Kids and low waste, at first glance, seem like they don’t go well together. All the gifts, birthday parties, toys, art supplies and the like…However, kids are often very receptive and open to change. I’ve found that by keeping my children in the loop- educated and informed, not kept out of the loop of dumbing down information for them- helps them to understand the why behind our lifestyle, and empowers them to make sustainable decisions on their own. When kids are smaller and can’t actively make decisions like this on in the moment, a big part of this approach lies in informing and discussing with other adults who are in your life- grandparents, teachers, friends- to communicate respectfully but firmly your desire to live a sustainable lifestyle. It can feel uncomfortable at first, but you have to remember that people are in your life because they love you and your kids and they are very likely to be willing and happy to adjust to what you ask- probably not at first, but over time as they have a chance to learn and adapt themselves.
If you do not have children, I still believe this will be relevant to you as you probably have children in your lives somewhere- nieces, nephews, friends with kids, or maybe you work with kids. If you are around kids, I highly encourage you to talk with them about this topic. They are our future and it is so important to share these ideas with them.
First things first: If you are a new parent and you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the “gear” you are being told you need, you’re not alone. Take a few deep breaths and think about this from a new perspective. Your baby is going to be tiny and relying on you for everything. It doesn't need a bunch of gadgets, clothes, furniture. Your baby will need you- plus diapers + wipes, some basic outfits, a carseat, blanket- pretty much everything else is negotiable. I recommend asking around to friends with kids and community (Buy Nothing Groups, Freecycle, secondhand stores) for secondhand baby goods- most often people who have passed that stage will be more than happy to make room in their house and give the object another life. If you plan to have more children (or even if you don’t), consider purchasing gender neutral and timeless clothing, furniture, toys so that they can be passed on and used for any other baby. For Vin, for example- I had some secondhand baby clothes, Carmelas old muslin swaddling blankets, a thrifted changing table, Carmelas old baby slings (Sakura Bloom) and some glass baby bottles/breastpump (for when I went back to work so I could continue breastfeeding), and a set of cloth diapers and covers. Everything else I thrifted/bought/traded in as I went. You really need less than what you think you do. Take the money you will save doing this and consider investing it back into yourself by hiring a postpartum doula to help support you and hold space for you during this time.
Cloth diapering is really not hard to learn to do, don’t let it intimidate you. It does take a bit more time since you have to keep up with washing. But really, it’s so much healthier for your baby and the environment to use natural, washable and reusable fibers. Plus, it helps your child learn to potty train earlier because the cloth diapers feel wet when they are wet, instead of disposables which wick away the moisture. It’s also cheaper over time than disposables. An excellent resource for all things cloth diapering ( wipes, and wipe solution) is Green Mountain Diapers- that’s where I bought my diapers, cloth wipes, and learned everything I needed to know about them via their “LEARN” section of the site. I passed my cloth diapers onto a friend who had babies, so they got a second life at that.
school age kids
pack yourself or have your child pack their lunches (whatever is age appropriate) in a reusable container. We have been using the same stainless steel lunchbox containers for Carmela since preschool (I just upgraded her to a larger container and handed down her original to Vin). It’s by the brand EcoLunchbox, but there are many similar ones out there. They don’t break like glass and are lightweight and food safe. If you are packing hot food, consider a stainless steel insulated container like those by Klean Kanteen.
whether they eat school bought hot lunch or packed lunch, consider sending them with real cutlery. Either a bamboo type roll up kit they can take with them, or, if your child often loses things, purchase some thrift store silverware, roll it up in a cloth napkin, and secure with a rubber band.
if you use juice boxes, consider sending them with a reusable water bottle filled with filtered water instead. Kids don’t need the extra sugar from juices, and it’s a good habit to get used to now of drinking mainly water when thirsty.
for dry snacks, sew or buy some reusable cloth pouches with a velcro strip to close or paper snack bags instead of plastic snack bags. Portion out snacks into these instead of purchasing individually wrapped snacks.
for school holidays, talk with the teacher in advance asking if there’s any way to set parameters for things like Valentines Day to avoid all the trash- ie no candy/doodads, offer to bring in a homemade batch of cookies instead to all share together as a treat. Whenever I’ve talked with teachers or parents about this, they seem to agree and wish there was a less wasteful way we could celebrate- but no change will be made unless someone is willing to step up and actually encourage it/do it- that’s you!
consider using cardboard binders, recycled paper notebooks, and checking with thrift stores, craiglist, or other secondhand resources for such things as calculators, backpacks, project supplies.
when we eat out, I let the waitstaff know that my kids are used to using real glassware, to avoid a plastic cup, lid, and straw that are generally always given to children regardless of age. I used to wait tables and I always gave kids real glassware and never did I have a breakage issue. If your child is small, you can share water with them or request that the glass only be filled halfway to avoid spills.
i. Speak openly with your children about the lifestyle choices that you wish to start making in your lives and how they, as a part of the household, will be a big part of achieving them goal. Inform them on the WHY behind it and WHAT exactly to look out for (ie what are single use plastics and why are they bad, how can you politely refuse something you don’t need). Be specific and give concrete examples so they fully understand and are empowered to implement change.
ii. Watch or listen to one or more of the resources below. Take a trip to your local library and see if you can find books or other resources on the topic and read + learn together.
iii. If your kids are old enough, brainstorm together some ways that they could implement change in their daily life. If they are still small, you do the brainstorming to think of ways you could shift here to lower waste. Maybe they can start bringing a zero waste lunch or snack to school, bringing their own silverware to eat hot lunch with, talk with a teacher/principal about composting at school, cleaning up litter in their community…
iv. Think about how you could talk with people close in your life to communicate kindly the things you do not wish to have in your life anymore. For example, for a grandparent who is always giving plastic toys and excess gifts, you can start talking about your new lifestyle shift, the things you’re changing, and how it’s been positive for your family. Bringing this up means it won’t be a surprise the next time a gift giving occasion rolls around. It can help here to set clear parameters around what you would NOT like to receive, and instead give options for what you prefer to receive- for example, perhaps a local museum membership, art classes, dance lessons, a special dinner or outing with the grandparent if they live close or a surprise visit if they don’t, toys and games that stimulate and invite open ended learning… Of course, please be tactful and polite when bringing this up so as not to create a strain on the relationship- but at the same time, be firm when you need to in order to set boundaries.