The TRUTH about going zero waste with kids
Are you thinking of reducing waste in your family but not sure you can do it? Are you overwhelmed with the idea of reducing your family’s trash to almost nothing?
I’m here to give you an honest look at what it’s like to go for zero waste with your family.
This post is for you if YOU:
-got interested in zero waste AFTER you had kids already
-aren’t a minimalist family with very few possessions
-hang out with other families who aren’t super into zero waste
-go to kids birthday parties
-go to potlucks
-send your kids to school
-let your kids go on field trips
-go to school fairs and gatherings
-take road trips and family vacations
-go to festivals and special events
-let your kids do art camps and piano lessons and other after school activities
Does any of that sound like you? If so, keep reading for the inside scoop on going for zero waste with kids.
I’m breaking everything down into two categories. First, I’ll cover the super challenging stuff. THEN, don’t despair, I’ll get into the super do-able stuff. So hang in there – it’s not all tough!
First, the super challenging part of zero waste with kids.
Bad news first, right?
Let me start by saying –THEIR TRASH IS NOT THEIR FAULT! We live in a linear economy. AKA – almost everything we come into contact with is designed to end up in the landfill. Your kids are part of a system they can’t control. Always remember that – kids are reacting to a system that’s designed to make trash.
So, the hard truth of it is this: If you’re kids are gonna be in the world without you by their side, they’re gonna make some trash. That’s the plain and simple of it. No way around it until they are old enough to really care about this themselves.
You can help them prepare to be out there. Practice being assertive. Practice saying “no thank you”. Practice polite refusal of those freebies and treats and giveaways and STUFF.
But when your kids are young, there are going to be times when they say “YES, PLEASE!” with excitement. Times when the goodie is really inviting and they can’t easily resist. They don’t have an inner voice yet reminding them of the bigger picture.
A few examples:
-A spontaneous stop at Starbucks after a school field trip for treats (courtesy of a chaperone) leads to a plastic frappucino cup, lid, and straw.
-A visit to the craft fair at an eco-minded event and we suddenly have a plastic craft creation that won’t last long.
-Playdate with a friend can lead to trash from a candy bar or hot cocoa cup or popsicle wrapper or some other treat.
-Classroom arts and crafts activity could mean dozens of plastic beaded bracelets. Or dozens of plastic bead art designs. Or duct tape crafts. All coming home to our house.
-A pinata at a birthday party full of wrapped candy.
-A friend at soccer practice hands them a granola bar.
-A speaker at school passes out free trinkets after a fun talk.
-A relative sends a birthday gift that’ll eventually break and end up as trash
You get the idea. Other grown ups and events and activities in their lives will lead to trash. And it’ll probably come into your house. I’m not always going to be there to intervene. Until they have the commitment and maturity to say no thank you to all freebies, they’re gonna bring home some trash. My preference is to let my kids be in the world even when I can’t be by their side because I value these experiences and relationships for them (not so much the trash). But I know I can’t make the other people around them aim for zero waste too.
That’s the tough part. That’s the low down dirty truth of going for zero waste with kids. While your kids are young, you might never get all your family’s trash into a mason jar. Sorry to bear the bad news.
Okay, are you ready for the good news now?
There’s SO much you CAN do to help your kids go for zero waste.
With some thought and energy, you CAN avoid tons of trash with your kids. Here are my three major strategies for zero waste with kids:
My number one tip is PLAN AHEAD!
If you think temptation will come up (e.g. cake at a birthday party handed out with plastic forks, a stop at the yogurt shop during an after school playdate, lemonade in plastic cups at a potluck) get prepped! Talk about it in advance with your kiddo and bring that cup/fork/straw/bowl/plate or snack or bulk bin treat or whatever might get between your little one being a part of the activity and sticking to your family goals to cut waste.
Try to find the activity that doesn’t involve plastic at the craft table and encourage your kids to do the same. Let your kids’ teachers know that you are trying to limit how much plastic comes home with them. Better yet, if you’ve got the time, help your kids teachers with ideas and suggestions for activities that don’t lead to trash or involve plastic (an eco-friendly alternative to plastic bead art? YES PLEASE!). If you are really organized and don’t feel it would be too imposing, reach out to party or event organizers in advance and let them know your family goals and if you can help with party favors or supplies.
And, of course, remind your kiddos of the family goals and what challenges might lay ahead. Which leads me to my next tip!
My number two tip is to inspire them!
Remind your kids why it’s important to care for the earth and that there are so many ways to do that. Remind them why you’re avoiding plastic and cutting trash. Show them pictures of the great ocean garbage patches. Tell them heartwarming stories of human actions leading to environmental changes.
For example, did you hear the story of Ryan, a 7 year old in southern California, who started his own recycling company to help the earth and save for college? One child has recycled thousands of dollars worth of cans and bottles from his neighbors. Or did you hear that a camera trap in Gabon’s Bateke Plateau national park captured a photo of a spotted hyena? They thought the animal was extinct in that area! But the work of rangers and other partners to protect animals in this park has led to big game surviving and thriving. And there’s the story of a classmate of one of my daughters who organized a beach clean up at a local beach. So cool! Stories like this are everywhere, and show kids (and grown ups!) that our actions can make a positive impact. Share them with your kids and help them stay motivated toward zero waste! And I have another post just on inspiring zero waste kids – you can read it here.
And my third tip is to keep a positive attitude when you talk with folks outside the family about your goals.
My personal approach is to use our zero waste supplies without any hub bub. We don’t wave around that we brought our own forks to a picnic. We don’t try to make anyone else feel bad about their trash. In our two plus years of doing this, people sometimes notice and comment positively, or don’t notice at all, but I’ve yet to encounter anyone freaked out or upset by the goals we’re reaching for. So don’t worry too much about how others might react. If they notice and want to talk about it, that’s great! It’s your chance to share what you care about without making someone else feel bad. Your kids will catch on to your attitude, so keep it positive!
To sum up the truth about going zero waste with kids:
- If you want your young kids to move through the world and make their own decisions, there’ll be some trash. And that’s not their fault.
- A little planning and prepping can cut out LOTS of your kid’s waste.
- Inspiring your kids can help them stay motivated.
- Bring a positive attitude to the non-zero wasters in your life.
So there’s my truth about zero waste with kids. We participate in the world around us and still make some trash. But with some energy and planning, we’ve cut back our waste DRAMATICALLY (aka – putting out our small 20 gallon trash can once a month or less) and you can too.
What’s been your experience in aiming for zero waste with kids? Any tips to share? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Thanks for reading,