Zero Waste with Kids
When you have a baby it starts out innocently enough.
A cute outfit here and fun colorful toy there, followed by 80 stuffed animals…and soon enough your kids are in school and you have so much junk in your house you might be eligible for an episode of Hoarders. I may or may not be exaggerating…
The solution isn’t to buy a bigger house (even though the American Dream would tell you this). Or buy more things (because obviously what you’ve got is never enough). Stuff does not bring us joy, we need to be so much more than just consumers.
For me, Zero Waste parenting is closely related to minimalism. While I’m in no way a minimalist, there are some principles to simplicity parenting that resonate with my husband and I. The good news is kids can be trained to bring in less and in turn make less waste. And they WANT to be involved as your family is making these kinds of decisions.
If your kids are old enough, sit down and watch The Story of Stuff (https://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/) together. Have real conversations about the price we pay for our stuff (not just the dollar price) and the fact that our waste doesn’t go away. The rate we’re using up our planet can’t be sustained, we just can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing.
So what can we do instead? I’m so glad you asked!
Let less come into your house. Seriously. Declutter, donate, recycle, share and move along what you don’t need (you’ll find that what’s left you really do love) but make sure less is coming in in the first place. As an adult it’s your job to model living with less (because I guarantee your kids are still going to want that sparkly plastic unicorn that hatches from a sparkly plastic egg). We try to go through our kids rooms every 3 months to do a keep/donate/trash type clean out. Yes, sometimes this is painful but I’d like to think they’re learning some decision making and life skills along the way.
When you do purchase, reevaluate your buying patterns! Buy second hand, buy items that are gender neutral or can be used from one child to the next. Clothes, bikes, toys, books can all be found (cheaper) by buying second hand.
Use the Library.
We love books but admittedly we’re drowning in them too. Believe it or not you don’t need to own something to get enjoyment from it. Borrow from the library or swap with friends! Our library also has museum passes, “busy bins” full of toys and puzzles, geocache supplies and gps’s…all free to borrow!
Ditch cable! Seriously, you don’t need it. It’ll save you money every month and the most glorious thing is you and your kids won’t see commercials for those plastic sparkly unicorns that they just need to have.
For household cleaners, I really recommend buying a concentrated cleaner that you add your own water to (bonus points if it’s in a glass spray bottle). You’ll create less plastic bottle waste and you’ll be paying for just the cleaner and not water. Plus, homemade or concentrated cleaners are usually safer to use around babies and kids anyway.
Encourage family members to buy “experience” birthday and holiday gifts for your kids. Museum passes, tickets to a sporting event or play, a paint or laser tag night. You’ll have less things in your house and more time spent with loved ones.
They are the epitome of single use products and are so hugely wasteful. While cloth diapers aren’t the right choice for every family or situation, we found they provided a huge cost savings for our family. We purchased several that we were able to use, wash, reuse, pass along to the next kid and then even resell when we were out of diapers. The water used to clean them is far less wasteful than hundreds of pounds of disposables piling up in landfills. They’re really not that gross and come in super cute patterns and colors. Plus, kids usually potty train faster when they can “feel” they’re wet vs disposables that remove the wetness.
My kids love saving apple cores, tea bags and carrot ends “for the worms.” It’s a tangible way to teach our relationship with nature and the food we eat. They can see the benefits of compost when they’re foraging through our garden too. My kids have also been known to bring home banana and clementine peels in their reusable zip bags, to add to the compost pile.
My family is making strides towards being happier with what we do have.
I think Zero Waste parenting plays a huge role in this. As a parent and educator I have the honor of being able to initiate and lead change with the tiny humans who will grow into big humans one day.