Our home could not be Zero Waste if it wasn’t for the whole family’s combined effort, including that of supportive and conscientious kids. A common refrain is that a low waste lifestyle with kids is too hard, but says who? It doesn’t have to be that way! Remember that you set the expectations for your child(ren), no matter where you start this journey. The role of every parent is to raise their children to be aware of their actions and make thoughtful, considered choices in their own lives.
After all, our children are the future of a better planet. And it is our duty to educate them about environmental issues so they too can make the right decisions when we’re gone.
Here are some of the things you can do with your kids.
If possible, think about things before kids arrive. Certainly not possible for those who already have them, but if you’re interested in zero waste and plan to have kids someday it’s worth doing pre-research so you have some ideas before the busyness of life with an infant. Like anything else, being prepared is helpful.
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Be a teacher
Kids are knowledge thirsty! Explain how landfills and composting works. Cultivating new habits with children is relatively easy, particularly if you make it relevant beyond “because I said so”. From working extensively with young learners, I’ve found most kids are far more flexible than their adult counterparts!
Young brains are literally primed to absorb new information and try new things. Show them age appropriate pictures and videos. Explain that this is why we try to not generate garbage. If you encounter resistance, lead by example! Praise any efforts.
Give them flexibility to make some of their own choices (how to spend their money, choose to eat meat if they want to) and am stricter about other things (bringing their own water bottle… packing their lunch so they aren’t wasting food and disposable plates and utensils from the school cafeteria).
Do a waste audit
Look in your trash and recycling at the end of a typical week to see where the waste is coming from. Together examined your weekly trash and brainstormed how could eliminate items. It is a great opportunity for kids to learn how to sort waste.
Once you have determined what high frequency items you can live without or replace, discuss more sustainable options with your kids. What are you throwing out? Can you do without it? It is in the right bin?
It goes without saying that grocery shopping is easier without kids. But when they do come with me, I take the opportunity to teach them about eco-shopping (like choosing local products), I let them pick the meat and fish of the week, and treat them to their favorite sweet from the bulk section. That’s when the organic gummy bears make it into my pantry.
At Day care and School
When it comes to daycare or school, don’t be afraid to share your values with the teachers. Most care providers were happy to accommodate us and were even inspired to make changes in their classrooms!
Simplify and reuse lunch containers. This is a great way for your child to be zero waste outside of the home and even involve their peers.
Another really cool idea from Zero Waste Home is to wrap your child’s lunch in a kitchen towel— Furoshiki style. This traditional Japanese wrapping method is used to be more eco-friendly and mindful when wrapping food or gifts.
Create healthy hobbies
Visit the library: We do not watch TV, but the kids get to choose the movie of their choice from the children’s library every week. They also get all their books here.
Watch movies!: Kids can absorb so much from movies and “Wall-E“, “Earth” and “Home” are great options. We look forward to “Oceans” releasing soon!
Propose inspiring books: Both “Land of Curiosities” and the “Little House on the Prairie” series are good examples.
Connect with nature: We eat healthier and have more money to spend on activities and experiences. Weekly hikes are a great way to learn about nature. Get to spend time together and teach them about botany and they see what they are fighting for with a Zero Waste lifestyle. Saving nature is ultimately what Zero Waste is all about.
Play games: To get closer and not waste valuable together time watching TV.
Batch cook and/or Meal plan
Reducing food waste is one of the most effective things an individual can do to reduce emissions. Buying ingredients (instead of packaged meals) means cooking from scratch. Time consuming, right?!? Now I cook big batches. A portion to eat, one for tomorrow and one to freeze. Work in DIY snack time. Stop buying so many pre-packaged snacks and bring in zero waste alternatives. Meal planning and batch cooking can help make the most of the food you buy with little going to waste. I loathe meal planning, but this is where my husband shines and helped get him on board with going zero waste at home.
Involve the Kids
Every child is old enough to do something! Involve your kids in your zero waste decisions and activities as much as possible. Let them scoop at the bulk store, sort the recycling, do a litter pickup, choose their lunch snack for batch baking day, take the compost out, hang the laundry up, or pick out the produce at the market. We are teaching them habits they will take with them out into the world.
The same goes for any sorts of DIY projects you might want to make at home. Make it a fun learning experience and kids will be all in! It’s not a time saver right now (kinda the opposite actually!) but involving them teaches important life skills.
Treat your kid like a minimalist.
People say there’s so much stuff with kids. That doesn’t have to be. That comes from what we think they need. Toys are something people complain about. Studies have shown having an overabundance of toys can reduce creativity and focus in children. So rather than quantity, focus on durable eco-friendly options.
Kids also grow quickly and clothes need replacing often. Shopping secondhand is is much cheaper than buying new, and you can often find items that have never been worn. If you don’t have access to thrift shops, there are Facebook groups and marketplaces, school swaps, church bazaars, and yard sales that offer incredible secondhand options. You can also find items like cloth diapers, strollers, bicycles, school supplies, sports equipment…pretty much anything you need has already been made and is still out there. This can also save you in the long-term if you plan to have multiple kids
Life with kids is hectic! Going zero waste cold turkey will feel very unmanageable for most parents. Set small, realistic goals.
Different challenges are always popping up and approaching them with a zero waste mindset is important. The struggle of what other kids have is common to any type of parenting, so having a clear set of values can help navigate issues as they come up. Have regular conversations with your kids about your low waste lifestyle and adjust if needed. It will never be perfect, but no parent is!