Zero Waste with Kids
The journey to zero waste may be a long one, for us. Whilst I’ve always been pretty minimalistic (ISH) we still generate a lot of garbage in our house. Food packages, wipes, all manner of paper goods.
I’ve been SO inspired by Bea Johnson and her family of four who only produce one jar of waste per year, and I’ve been trying hard to make some major adjustments in our home.
REFUSE> REDUCE> REUSE> RECYCLE> ROT
The Zero Waste movement preaches the following 5 steps in moving towards zero waste.
Let’s take a look at just some of the ways to implement the five R’s with young children at home.
20 Ways to Start
- Involve you children
Children are often naturally happy to protect our earth when they’re exposed to the right information by a passionate adult. Often it’s children who spearhead the eco-friendliness of a family. If you haven’t started out this way, gently take your family on an inspiring journey of education… something you learn about and make changes together. I particularly recommend watching The Story of Stuff and some of the Zero Waste Story.
- Declutter BIG time
When you have less items in your home you get to really see and enjoy the things you have, and you become far more discerning and precise about bringing in new items. Ultimately, one of the biggest steps to reducing waste is consuming less in general, generating the need for less “stuff” being created.
- Model Living With Less
Your children need to see your passion and enthusiasm for mindfully reducing your consumption. They need to have your thought process deconstructed so that they understand that you, too, possess the desire for more. But you have alternative means of meeting that desire.For this, use “deep modeling” a term I learned from Alfie Kohn, which exposes to children the behind-the-scenes thought process. So, rather than just “I won’t be getting a new dress for Christmas” try: “I would so love a new dress for Christmas. I’ve seen pictures in catalogues that have made me feel like my dress from last year is no longer “cool”. But, when I think about the materials, fuel and manpower that goes into the new dress – plus the expense – I start to wonder how else I might meet the need. Perhaps, I will buy one from a second hand store so that I don’t contribute to heightened manufacturing. Or I might make a change to my one from last year so it feels new. Or maybe I’ll create a new look through hair and makeup.” etc.
- Buy gender Neutral
If you have more than one child, or plan to have more, this is a great tip for you. Buying gender neutral, whenever possible, is a great way of ensuring your items last longer. I’m not just talking about clothes, although that’s great too – consider the amount of toys, lunch boxes, bags, shoes, helmets, bikes, linen, towels… not to mention furniture – that is “gendered”. Just for the record – I don’t believe there’s any such thing as “toys for girls/ boys” (kitchens and dolls are for boys, cars and climbing are equally for girls) – but culture has conditioned us to seek items in the pink aisle or in the red/black aisle exclusively. Buying as much as possible to be relevant and interesting to both genders will reduce your need to double up.
- Buy Multi Purpose
Another cultural conditioning our friends at Commercialism Inc. have convinced us of is that we need a new product for each and every age, stage and season of our children’s lives and development. A pacifier? A bottle? A bike? A stroller? A bed? With each of these items we’re told that our children need a new product every few weeks, months and years. But there are strollers that are useful from age zero through three (or more). There are beds that grow with your child late into childhood. And do we really need a baby bottle, sippy cup, straw cup, stage one cup… etc? How is it that most of us went directly from nursing to a regular old… cup?
- Buy Second Hand
We need to get over our collective heebjeebies over buying pre-loved items. Toys are an especially great thing to buy second hand. We have bought our playmobil, lego, wooden blocks, bikes and some clothes from second hand stores or on eBay and benefited from three major advantages:
First, when you buy toys second hand, they were often manufactured to higher standards than today’s flimsy plastics. Take Fisher Price, for example, buying a second hand Fisher Price dollhouse seems to be made from a far sturdier, more durable plastic than the newer version.
Second hand means you’ve saved the planet from yet more manufacturing and packaging.
Third. We save $$$.
- Use the Library
Often there’s the underlying notion that if it’s good, we should own it. Or even that it’s only good IF we own it. If you have a library, it’s a wonderful opportunity to access books, videos, music and often more without purchasing them.
- Swap with friends
Receiving and giving hand-me-downs is so gratifying to both giver and receiver, and makes for a great way to reduce waste. If your children are tired of their toys, swap with a friend for a little while, rather than buying more.
- Avoid Stores
Especially with little kids. Stores are perfectly designed to make us feel inadequate and to push us to covet yet more. Look at all these shiny things! Going into a big box store with kids, especially a toy store, is it’s own special brand of nightmare. Kids are susceptible (as are adults) to feeling lesser-than if they don’t acquire yet more. And when they start to whine at us parents (an effect literally coined and exploited by marketers as “pester power”), we don’t stand a chance. Why would a recovering alcoholic walk into a bar?
- Say no to freebies
Our children are inundated with cheapo freebies all the time. From the bank to birthday parties, the dentist to Sunday School. Let’s teach out children the power of saying no to yet more stuff we do. not. need.
- Say no to plastic
This one is so hard. Plastic is everywhere! But it’s a pretty awful substance for our bodies and for the environment. One of the easiest places to say no to plastic is the playroom. Buying wooden or steel toys, or at least a higher quality of plastic (such as lego) is a good place to start. See the impact Plastic Pollution has on our oceans and what we can do about by visiting Sloactive’s guide here.
- Focus on Function – purchase the same object
When you are buying for more than one child this is especially true. We want to focus on the functionality of the design, not merely on it’s decor and embellishments. Buying shoes, bikes, clothes, gear… all of these should look pretty much the same between children, with a focus on high quality, durability and function. Rather than having the latest faddy character plastered all over it. When you buy the glow-in-the-dark flashlight ninja turtle shoes, you’re creating an obsession with the external decor of the item, which quickly tires as the child moves on to their next obsession. Plus, a sibling might want the same, even though their shoes are perfectly fine, just for the image. When shoes are just shoes, there’s no need to buy them just “because”.
- Cloth Diaper/ Early Potty Train
Diapers, of any sort, are pretty detrimental to the environment. But most places benefit from it’s inhabitants using cloth diapers rather than disposables (not true for places with extreme draught). Still, the most eco-friendly diaper is no diaper. So early potty training is best for baby and best for the earth.
It’s easier than you think. And it doesn’t stink. Go for it!
- Ditch disposables
- Refuse Gifts
Explain to Gram and Gramps what it is you’re trying to do and ask for their support by gifting you – if they’re so inclined – with non-physical gifts. Tickets to shows, subscriptions to online media, audio books, or memberships to museums work just great.
- Move to Digital
As soon as your child is reading chapter books, get them a digital reader and save $$ and paper!
- Use simple, natural remedies
Coconut oil and baking soda are staples in our home. Much of what we used to buy in plastic containers is no longer necessary. Look up home recipes for cleaning materials, for shampoo and conditioner, for cream… It’s so much healthier and an easy way to reduce waste.
- Bathe little kids together to save water
- Replace snacks with fruit
Beyond the benefits of reduces sugar and processed foods (win!) this will also reduce your package waste. I know this is so hard, but we can do it! (I think!)
Does all this resonate with you? is there something here you’re willing to try? What are your tips for reducing waste? I’d love to hear in the comments below.