invitation: “In an effort to reduce paper waste, we ask that gifts be wrapped in recycled or reusable materials: baby blankets, storage boxes, or reusable bags.”
Persuading Grandparents to Play Along
If the expectant grandparents are having a hard time embracing your eco-shower ideas, don’t let a little resistance derail your green intentions. Just practice being a good example. After all, change is hard for everyone—if we’re made to feel uncomfortable or inferior for not being an enthusiastic participant in a new way of thinking, chances are we’ll turn a cold shoulder to the new ideas altogether. So if, despite all the hard work you’ve put in to organize and host the green gala of your dreams, Aunt Mary comes through the door with a six-foot stuffed gorilla sucking on a plastic pacifier and wrapped in fifty plastic bows and ribbons, don’t panic or pout. Thank her for her lovely gift—it’s the thought that counts. New mamas, and those close to them, have to practice surrender anyway—why not get a head start?
Look for ways to include extended family members in your environmental event. When the guests are ready to leave, encourage the grandparents to hand out the perfect party favor. Favors are a lovely way to say thank you and commemorate this special occasion, and for the eco-savvy hostess, a favor is one last way to remind everyone that their little green efforts can add up. A compact-fluorescent light bulb presented with a small note card saying “Thank you for helping us to celebrate our baby’s bright future” helps to bring the point home— literally. Other ideas are packets of seeds, small plants, reusable shopping bags, handmade commemorative magnets, samples of organic personalcare products, and handmade sachets scented with essential oils. Giving grandparents the opportunity to hand out these gems is a simple way to make everyone feel a part of your green party.
A baby shower is a celebration of the new parents, the new life, and new beginnings. Imagine what a beautiful future we would all be looking forward to if we invited children into our lives with an event that also honors the world they are entering. Eco-friendly baby showers make this kind of green future a possibility today.
Helen Coronato is a full-time mother, a successful author, a writing consultant, and a soughtafter speaker. Her latest book, Eco-Friendly Families (Alpha, 2008), is packed with concrete advice, useful tips, and fun strategies for families who want to go green. She invites you to visit www.helencoronato.com to learn more about eco-living.