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Zero Waste with Kids
You may have seen the zero waste challenges where people fill one jar of trash for the week (or the year!) You may have also thought, there’s just no way. The journey to zero waste may be a lot longer if you have kids, but the point of the journey is doing your best! Even though the movement has the name “zero waste” it’s really all about doing what you can to reduce your impact as much as possible.
Zero waste isn’t an exclusive club for those who are perfect. If you didn’t already know, nobody is perfect. Going zero waste is a big lifestyle change, but it’s one you can make together as a family.
What is zero waste?
Zero waste focuses around the 5 “R’s.”
Refuse – Reduce – Reuse – Recycle – Rot
The zero waste movement teaches 5 R’s, instead of the traditional 3. You’re probably familiar with the 3 original R’s, reduce, reuse, recycle. The two new R’s are refuse and rot. Refuse means saying no. Saying no to straws, unnecessary packaging, plastic bags, etc. Rot is for composting.
They are meant to be used in this order. Refuse first. Take your own reusable containers, straws, cups, etc. to avoid using disposables. Then reduce, don’t buy things you don’t need. Reusing is finding a new purpose for something old. Make a grocery bag out of a t-shirt, use a peanut butter jar to store things in.
Recycle is obvious, but recycling has a lot of its own issues. I won’t go into details here, but a lot of what goes into recycling isn’t actually recycled. Even if you did your best to separate your recycles, there is no guarantee that it won’t end up in the landfill. It’s best to refuse, reduce, or reuse whenever possible.
At the end of the list? Composting. If you have kids, you probably have food waste. Composting is an excellent want to deal with food waste. You can also compost paper, cardboard, dryer lint and much more. If you want to dive a little deeper, you can learn more about zero waste by reading the book “The Zero Waste Home.”
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about how to go zero waste with kids.
1. Involve the kids
Kids are really smart, and they really care about things like animals and the environment. Have an age-appropriate conversation with them about what you are doing and why. They will probably be excited to help.
2. Set an example
You have to set an example for kids in everything you do. If you tell them to eat broccoli but you don’t eat it, they won’t want to eat it either. It works the same way with going zero waste. Make sure to do the small things like bring reusable bags, properly separate your recycling, limit buying new items, etc.
You might also enjoy: 35+ zero waste gift ideas
3. Buy Gender Neutral
If your kids are young or you plan to have more, start buying gender neutral. Society tells us that girls need pink, sparkles, dolls, kitchens, etc. You really do not need different toys for boys and girls. Some girls play with cars and some boys play with kitchens. You know what? That’s fine. That little girl will probably drive a car someday, and hopefully, you’ll teach that little boy how to cook in a kitchen.
The same applies to clothes. Buying neutral clothes that can be used for either gender mean more than can be passed down for younger or future children. I kept most of my cloth diapers from my daughter and I used them on my son even though they were “girly.” I wrote a post all about cloth diapering a newborn, check it out if you want to find out more.
4. Buy quality products that last
We’ve been lead to believe that we need different strollers, beds, car seats, etc. for several different stages. This simply isn’t true. My youngest son has been in a “regular” car seat since birth and never slept in a crib once. Buy one quality car seat that will grow with your child. The Graco Extend2Fit car seat is a great option. Even if you need to eventually buy a separate backless booster seat, they are very inexpensive.
5. Buy Secondhand
Car seats are one that thing you should not buy secondhand. You can use them for multiple children as long as they are not expired, but purchasing used seats or having them passed down from someone you don’t know isn’t a good idea. Save money on clothes, toys, strollers etc. and spend more on a quality car seat that will grow with your child.
You can buy almost anything secondhand for much less than new. Kids grow fast, and most of the time they don’t have time to wear things out. Check out thrift stores and consignment stores for clothes, shoes, toys, strollers, bouncers or anything else that you need.
You can also have a clothing or toy swap with your friends. Get together and bring items that aren’t used or worn anymore and have a big swap. This can be a fun way to get “new” things while hanging out with friends. You can also swap clothing or household items with your adult friends.
6. Use the library
We love the library! The library is a great resource. You want your kids to love reading, but you may not want to have hundreds of books in your own house. By using the public library, you can keep your home library smaller while reading new books every day. Libraries often have other programs for kids, so make sure to check and see what yours has to offer.
7. Pack trash-free lunches
For some reason “kid food” is often packed in so much packaging. It may take a little extra time and planning, but it’s very possible to pack a trash-free lunch for your kids. Whether the kids are going to school or just out of the house for the day, packing lunch will help avoid stopping for plastic-wrapped convenience food.
I recommend investing in good metal Bento Box like this one by LunchBots. We also love our Bamboo Utensils. I keep mine in my purse at all times. The good thing about trash-free lunches is that they are healthier by nature, so it’s a win-win!
8. Shop online
If you’ve ever taken a kid to the store, you know they need to have everything in sight. Even if you don’t consciously realize it, you probably have the same feelings.
Stores are designed to make us feel like we need ridiculous things that we actually don’t. Avoid the hassle altogether by shopping online whenever possible. You may have to control your own spending urges, but at least the kids won’t be asking for another plastic toy!
I love buying my healthy pantry staples online though Thrive Market. I love that I can save money on specialty items without leaving the house. Thrive Market also uses sustainable packaging materials, which is a huge bonus! Use this link to get 25% off your first order, plus free shipping!
9. Cloth Diaper
Diapers contribute to so much waste. Cloth diapering is an awesome alternative that has come very far since you were cloth diapered. If you were cloth diapered, maybe I am just old! I am writing a series all about cloth diapering, check out the first installment on the different types of cloth diapers if you’re interested.
10. Use fruit for snacks
Fruit is a naturally sweet zero-waste snack. Most kids love fruit, and if they don’t, it’s probably because they haven’t been exposed to it enough. Let kids try new fruit and find what they like. “Kid” snacks have so much packaging. You can even buy dried fruit (try to make sure it isn’t sweetened) and mix with nuts for some homemade trail mix.
My kid’s favorite fruits: Apples, Oranges, Kiwi, Pineapple, Mango, Plumcots, Pears, Grapes, Blueberries, Blackberries, Strawberries.
Now that you’ve read my top 10 tips for going zero waste with kids, here are some of our favorite kid-friendly zero waste items.
Kid-friendly reusable items
I hope that you enjoyed these tips for going zero waste with kids. What are your tips for reducing waste with kids? I’d love to hear about them in the comments! If you want more sustainable living tips and exclusive content sent to your inbox every Saturday, make sure to sign up for my newsletter!