Zero waste living certainly gets a little trickier when kids are in the picture. Erin Rhoads shares her tips on how you can go zero waste with kids with ease.
Next month, millions of people the world over will take part in Plastic Free July.
The initiative, which began in 2011, has seen immeasurable amounts of plastic being diverted from landfill (and our oceans). Ever-increasing participation rates suggests more and more people are waking up to the world’s plastic pollution crisis.
Of course, it’s not just plastic waste that is polluting our struggling planet. Our addiction to fast fashion, the food waste we produce and our reliance on our cars are just some of the individual ways we are all contributing to climate change.
With government and industry seemingly adverse to any real system-wide change (although there are some positive signs that the mood is shifting), many of us, parents or not, have decided to change what we can – our own behaviour – and are adopting a zero waste lifestyle.
Can you really go zero waste with kids?
As most parents will attest, little ones seem to necessitate a lot of “stuff” – toys, feeding equipment, disposable nappies – most of which is made from plastic. Even children’s clothing and footwear can contain plastic.
Which begs the question – can you go zero waste when you have kids?
Author of ‘Waste Not: Make a Big Difference by Throwing Away Less’ and ‘Waste Not Everyday: 365 Ways to Reduce, Reuse and Reconnect’, Erin Rhoads (aka the Rogue Ginger) believes so.
“Yes, it is possible!” she says. “The most important lifestyle change people can make is to learn to pause and question everything we’ve been told we need.”
“We are constantly bombarded with messages telling us we need to buy more,” Rhoads says. “Slowing down to assess what the impact an item has had on the environment and will have on future generations will help to create lasting change.”
Trying to cut back on your plastic consumption and striving to reduce the waste your household produces may seem like a herculean task when you first commit to it.
As a first step, Rhoads suggests doing a “bin audit”, where you identify the main types of waste you throw out each week. This will help you identify areas you can start to make zero waste swaps.
“It might be something like swapping liquid soap and shampoo for a bar of soap packaged in paper,” says Rhodes. “Or swapping lunch wrapped in cling wrap and plastic bags for reusable beeswax wraps or a reusable container.”
Rhoads suggests involving your kids in the decisions and changes being made so that they have buy-in.
“Sit down with the family to discuss the changes everyone can make as a family while keeping it fun,” she says.
“For instance, you could give your child the role of ‘Plastic Detective’ and it’s their job to help find solutions or watch out for sneaky plastics coming into the house. Each time they help come up with a solution will give them confidence to continue making changes,” says Rhoads.
The devastating effects of climate change and how humans are contributing to it may seem beyond the grasp of our little ones’ comprehension, but Rhoades says we don’t give our kids enough credit.
“Children are more switched on to these issues surrounding plastic and waste than most adults, as they are exposed to it through school, books and even their TV shows,” says Rhoads.
“I like taking children out for a walk and getting conversations going on the rubbish that is found in the environment, prompting them to think about what will happen if it’s left there, where it came from, and how we can reduce the litter from getting there by way of changing our habits and packaging design.”
Going against the status quo
One of the biggest challenges you may encounter when going zero waste with kids is getting friends and family to adapt to these changes.
Celebrations and family get-togethers are generally when values collide, particularly when it comes to gifts.
“There are going to be people in your life that enjoy giving gifts. It’s part of who they are,” says Rhoads. “Rather than fight against them, work with them. I like to write a list of things I would find useful and are needed, then share the list with those who like to buy gifts.”
“I always try to balance the ideas with physical and non-physical gifts like a visit to the museum, a theatre show or cooking class. We also do this for our son when his birthday came around too.”
When it comes to hosting your child’s birthday party why not ask friends and family to buy second-hand or eco-friendly gifts (minus the wrapping paper!), send evites instead of paper birthday invitations, opt for reusable party decorations, and serve food off regular tableware and cutlery rather than disposable options.
Erin’s top ways to go zero waste with kids
“Join a toy library, or a dedicated online buy/swap/sell groups to find second-hand toys, or ask family members and friends for excess toys that they are not using anymore.”
“Teach your kid the fun of up-cycling through arts and crafts projects, repurposing items found around the house. A cardboard box can be turned into so many things!”
“Lunchboxes made of stainless steel have less chance of breaking and, if cared for, will last all the years of school. Likewise a reusable water bottle.”
“Libraries – including school libraries and toy libraries – have great options to keep kids entertained, including puzzles, dress ups, scooters and bikes, musical instruments, and books, of course!”
Want some more ways to ditch the plastic? We’ve got 17 more ways you can go zero waste with kids here.