How to be Low Waste with your Little Ones

By: Katie Reynolds

There are so many ways that our culture promotes the production of extreme amounts of trash. From grab-n-go breakfast wrappers to the hundreds of stock-piled beauty products in our bathroom cabinets, we often don’t even think about the amount of waste we produce daily. Despite our best efforts, we continually underestimate the time, energy, and resources that go into creating the items we are throwing away each and every day.

The amount of waste we produce is at an all-time high, and we’re approaching a planetary crisis. Researchers estimate by the year 2030, the world’s oil supply will have been depleted. This means that a vast number of the products we use will be unavailable. Click here to view a list of common products that are made from oil. 

Since time is running out, it is essential that we teach future generations about the importance of protecting natural resources and creating less waste. Luckily, much of this work begins at home. Here are five tips to help you reduce waste and set an example for your little ones:

    1.    Ditch on-the-go disposables:

Disposable items were meant to provide convenience while we are away from home, but lately they’ve infiltrated our homes as well. Whether you visit a department store, grocery store, restaurant, or any public restroom, disposable items are all around us. Toilet paper, paper towels, grocery bags, food wrapping, and disposable cups are some of the most common items that are unconsciously being thrown away every second. 

One way we can teach our kids to not use so many disposable items is to be prepared for outings. Do this by bringing reusable bags every time you go shopping. Also, bring your own bottles to use for drinks while on the go, and pack your own containers from home if you think you might stop for food. Disposable bathroom products can be hard to avoid, especially with little ones, but always remind them to use air dryers over paper towels whenever possible.
    2.    Buy loose produce:
Consumers have found that buying produce in larger, pre-packaged quantities can be cheaper than buying produce individually. So, the demand for produce in single-use plastic bags continues. Not only does this create food waste since many people will not end up using all of the food before it spoils, but the materials used to bag produce are not recyclable and can create a real problem for wildlife if they are not properly disposed of. 

Even if you buy loose produce and put it in one of the plastic bags you find in this section at the store, those bags are made from type 4 plastics (low-density polyethylene) and can only be recycled in certain facilities. They usually require an in-store drop-off, but since many people do not know this, they just throw it in with regular recycling. The result is that less than 5% of these bags are properly recycled each year. One alternative is avoiding bagging your produce at all, but if you feel safer with your items being in a bag, there are many types of reusable bags made for this very purpose. Plus, many of them now have a tare weight, which means that the weight of the bag can be deducted from the total weight upon checkout.

    3.    Choose nature over novelties

As an alternative to indoor activities, get your kids outside for a nature scavenger hunt. This is a great opportunity to teach them about the different things in nature and to foster an appreciation for our environment. As they find new types of trees, flowers, and bugs, tell them what they are and talk to them about their role in our ecosystem. Children enjoy learning new things, and they can take so much pride in the earth they are protecting by seeing it from this point of view. 

    4.    Go Digital

Whether your kids are homeschooled or in public school, opt for online school assignments whenever possible. This action is easier if you control your child’s assignments, but you can always send a special note to teachers stating that you prefer digital assignments when they are available. You can also go digital at home by digitizing your family calendar, keeping your shopping list on your phone rather than on paper, and taking other small steps to eliminate paper in your life. You can bring kids into this process by showing them how to add items to your digital shopping list or calendar, which will enhance their understanding of reducing environmental impact while teaching them valuable digital skills. 

    5.    Rethink the way you party

Holidays and special events can create an incredible amount of waste. From decorations to cake boxes, to all the food that is never finished, and especially the gift wrap, it is not uncommon to fill a few trash bags during these events. However, we have the power to limit our impact during these celebrations and help ensure that future generations can celebrate, too.

Instead of using confetti and balloons to decorate for parties, try gathering some decorations in your own backyard. Use fresh leaves and flowers with a hole puncher to make natural confetti. Allow the confetti to dry, and you will be amazed by how elegant this looks scattered around some pine cones or items that you already have at home. After you are done using them to decorate, you can chuck them right back outside or even place them in a compost pile.

If you feel comfortable with your baking skills, try making your own cake from scratch using ingredients you already have. Make sure you invest in a cake dome so that you can use it time and time again. Even if you don’t have the time or skills needed to bake a cake, you can always find a local bakery who will agree to store your cake in your own plate and cake dome. 

Let’s face it, how many times have you thrown a party and all of the food was devoured? Okay, I’m sure it happens sometimes, but you will likely buy or make way more than you actually need. Ask your guests to bring their own containers to take food with them after the party, and try to make just enough. It helps to have a headcount of folks who plan to attend to eliminate some of the guesswork. 

Lastly, use gift wrapping alternatives. There are many ways to use reusable or recyclable materials to wrap gifts, but a few of the most popular ways include using packaging boxes and paper from deliveries, old newspaper, and even sewing fabric scraps together around gifts. You can also use jars, containers, and shoe boxes that you already have lying around. If you want to take the low-waste gift-giving one step further, try shopping second-hand rather than buying something new.

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Katie Reynolds is a young entrepreneur dedicated to establishing eco-friendly businesses all while raising her two children to practice and live a low-waste lifestyle. She is the founder and owner of The Green Cleaners, a non-toxic and eco-friendly cleaning company in Forsyth County and the founder of Groovy Green Mom, a blog where moms and dads can gain knowledge about raising their children in a sustainable fashion and practice green living tactics.