Are you hoping to make less waste this Halloween?  I’ve got some easy zero waste Halloween ideas that you AND your kids can get behind.  Read on to learn about:

Our 2019 zero waste Halloween ideas

 

Halloween again already??  I’m not complaining – it’s actually one of my favorite holidays.  And although it’ll look different this year cuz of COVID, we’re still aiming for a zero waste Halloween.  Last year we made even more strides towards a zero waste Halloween, so I thought I’d share our low waste Halloween ideas with you.  

 

For last year’s Halloween, we were inspired by Amanda at mamaeatsplants.com.  She described their zero waste Halloween in 2018 and I knew that was what we would aim for in 2019.  

 

How we had a zero waste Halloween in 2019

Zero waste Halloween
our zero waste Halloween

Here’s what we did.  Each year, the kids get a UNICEF box from school to collect spare change and bills that get donated to UNICEF – trick or treat for UNICEF, it’s called.  In the past, my partner and I have done our best to fill the little cardboard box with coins & bills. 

We didn’t want our kids asking strangers for candy AND money on Halloween. It felt like asking for too much.  So we figured we’d do the UNICEF part at home and let the kids do the candy part on the streets.  

 

But this year, we got behind trick or treat for UNICEF, instead of trick or treat for candy.  And one of the friends who came along collected spare change for a couple of other non-profits that support immigrant children at the border.  How cool is that?? 

 

Let me explain how we got the kids into these zero waste Halloween ideas. 

 

  • First, I told the kids what Amanda and her family did – trick or treat for UNICEF, followed by a homemade dessert party at their home.  Isn’t that a great idea? Says mom.  

 

  • Second, I proposed that if the kids decided to trick or treat for UNICEF instead of for candy, we’d have a literal BUFFET of homemade vegan desserts to come home to and pig out on.  And plenty of leftovers to carry us through the next few days, fully sugar-fueled.

 

  • Third, I proposed that the kids could each pick TWO desserts that they wanted to have on Halloween, and that I’d make them (within reason, of course, and with help from the kids if they were inclined).   Basically, we were aiming for a dessert BONANZA.  

 

  • Fourth, I reminded the kids that the fun of Halloween is not about the candy.  It’s about the planning, the costumes, the friends, the walking around, the excitement of it all.  The energy on the sidewalks from throngs of kids and parents walking in the streets, having a good time.  Such a fun night.

    Halloween costumes
    My kiddos in their DIY costumes (Wednesday Adams & Evie from the Descendants)

 

  • Fifth, I reached out to another family who cares about low waste living to see if they would be interested in joining us and being a part of trick or treat for UNICEF with a dessert buffet to follow.  They were in!

 

After going through all this, my girls had no qualms about giving up the candy in exchange for a dessert party with their buddies.  

 

The kids each picked desserts (rice pudding, cupcakes, chocolate peanut butter bars, and cookies). 

vegan cupcakes
Did you know you can whip coconut cream to make a delicious, vegan whipped cream??

I started with a shopping list the weekend before to make sure I had all the ingredients on hand, in a low waste form (planning ahead for groceries always works better than last-minute shopping and not finding what you need in bulk).  And then I started baking some of the goodies a couple of days in advance.  That way I wouldn’t spend all of Halloween baking (I’ve got other work to do too!).

 

On Halloween, our friends came over and we had a healthy dinner of vegan pesto pasta and a green salad – yum! – before we started on our walk.  Kids also got a little dessert before we hit the road. 

 

I was a little worried about how people would feel about donating cash on Halloween for UNICEF.  Surprisingly, no one blinked an eye or had any problems with the request!  Full success.  I forget the exact amount we raised but I think it was close to $100.  Go kids, go!  

 

After getting worn out walking around, we came back home and ate desserts.  Also, instead of counting candy, the kids had a great time adding up their UNICEF donations.  

 

Everyone was happy and full of sugar.  No complaints at all.

 

This felt like a more zero waste Halloween than the previous year.  You can read about our first zero waste Halloween ideas here.  This year we didn’t actually take home candy and then give it away – we avoided that trash altogether.

 

If you’re hoping to have a low waste Halloween this year or next year or whenever the world goes back to semi-normal again, here are my key tips for a low waste Halloween 

 

Tips for a low waste Halloween.

  1. Talk way in advance with your kids about your ideas
  2. Talk about the charity you’d like to trick-or-treat for, or ask your kids if they have any ideas.  UNICEF provides cute boxes but you could make your own!
  3. Make awesome desserts.  My favorite cookbooks for vegan desserts include Vegan with a Vengeance and Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World.  I also love NoraCooks.com for amazing vegan recipes.
  4. Find another family who is on board with your idea.  Are some of your kids’ friends into zero waste living?  Or some of your friends?  It’s more fun with a group!
  5. Remind your kids that the night is fun because of the dressing up & hanging with friends & and (post-COVID) having a good time in the neighborhood.  Not because of the candy!

 

BTW, this year we’ll do something different to accommodate COVID.  We might go on a treasure hunt with hidden bulk candy in the neighborhood!  Or we might just go to a few select homes of people we know and trick-or-treat for UNICEF or homemade goodies at their door instead.

 

That’s what we did last year!  Do you have any other thoughts on a low waste Halloween?  I’d love to hear so leave me a comment below!

 

xo,

Liz at No Trace

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8 zero waste gifts for kids! 

Whatever your budget!

 

I’ve been asked what are the best zero waste gifts for kids, so figured it was time to put together a post on our 8 favorite zero waste gifts!  I’ve got easy, thoughtful gift ideas for you that don’t create trash or plastic. The holidays are coming up, after all! Check these out and let me know what you think :).

1. The first zero waste gift for kids is also my favorite: EXPERIENCES! 

 

Instead of a thing, give the young one in your life a special experience.  This could be something as elaborate as a trip to an amusement park (like Universal Studios – thanks, Aunt Olivia!) or something as simple as having your friend over for a special playdate to bake cookies or a cake or a fort or a mud pit (don’t ask me why, but my girls love making mud pits and then smearing the mud from head to toe!). The gift of your time is really the most special, isn’t it?

Here are a few experience gifts, from cheap to pricey:

-playdates to bake, build, or craft something together

-a playdate at a local extra fun park or beach

-a special lunch at your little one’s favorite restaurant

-a trip to a kids bounce house or other fun kids space

-a visit to a local kids museum (Children’s Museum of Discovery in Capitola is super fun for younger kids and the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History is awesome for all ages!)

-going to a sporting event together (Santa Cruz Warriors, anyone??)

-Amusement parks!  Can’t go wrong with a trip to an awesome amusement park, right?? This is definitely on the pricier end though.

 

2.  A membership to somewhere fun. 

Similar to a shared experience, but something the little one in your life could use over and over again.  These can be pricier than a one-time outing, but also give memorable experiences all year long! In the Santa Cruz area, we’ve got the Museum of Art and History that has kid friendly events all year.  Nearby is the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium.  So much to see that we never get to it all in one day!  We’ve also got the boardwalk that has season passes. And the Children’s Museum of Discovery offers memberships.

 

3.  Something homemade. 

Even if you aren’t super crafty, there’re probably awesome things you know how to make.  Maybe you like to bake? Or sew? Or paint? Or do a little woodworking? The gift doesn’t have to require tons of your time.  I love to make things that will fill a certain need or be consumed, rather than just something to be admired. E.g., an apron for a budding baker.  A veggie bag for a budding zero waster. A homemade mix of powdered hot cocoa. A batch of cookies. A little water bottle holder. A box to hold their toys.  

 

4. An awesome book. 

This is definitely a thing, but I love turning my kids onto some of my favorite books from childhood – especially books they’ll read again and again.  Calvin and Hobbes, for example. Anything by Shel Silverstein. The Farside comics for the older ones in your life. Have they ready Harry Potter yet? Lots of kids (and kids at heart – like me!) will read this series more than once.   You can probably find some of your favorite books at a second hand bookstore. And when your little one is ready to pass it along, it can go back to a second hand bookstore or onto a friend.

 

5.  Paper notebook and colored pencils and other plastic-free art supplies. 

For the budding artists in your life, there are never enough paper notebooks to capture their art.  I wouldn’t get this just to give “something”, but if you know your little friend loves to draw, why not get them a nice pad of paper that can be recycled or composted?  You could also make them a small book from recycled paper. I like this tutorial by Dana of Made Everyday.  And nice new colored pencils are great too.  I tend to steer away from markers, but maybe you can recycle plastic markers in your community.  We have Terracycle at the Art Factory to take old markers and recycle them. Check your area for available Terracycle boxes here.  

 

6.  Lessons or other experiences they’ll enjoy on their own. 

Piano lessons, horseback riding lessons, surf lessons, cooking lessons, sewing lessons  – you get the picture. These can be pricey (unless you can teach yourself) but can be amazing memories for the kiddos and give them skills that they’ll use again and again.  This zero waste gift for kids is one they won’t forget.

 

7. A small plant they can take care of. 

Another thing, I know. But for some kids, it’s a learning experience to have and care for a plant of their own.  My kiddos love getting little potted succulents. And they’re super easy to care for. Some plants help clean the air in their bedrooms, too, to help their little lungs stay healthy at night.  Plants like the rubber plant, peace lily, Boston fern, golden pothos and more help clean the air. Get them something in a nice reusable, plastic free pot to keep the zero waste gift truly zero waste.

 

8.  Zero waste supplies of their very own. 

Of course, these are more “things”. But one way to a brighter future is to get kids caring about the planet from a young age.  Things like reusable straws. Their own small utensil kit. A stainless steel lunch container. An organic cotton lunch bag. Organic cotton napkins and sandwich and snack bags.  These can be fun gifts to receive and also get kids thinking about trash and packaging. These zero waste tools might spark conversations among kids and their buddies about sustainable alternatives.  And of course at No Trace, we’ve got lots of sweet and cheerful options for kids and kids at heart right here.

 

Those are my 8 favorite easy zero waste gift ideas for kids. 

No plastic. No trash. Just special experiences and gifts that kids will remember long after their birthday.

 

What’re some of your favorite gifts for kids?  I’d love to hear so share in the comments below!

 

Thanks for reading,

Liz  

 

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

-throw parties  

-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

people love to give kids STUFF

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:

  1. 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.
  2. A little planning and prepping can cut out LOTS of your kid’s waste.
  3. Inspiring your kids can help them stay motivated.
  4. 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,

Liz

Zero waste advent calendar

 

Okay, you are in LUCK because today I’m spilling the beans on our awesome zero waste advent calendar so that YOU can have a low waste holiday too!

 

Rather than focusing on things, we use the holidays to focus on experiences together and soaking up all the holiday awesomeness as a family.  

 

My kids get SO excited for the advent calendar – they’ve been talking and asking about it for weeks.  They remember these mini-adventures more than any gifts.

 

Our actual advent calendar is a hanging fabric tree with 24 pockets.  We write the activity on a little slip of paper and put it in the pocket.  But you could use anything that lets the kids track the days and read the event for each day.  Check pinterest for loads of cute ideas.

 

So, if you want to make the holidays more memorable for you and your kiddos, and focus on experiences rather than things, here’s my guide for you.

A zero waste advent calendar – experiences, not things

A couple of the easiest ones are:

1. Decorate the Christmas tree

Whether you buy one or have an artificial one, or hang something simple on the wall, this is a great family activity.  We have a couple big bins of ornaments that we put up every year.

2. Decorate the house.

Mixed in with our tree ornaments are a few other decorations – gifts from my mom – including a nativity scene, mini Christmas carousel trees with candles, and some nutcrackers.  We’ve made a few garlands too that we hang.

3.  Make a wreath.

We have this awesome spot in town to make wreaths called Rancho Del Oso.  But you could make one with scraps from a Christmas tree yard, or go onto Pinterest for ideas that don’t involve real tree scraps.  

4. Family Christmas carol night

I’m not sure about you guys, but we love singing in our house.  We get the lyrics to a few popular songs and light up our Christmas carousel trees and sing a few together.  We even recorded ourselves singing one song and shared it with close family (ONLY!).

5. Make paper snowflakes

All this takes is a few sheets of paper and scissors.  We love to hang them in the windows once we’re done. If you’re ambitious, make enough for a strand of snowflakes.  So cute.

6. Write a letter to Santa

We still do gifts and ask our kiddos to pick one thing to ask Santa for.  Something within reason, of course. We get veto power (Apple watch? I don’t think so).

7. Family movie night

We don’t watch a ton of movies so this still feels special for us – Elf is one of our holiday favs.  

8. Hot chocolate for breakfast!

We don’t normally make hot chocolate, so it feels special.  AND it’s easy to do before school. Win Win Win.

9. A teeny tiny gift

Okay, this is another thing, but it’s awesome for busy school mornings to just slip a little something in the calendar.  We’ve done bulk candy before and little hair barrettes. Maybe a tiny glitter crayon, a tiny notecard, or necklace charm.  Or a tiny succulent cutting (they’ll need something or somewhere to plant it, of course). Or a tiny eraser. Or a tiny magnet.  Or a little homemade chapstick in a tiny jar. I try to think of stuff that isn’t just going to collect dust in their room, but might actually get used.  Also, google tiny gift ideas for some of the CUTEST things you’ve ever seen.

 

We have a few fun outings too:

10. Breakfast at Gayles –  before school!

I know this might feel a little crazy.  But if you can get up a little extra early, maybe pack lunches the night before, you might be able to get a nice quick bakery breakfast before school.  It feels extra special this way.

11.  Donut breakfast!

Another before school treat, if you can fit it in.  Or bring it home to them. Either way, we don’t get a lot of donuts around here, so it’s an indulgence.

12.  The Nutcracker ballet

13.  The symphony

14.  The holiday lights train

These can be a little pricey, but it is super memorable for the kids.  And it could be a great gift from grandparents, if they need ideas. (Hint hint, mom 😉 ).  We don’t do all of these each year – usually just one.

 

And we get the family and friends involved too:

15.  Make Christmas cookies with Grandma

An annual tradition that they look forward to each year.  I look forward to the cookies.

16.  Special playdates with family friends

We have grown-up friends who are like aunts to the kiddos.  We make a special effort to schedule something with them during this time – a little tea party or making ornaments together.

17.  Picking out an ornament with the grandparents

Okay, this is a thing but it’s also an experience.  They each get to pick out one ornament a year.  The kiddos get super excited about this. I think it’s not about the actual ornament, but really about looking at all the shiny and creative options at different stores – surfing pink flamingo for the tree?  Yes, please.

18. Craft date with momma

I try to come up with a few simple craft ideas that we could do in an hour after school (a simple necklace, sculpey ornaments,  popcorn garland, or other simple garland) and then let the kids pick one for us to do.

19.  Holiday party

Any holiday parties?  Put ‘em on the calendar!  We have a family birthday during this time, so that party counts as one of our advent calendar events.  

 

And we try to think of others who are in need during this time.

20.  Get gifts for a family in need and wrap them.

Their school often adopts a family, and a lot of churches do this too.   Rather than making this an errand for MOM or DAD, this is a family affair – we go together to pick it out and the kids wrap it up themselves.

21.  Volunteer for a few hours

Last year the kids spent a morning volunteering at an organization that was wrapping gifts to donate to families in need.  This one is a little tricky because it might not be easy to find something to volunteer for if you aren’t already involved with the group.  And finding something that’s age-appropriate can be challenging too, so call around to find some options. And scheduling this can also be tricky when weekends are already jam packed.  So plan it out in advance!

22.  Donate a toy

We ask the kids to pick one of their gently used toys to donate.  Last year this ended up being a major toy closet clean-out, which was awesome.  But in other years, when they were younger, picking just one toy was a good goal.

 

And finally, I think our all time favorites are these:

23.  Night time Light walk .

We bundle up and grab an umbrella if it’s rainy.  We usually walk over to Depot Hill in Capitola for an awesome view of the town and all the lights at night.  It’s fun walking in the dark and cold together. And this is an easy after-dinner activity too for those busy weeknights.

24.  Tea party for dinner

This does require a little planning and effort, but it is so worth it.  We make a ton of finger foods including mini sandwiches (cream cheese and cucumber, peanut butter and jelly), deviled eggs, hummus and veggies, fancy olives from the bulk bar, popcorn, maybe some cookies or other baked goods and tea, of course.  We sit on the floor in the living room and eat around the coffee table. I love this dinner so much.

 

There you have it!  

easy zero waste advent calendar ideas. 

Do you have any to add?  I’d love to hear about them!  Share in the comments!

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

Best eco-friendly lunch kits for kids

 

It’s the middle of summer right now and I’m trying to soak it all up.  Long hours of sunshine. Warm days on the beach. Family trips. Ocean swims.  Ahhhh…

 

But I also know that school will start up again in the blink of an eye!  And with school comes LUNCHES! Our weekday mornings are usually a little hectic – we make breakfast, walk the dogs, make our lunches, and gather up whatever we need for the day (dance today?  Piano? Permission slip? Bake sale? Your friend’s shoes need to be returned? You get the drift).

 

In case you were thinking it – I know we are a little overscheduled at times!  To say the least.

 

BUT, we do have our morning lunch packing pretty well figured out and I thought I’d share it with you in the hopes that it can make your morning just a teensy tiny less hectic 🙂 .  BONUS: our approach is a greener way to pack your food!

 

So, for all you busy parents out there, or parents to be, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about some of my favorite eco-friendly lunch kits for kids that keep your kids safe from plastics and also keep the planet healthy!  No packaging, no waste!

 

So here they are: Top eco-friendly lunch kits for kids (and adults!) – plastic-free!

 

Insulated food jar/thermos:

  • Bentology insulated food jar is great for warming before school leftovers and keeping them pretty warm until lunch time!  The container is stainless steel, although unfortunately there is plastic on the lid and base of the container.
  • Thermos brand makes an insulated food jar that is almost entirely stainless steel, but it comes with a couple of plastic containers.  
  • Thrift store thermos – if you can find a wide-mouth thermos for food at your thrift store – buy it!!  And consider yourself lucky :).
  • Lunchbots makes an insulated thermos too – also with some plastic, though and i haven’t tried theirs – but I love their other lunch box, which brings me too…

 

Stainless steel lunch box

  • Planet Box:  I love their stainless steel lunch box and my kids do too.  It has separate compartments to help portion out different types of food.  In our house, we ask the kids to pack a fruit, veggie, carb, and protein for every meal.  Sometimes they take a small treat like chocolate chips too. What can I say – I’m weak! Let me recommend that you say no to the magnets, though.  These are hard to recycle once the stickers are worn out.
  • LunchBots:  This company makes some great 100% stainless steel lunch containers with separate compartments or a single compartment.  We love using our two-compartment box. Sometimes we’ll grab one other small container if the two-compartments aren’t quite enough for our food, or we want to keep things separate. 
  • Tiffin lunch box:  These are stainless steel lunch bins that connect together in a sort of tower.  We haven’t used one in our home, but I do see lots of rave reviews from other zero wasters.  
LunchBots holding veggie sushi – yum!!

Sandwich bag or beeswax wrap

  • Sandwich bags:  These are a super easy way to tote a sandwich or pastry for lunch.  Simply fold it open, pop in your food, and fold it shut. Easy to wash, reusable, biodegradable.  I would encourage organic cotton only for these – non-organic cotton could potentially leech chemicals into your food.  Also, nylon-lined bags, although nice for moisture, are not biodegradable and nylon is a synthetic fabric that is essentially a form of plastic.  Check out my offerings here.
  • Beeswax wrap:  If you are worried about keeping your sandwich really moist, or if your sandwich is really drippy, a beeswax wrap is another great way to tote your lunch.  These are super easy to clean (wipe or rinse off between uses) and are 100% biodegradable and all natural. I make mine with organic cotton, beeswax, pine gum rosin, and jojoba oil.  They last over and over again about a year. If the stickiness starts to wear off, you can also use a rubber band or string to keep it shut.  See mine here.  

 

Mason jar

For older kids only – A mason jar is a great way to store food that doesn’t need to be kept warm.  But I wouldn’t recommend a jar for kids under 7 unless they are pretty careful.  And you’ll still have to remind your kiddos not to throw their lunch bags on the ground.  

 

Cloth napkin

These are a great alternative to paper napkins – reusable, biodegrable, and sustainable.  I make organic and upcycled napkins that you can see here. Help keep those finger tips tidy!

 

Reusable utensils

A couple of options for utensils…

  • Camping utensils:  I love our Coglan camping utensils – they are stainless steel, small, and super affordable.  We got them at a local camp store. And we don’t feel bad if they get lost since they weren’t too pricey to buy.  
  • Thrift store utensils:  these are even more more economical.  You might be able to get forks and spoons and knives for under a dollar each – maybe even all three for $1.  Check around and see what your options are.

 

Organic cotton lunch bag

Of course I make these too!  But I would recommend ANY cotton or all natural fiber bag over the typical plastic-y, lined lunch bags, which are sadly destined for the landfill.  Unless you have some spectacular recycling resources near you. We don’t.   All natural materials like cotton, bamboo, linen, and hemp are much better choices for toting your lunch.  I would avoid nylon or other synthetics. You can see my offerings here.

Organic cotton lunch tote

 

Use what you have

Last but definitely not least.  I’ll be honest that we also use some old plastic tupperwares on occasion that we bought or otherwise acquired before going zero waste.  These come in handy and sometimes everything else is sitting in the sink, waiting to be washed. I would encourage you to use up what’s on hand rather than spending a ton on new supplies!

 

If you’re just getting ready to send your little one off into the world with a lunch, start out green and eco-friendly with any of these reusable, sustainable options.  These are all awesome ways to send your kiddos into the world with a plastic free and waste free lunch.

 

There you have it – my list of the best eco-friendly lunch kits for kids.  To sum it all up, here are my favorite pieces:

  1. Insulated food jar/thermos
  2. Stainless steel lunch box
  3. Sandwich bag or beeswax wrap
  4. Mason jar
  5. Cloth napkin
  6. Reusable utensils
  7. Natural fiber lunch bag
  8. What you already own

 

Do you have any favorite eco-friendly lunch kits to recommend?  Or awesome thrift store finds? Leave a comment below!  And thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Liz

How to Have a Zero Waste Halloween

What’s October’s challenge for ecoFamilies? Halloween!  

I can still picture last year’s wreckage: the massive pile of trick-or-treat candy in the cupboard that literally lasted for months.  The steady stream of candy wrappers in the tiny kitchen trash can that would show up every few days, foiling my zero waste attempts for the day or week yet again.  Is there anyway to enjoy the fun of halloween without leaving a trail of trash?   I wanted to know how to have a zero waste Halloween.

 

This year, I had a different vision of halloween:  a fun night of trick-or-treating with the kids and friends, followed by a teeny-tiny pile of trash and mildly sugared-up kids.  Could it be done?  I set out to test the waters.  

 

And I was armed with a plan!  Let me share my strategy.  As to whether it worked…You’ll have to read to the end for the exciting conclusion :).  

 

First, I knew I would have to get the kids on board WAY in advance, way before the shiny loot was in their eager hands.  Second, I knew I’d have to share my vision with my hubby, make sure he was on board, and also fill in any friends that were coming trick-or-treating with us.

 

You might ask – why even bother with trick or treating?  Candy is awful for them, why even tempt them?  That is an excellent question.  You, obviously, are a much stronger person than I am.  I decided not even to try to go there this year.  Maybe, in the future, I can convince my girls that passing out candy is more fun than eating it.  But they sure are cute going door to door and asking for candy.  So, here’s what I did.

 

 

Zero Waste Trick or Treaters

The very first step was to talk about it with my kiddos VERY early.  The very first mention of halloween, I told them that I had an idea I wanted to share with them.  In my least bossy voice, I told them I was thinking it would be nice to go trick or treating, but then to trade in their pre-wrapped candy for some bulk candy.  I told them we could go to the candy shop in town and they could get the same amount, by weight, as they’d get on halloween.  But this way, we wouldn’t make as much trash.  So, same amount of candy, no trash.  Then I asked them what they thought about it.

 

Gulp.

 

Here’s the thing – they were so fine with this idea that it shocked me.  Now, to be honest, I did promise that they could each eat 5 pieces on halloween before handing me the rest.  But I didn’t have to do any convincing.  

 

Hip Hip HOORAY!  That was awesome.

 

Now, the big question: Would this cooperation last?  Stay tuned!

 

Zero Waste Halloween Treats

Okay, the next step was to plan for the trick-or-treaters coming to our house.  We don’t get too many (the heavy action is one block away, for better or worse).  But we usually get some, so I wanted to have treats to pass out.  But of course I was hoping for something without wrappers.  I know, why not just pass out fruit?  No.  I just couldn’t.  Again, if that is your idea of a treat, you are a much better person than me.  Maybe some kids like getting fruit, but I’m pretty sure most don’t.  And I’m not interested in letting down happy trick-or-treaters on Halloween. No thank you!

 

So, zero waste treats to give away:  My original goal was to get candy in bulk and some cute paper bags to put it in.  I figured that the bags could be recycled and, if they don’t get recycled, they at least release fewer toxins in the landfill than plastic.  So, I got some bulk bin candy at Staff of Life (actually, hubby picked it up – thanks, honey!).  Then I drove around town in circles trying to find small, cute paper bags.  They. Do. Not. Exist.  If I’d planned in advance, I could’ve ordered some online, but then you have all the unclear shipping and packaging, probably some plastic wrapping thrown in there just to piss me off.  You know.  So, I never did find those cute bags in Santa Cruz or Capitola, and instead used some plain brown paper bags that I’ve had since before going for zero.  The big kind for lunches.  Sigh.  

Zero waste halloween candy from bulk!

Anyway, back to my treats.  Passing out loose, package-free candy to kids can feel a little…creepy.  It shouldn’t, but we’re all a little brainwashed to be afraid of anything that isn’t shrink-wrapped and sealed.  (this is part of why we have such a trash problem to begin with!  I know, preaching to the choir here).  So, what’s the best way to handle this?  Simple:  just let each trick-or-treater know that I’m doing a zero waste halloween.  I told the few that came that they could take a bag and a couple scoops of candy, or just dump the candy straight into their bags/pumpkins.  

 

The verdict?  None of the trick-or-treaters who came to our door had any issues!  They all opted for a bag.  It probably helped that I was surrounded by my own kids and friends’ kids when I passed out the candy – they make me seem less creepy and more mom-like :).     

 

Zero Waste Halloween Gathering

Alright, the last part of our zero waste halloween – the gathering!  Our neighborhood goes a little crazy during Halloween, so we had friends come over for a quick bite before hitting the streets.  A few friends offered to bring something, so I made suggestions that I knew could be zero waste (pasta salad, hummus and veggies).  I made an awesome black bean and corn salad, if I do say so myself :), served with chips from bulk bins.  I also let the other moms know my plan for zero waste, not to pressure them to follow suit, but so they could be supportive of my kiddos.  I’ve found that parents these days are pretty good about being respectful of other families food choices, and my friends are super awesome that way :).  Thanks ladies.  Now, here’s a little shocker – I used paper plates!  I know, I know, WHY?  Here’s why – they were a gift from a friend and the kids were excited to use them (they were Halloween themed).  And I knew they could be composted in our compost.  So, that’s what I did.  Once those were gone, we busted out the real deal plates.

 

Back to my kiddos….

You’re probably wondering how it went after we got home loaded with candy.  Let me tell you – it was GREAT!  They enjoyed a few pieces of candy, more time with friends, and were fine to put their candy away for the eventual trade in.  My older daughter actually gave all of hers to a friend after she had her pieces.

 

AH-MAZING!

 

There you have it: a (near) zero waste Halloween.  These kids constantly blow my mind!  I think they can tell that the true fun of halloween is not the candy.  It is every other thing – the costumes, the friends, the wildness of the night, the decorations, the excitement.  Really, with all of that, who needs candy?

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

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.

My ecokids.

 

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
    One week’s groceries, in rainbow order :).

     

  3. 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.

    Their own stainless steel mugs, and beeswax wraps
  4. 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!
  5. 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!
  6. 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.

    Happy about some frozen yogurt and fresh fruit!
  7. 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.  
  8. 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!
  9. 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.  
  10. 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.

 

Bonus tips!  

  1.  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.   

 

  1.  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!

Liz

zero waste snack ideas for kids

Kids like snacks. Who am I kidding – I like snacks. Having something in your cupboards that you can grab on your way out the door, that doesn’t need to be prepped or refrigerated, is super handy. These days there are countless packaged snack options at the store for convenience for a busy family – but these generally come with wrappers, destined for the landfill. Not great if you are striving for zero waste. Of course a piece of fruit is the ideal zero waste snack (just bring home the peel or core for your compost bin). But sometimes your kiddos (and you!) just don’t want fruit, or want something with your fruit. What’s a busy family to do?

Bulk bins to the rescue! Here are some of our favorite snack foods from our local bulk shopping:

zero waste snacks
zero waste snack ideas for kids
  • Yogurt covered pretzels
  • Granola (we also use this as cereal in the mornings)
  • Sesame sticks
  • Homemade popcorn from bulk kernels.  I like to make a big bowl on Monday, jar it, and it stays fresh until Thursday, if it doesn’t get eaten before then.
  • Trail mix (if there are chocolate chips in there, it’s a guaranteed hit in my house!)
  • Veggie chips (although to be honest, these didn’t go over too well with the kids)
  • Raisins
  • Dried mangos or apples
  • Pumpkin or sunflower seeds

And here are my kiddos enjoying some snacks from the bulk bins.  

We shop for these by putting them into our cloth bags at the store.  When we get home, we put all the tasty snacks into jars to preserve them better.  The jars are stored down low in a cupboard that the kids can easily reach and serve themselves.  We try to keep track of the contents and finish things off before getting more or before they get forgotten in a back corner :).

So there you have it – easy zero waste snack ideas for kids (and adults!).  

What are your favorite bulk bin snacks? How do you snack on the go and still strive for zero waste?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!