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

One of the bestsellers at No Trace is beeswax wraps – it’s also the one item that needs an explanation for many folks. So, I thought I’d take a minute to talk about the wonders of beeswax wraps.

Beeswax wraps are an all natural, reusable, biodegradable alternative to plastic wrap. They can be used throughout your kitchen and lunch bag in the same way that plastic wrap and plastic bags might be used. Beeswax wraps are washable and last a year or longer.  They are great for fruits, veggies, sandwiches, burritos, cheeses, and more.  

Here’s a list of the ways you might want to use a beeswax wrap:

  • wrap half of a lemon
  • wrap the cut end of a cucumber
  • cover a bowl for extra freshness
  • wrap apple slices in your kid’s lunch
  • wrap your sandwich
  • wrap your burrito
  • wrap fresh carrots from the market to keep them crisp
  • wrap your carrot sticks in your lunch
  • wrap cheese from the store
  • wrap cheese slices for your snack
  • cover a jar that’s missing a lid
  • wrap your cookie dough 
  • wrap your pizza dough
  • wrap a cut melon

The wraps keep your food fresh, just like plastic wrap, without sending plastic to the landfill.  They are functional and economical for you and green for the earth.  And they add color and cheer to your kitchen!  

How to use it

Using your wrap is simple – just wrap it around your food or bowl.  The warmth of your hands will help the wax soften slightly and mold into the corresponding shape.  The wraps aren’t sticky but can be folded into a tight seal.  Each wrap also comes with a matching tie made from fabric scraps.  You can use your tie for an extra strong seal if you are taking your food on the go or just want an extra firm closure.

How it’s made

Each beeswax wrap is handmade with organic cotton and beeswax – nothing else.  Wax is melted onto the cotton to create a breathable, moisture tight barrier for your food.  Each wrap comes with a handmade tie, made from scraps of the matching fabric.

Care information

Beeswax wraps should be handwashed in cold water with gentle soap.  You can let your wrap air dry or wipe it dry with a hand towel.  Beeswax wraps should not be used in the microwave or oven.  The wraps should be kept out of direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time.  The matching ties can be washed in washing machines.  If you care for your wrap, it should last a year or longer.  But over time the wax will wear off and your wrap will no longer be moisture tight.  Once this occurs, you can simple compost your wrap in your home compost bin – cutting into smaller pieces will help it break down more quickly.

Purchasing a wrap

No Trace currently carries two sizes, 12 X 12 and 8 X 8 inches, and two fabrics – Pears and Pink/Gold Lines. All beeswax wraps come with a matching made from fabric scraps.  Given that the ties are made from scraps, the lengths vary slightly.  

Give them a try – they are an awesome addition to any kitchen!

Groceries have traditionally been one of my family’s largest sources of landfill waste every week – all of that food packaging! Since we started incorporating more zero waste principles into our lives, we’ve been able to eliminate a huge amount of that waste. I thought I’d take a minute to share with you our shopping routines.

The main switch towards zero waste grocery shopping is that we now do the majority of our shopping out of bulk bins and the produce aisle, and at the farmer’s market. Santa Cruz, CA is really blessed with some amazing local grocery stores include Aptos Natural Foods, Staff of Life, and New Leaf, among others. We can shop for nearly everything we need in bulk at these stores. It just takes a little planning and prepping before we go out.

In a typical week, we’ll buy lots of fruits and of veggies to sustain our breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. We buy the loose, unpackaged fruits and veggies, and use our produce bags, as well as some I bought at Whole Foods and on Etsy (before I started making them myself – there are lots of great shops on Etsy!). These bags weigh very little in relation to the produce, but you could write down their empty weight and ask the cashier to subtract it if you like. Fresh fruits and veggies are probably the easiest items for you to start purchasing without packaging.

Fruits and veggies alone won’t sustain us for a week. Our proteins are generally eggs, tofu, cheese, peanut or almond butter, dried beans, and Annie’s cashew pimento spread – another local company and a delicious vegan cheese substitute! And we buy grains like bread, cereal, pasta, and oats, and we always need some snacks and sweets. And then there are usually some pantry staples on our shopping list like flour, spices, tea, oils, soy sauce, vinegar, etc. We are fortunate to find nearly all of these products in bulk in Santa Cruz – Staff of Life and Aptos Natural Food in particular have excellent bulk sections. In order to shop as close to zero waste as possible, I make a list of everything I will buy in bulk, and then make sure that I have the correct container for it. Check my instagram feed (no_trace_shop) for a picture of what I took to the store last time I went.

I had to get 3 liquidy/gooey things last time including honey, olives, and peanut butter. I brought 3 jars and wrote what I needed on the lid of each, and the tare weight. I got the tare weight at home with a little kitchen scale – it gave me ounces but just divide the number of ounces by 16 to get the tare weight. I also brought two beeswax wraps for the cheese. The deli staff will cut a chunk of cheese for you if you ask, and then I wrap it in my beeswax wrap instead of their plastic wrap. They usually give me a sticker, which I show to the cashier. I brought lots of bags for produce, fruits, grains, and other dry goods. And I bring my list and a pen so I can write down the bulk bin code for everything on my list.

There are a few speciality items that require a special trip. When I shop at the farmer’s market, I can get eggs from a farmer, and I can also return any of my empty egg cartons to this farmer. I also get eggs from my in-laws during the sunnier seasons. Otherwise I get eggs at the store and save the cartons for my next trip to the farmer’s market. Sometimes we get chips from a taqueria – at least one taqueria in Santa Cruz will let you fill your own container with chips. We got a medium bag for about $3 last time. We also just started getting our ice cream from a local ice cream shop – Marianne’s. They do hand packed pints for $5.50. It is a bit more than what you get at the store, but you can bring in your own pint jar or take out one their containers, which are paper and 100% recyclable.

Unfortunately, there are still a few things we can’t buy in bulk or from the farmer’s market. These include tofu (we recycle the packaging, though), Annie’s spread, salsa (although there might be taqueria that will let us buy this in our own container), maple syrup, Earth Balance (vegan butter), Veganaise (vegan mayo), mustard, ketchup, and yogurt. The worst of these is yogurt – we could easily go through a couple of plastic tubs a week. I’ve thought about making yogurt at home, but I am reluctant to add another task to my to-dos. We just started making homemade almond milk, though – that is really only 5 minutes! I’ll post on that in the future.

We are making some good strides, though in our efforts to unpackage our foods. I think of it as an interesting mental exercise, trying to get as much as possible without packaging. I’ve also found that our cupboards are less cluttered, look much more appealing, and have very few processed foods in them. You can sneak a peek of our cupboards on my Instagram feed (no_trace_shop). That in itself is rewarding, and also prevents us from stockpiling foods and overlooking older purchases. Have you changed the way you shop for groceries? I’d love to hear about it! Share in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Inspired by role models from the zero waste movement, in 2015 I started to consider what it would take to achieve a zero waste life and household.  Although I have recycled and composted the vast majority of my waste for the past 10 years, I still produce waste destined for the landfill, and the majority  of this waste is food packaging.  

Since my effort to reduce waste in my home, I purchase most of my groceries from bulk bins and the produce section.   I’ve also changed the way my family takes food on the go.  I’ve made simple changes in the way we move through the world to reduce our footprint, inspired by the zero waste movement.  This includes using washable bulk bags, snack bags, and beeswax wrap.  These three types of products help us reduce a huge portion of plastics and other destined-for-landfill materials from our everyday lives.  

In making this shift, however, I found that many of the products for purchase would eventually end up in the landfill.  

Reusable bulk bags with silk screen images, plastic tags, velcro, plastic buttons, polyester thread, or nylon lining (among others)  – these will all eventually end up in the landfill.  I found a need for reusable, washable products that, after their usable life is up, could be recycled or composted without introducing chemicals or other pollutants into the soil.  I decided to start making products that would leave no trace.

The manufacturing process also has the potential to create waste and contribute to pollution.  No Trace’s manufacturing process includes using raw materials with minimal packaging, recycling any plastic packaging, and using fabric and paper scraps for handmade paper.  No Trace products are handmade in Capitola, CA with zero waste and made with all natural, renewable materials.