Kids & Zero Waste
If you know kids, you know they sometimes leave behind a trail of debris. Kid detritus comes in many fun forms at my house – popsicle stick sculptures, broken bracelets they made at school, 100+ drawings of the family, valentines cards from 3 years ago, Dollar Store party favors, outgrown clothes they can’t quite part with, and more. Right now our home is just about bursting at the seams with these things.
Fortunately for me (and the planet), kids are also amazing at getting inspired and enthusiastic about worthy causes. With a little effort, it’s totally possible to get kids excited about zero waste. And the more we get kids on board, the brighter our future gets.
Here are my top 10 ways to help kids reduce their waste and go for zero. Zero waste kids, here we come!
Top 10 tips for inspiring zero waste kids
- Inspire them! Share success stories from zero waste heroes. Those year’s-waste-in-a-jar pictures can be really inspiring to kids. I love Bea Johnson’s zerowastehome.com.
- Get them involved in your grocery shopping! Showing them how to shop in bulk and what’s available in your store helps them wrap their heads around what you’re doing at home. I let them pick a couple of snacks from bulk bins. Bonus: These snacks go into jars in the cupboards, so we can all easily see what’s available and how much. They also love helping me take pictures of our groceries – all that arranging and color sorting. Fun times for their busy brains.
- Give them the tools – their own napkin, utensils, water bottle, jar, containers, lunch box, etc. If kids feel ownership and responsibility over their own tools, they’re more likely to enjoy and use them. No Trace has lots of options here.
- Role model! Actions speak louder than words. When kids see you carrying your own water bottle and napkin, that’ll inspire the same from them!
- Find zero waste alternatives for their favorite foods. Can you find a package-free alternative to one or two of their favorites? Homemade everything is really hard – but maybe there is one really special swap you could do for your kiddos. Homemade crackers or granola bars, maybe? Homemade chocolate chip cookies? Bonus: it’s a great way to get them helping in the kitchen – if they help you, you’ll make it!
- Anticipate the challenging moments, and prepare them! Birthday parties, Halloween, air travel, dentist and doctor’s doctor’s offices, free samples at the grocery store. Are they allowed to bring anything home? Are there limits or restrictions? Talk about it so they know what to expect BEFORE you’re in the moment. We were going through a phase of being invited with friends to frozen yogurt after school every week. I finally got my act together and brought jars and spoons to avoid the waste and say YES to the invite.
- No guilt, only encouragement! It is really hard to avoid waste in today’s society. They may not have any buddies whose families are going for zero. Make sure they know that what’s most important is doing their best. We’re trying to tread lightly on the planet so we can share it with others for generations to come.
- Educate them! Take them to the landfill or the recycling plant (Santa Cruz recycling does a great tour – and it’s kid friendly), show them kid friendly videos on landfills and plastic pollution. There are some great things on youtube like this one on landfills and this one on plastic bottles!
- Encourage them to think about how much stuff (i.e., toys and clothes) they need, and whether they could share some things with others. Sometimes helping them cut down on how much they own can help them cut down on how much they want to consume. Is there a shelter nearby where you can donate some excess? Or a thrift store with a cause you can all get behind? In Aptos has Caroline’s thrift store, which donates it proceeds to worthy non-profits in the community. If kids know where some of their things are going, it makes it easier to say goodbye to stuff.
- Try to make things together, instead of buy. I know, who has the time for that? I had to make a promise to myself and my kiddos on this one – I gave them each a gift this past Christmas of a coupon for making something together. Evenings and weekends are full of dance, soccer, birthday parties, dinner, homework, and reading. There isn’t always a ton of spare time for extra projects on top of that. But, if there are a couple of special items your kiddo really wants, you can both squeeze in the time over the course of a few months. Especially if you’ve already committed yourself.
- Explain that every family has different ideas, values, goals, and projects. Not every family can aim for zero waste, and that’s okay. It’s important that they know that not all their friends will be able to or interested in cutting down their waste. And that’s okay.
- I remember that we still make waste as a family, and I go easy on us. We are doing a lot, but we aren’t perfect. I try to learn from what we throw away and think about new habits to help us reduce our waste on a regular basis. That feels like success in my home, and my kids are engaged and interested instead of overwhelmed.
There you have it. My top 10 ways to inspire the zero waste kids in your life. Is zero waste a family value at your house? I’d love to hear about your family practices.
Thanks for reading!