Here are some ideas to reduce your household waste and while you've probably heard most of these before, we've added clever ideas for getting your kiddos involved. Start 'em young!!
#1 – Bag it!
Chances are, you have a handful of reusable bags lying around that could be put to good use at the grocery store. Cloth or mesh bags of all sizes are a great option because they can be washed after each trip to the supermarket. Use any small or medium sized bags for your produce and load everything up in a larger tote at the checkout counter.
Eco-kid Empowerment Tip: Designate a lightweight bag specifically for your kiddo to carry out to the car by themselves. They’ll feel like such a grownup!
#2 – Opt outside.
Challenge your family to get outside at least once a day (your yard, porch, or the sidewalk totally counts). If you live within walking or biking distance to any of your favorite destinations (like the park, a friend’s house, or a bakery), make it an outing! Yes, traveling anywhere by foot is time consuming (especially when curious toddlers are involved -- get ready to stop anytime they spot a trail of ants on the sidewalk!), but consider it a chance to save gas and get some exercise, all while spending quality time with your clan.
Eco-kid Empowerment Tip: Set "outside step" goals for each week or month. Track the steps over time so you can celebrate big achievements and get your kiddo about taking more and more steps outside!
#3 – Make friends with the freezer.
Turn your freezer into a treasure chest of delicious snack and meal options - with minimal effort. You don’t have to spend an entire Saturday in the kitchen prepping a month’s worth of food (though if that’s your style, then go for it!). The next time you make a batch of cookies or muffins, double the recipe and add half to the freezer. If there’s wilting spinach in your fridge or browning bananas on the counter, pop them in the freezer to use in future smoothies. And any time you’ve got leftovers, freeze them in individual portions for future lunches (things like soups, chilis, and casseroles work well for this). Utilizing your freezer is convenient, budget-friendly, and helps reduce food waste. Win, win, win!
Eco-kid Empowerment Tip: Start a "produce popsicle" (or smoothie) container in the freezer. When your kiddo can't finish those last bites of banana, be chill and let them toss it into the bowl/ziploc/etc. Put them in control of what goes in – and when it's time to pull it out and blend it into something delish. You could even make a "I'm no food-waster!" chart to give them stars or rewards whenever they eat their leftovers!
#4 – Ditch (some) disposables.
While we know it’s not realistic for every family to go completely waste-free, think about which disposable items could be replaced with more eco-friendly options -- this looks different for everyone based on their routine and needs. Can you pack your kid’s lunch in reusable food storage bags or containers instead of the usual plastic bags? When cleaning the kitchen, could you wipe down the counter with a cloth rag instead of a paper towel? Maybe invest in some silicone baking sheets to eliminate your use of parchment paper when making your family’s favorite cookies? Choose one or two disposable items to swap out. And while you shouldn’t throw away your paper towels, plastic snack bags, or whatever items you’re exchanging, it helps to temporarily “hide” them to reinforce the new habit.
Eco-kid Empowerment Tip: An easy, free way to cut back on disposables is by reusing food packaging to store leftovers. Pasta sauce jars, salsa jars, peanut butter containers, the list goes on and on. When any type of package is empty, ask your kiddo if they can picture reusing it. Even better, invite them to help wash it out and put leftovers in it!
#5 – Save with second-hand.
Have you discovered Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, Poshmark, or your neighborhood’s “Buy Nothing” or “Swap” Group? The next time you’re in the market for anything (clothes, electronics, home decor), check these outlets first. Buying secondhand is one of the most sustainable choices we can make because it decreases our carbon footprint and keeps more items out of landfills. Plus, you can save major bucks! Word of caution: When it comes to purchasing baby gear, used isn’t always better. Be sure to check out our guide here.
Eco-kid Empowerment Tip: Invite your little one to sit on your lap and browse the second-hand scores with you. It works best if it's something they want, but you can also get them interested if you ask them to "help" you choose whatever you're looking for.
#6 – Love your library.
What’s even better than buying something used? Borrowing for free! If you haven’t explored your local library, now is the time! Littles love perusing the bookshelves and getting a fancy library card of their own. Plus, libraries offer more than just books. You can check out DVDs, audiobooks, ebooks, and free learning apps.
Eco-kid Empowerment Tip: Take it up a notch with toys! Seriously, Google "toy library" to see if there are any options near you or to find an online service.
#7 – Bulk up.
On your next grocery run, stop by the bulk food section (if your store has one). You don't necessarily have to buy a large quantity (since that can result in food waste), but the bulk section really helps reduce packaging waste. (Bonus points if you bring your own!)
Eco-kid Empowerment Tip: Let your kid pick out a new trail mix or snack food to try!
#8 – BYO(W)B: Bring Your Own (Water) Bottle.
Kids are thirsty, and reusable water bottles are a lifesaver during daily errands, long car rides, grocery store trips, and playdates with friends. Invest in a glass or aluminum water bottle for each member of the family.
Eco-kid Empowerment Tip: Involve your kiddo by letting them choose one in their favorite color. They'll be more excited to use it, and they'll always know which one is "mine!" ;)
#9 – DIY doggie bags.
Kids love going out to eat, and yet rarely finish their meals (why, oh why!?). Instead of packing their leftovers in a styrofoam shell provided by the restaurant, bring your own reusable food containers from home. Stash a few in the diaper bag so you can be prepared for that uneaten chicken tender! Bonus tip: If your family enjoys takeout, but wants to reduce the waste that comes along with it (plastic utensils, paper napkins, etc.), keep a collection of washable cutlery and cloth napkins in the car so you can say “no thank you” to these extras when you pick up your meal.
Eco-kid Empowerment Tip: Similar to the previous tip, kids are much more likely to get engaged and excited if something is "theirs." Create a personalized doggie bag/takeout kit with a couple of different sizes of reusable containers, cutlery, and a cloth napkin – all customized by them using permanent markers, glass paint, fabric paint, or whatever makes the most sense for your chosen products. Bonus points for using reusable straws, too!!
#10 – Get crafty!
From the brown paper stuffing that comes in your delivered packages to advertisements in your mailbox, the creative possibilities are endless! Add scraps of paper or packaging materials to a “craft box” that your kid can use the next time they embark on their next masterpiece.
Eco-kid Empowerment Tip: Pretty sure this one goes without saying ;)
How does your family reduce waste? And how do you get your kids involved? We’d love to know! Please share in the comments below.