15 Zero Waste Parenting Tips
9 Minute Read.
Zero Waste Parenting? Is that even possible?
Let’s be honest, it’s tricky enough trying to lower your own environmental footprint, but when you add the element of kids into the mix, it can seem near impossible. But instead of trying to navigate this landmine on your own, why not draw from some mamas who’ve already mastered the art, or shall I say: the work-in-progress! I think it’s important to say that because this is not going to be a perfect transition. You may decide to give reusable diapers a go, and then say, “f**k that, I just can’t do it,” but the point is that you tried and in the process, you learned what works for you.
Raising a zero waste family is doable and can be really rewarding when you see how incredible and sustainably-minded your little nuggets turn out. Now, since I’m not a mama myself (at least not yet 😉 ), I hit up 3 of the most badass zero waste mamas I know to make sure you have everything you need to start your family’s transition to sustainable living.
Here are 15 Actionable Tips for Zero Waste Parenting:
Mama #1: Sarah
Shifting to a zero waste lifestyle is about changing habits.
Involve your kids in the “new way” of doing things to instill these habits as second nature to them. Bring them bulk shopping and let them scoop! Take them to farms and farmers markets so they can pick out their own produce. Prepare their school snacks for the week together on a Sunday afternoon. And ask for their help in sorting the recycling or taking out the compost.
Give yourself grace.
You can only truly control the waste you produce at home, so cut yourself some slack about the bits and bobs that trickle into the house from outside sources. Go at your own pace and focus on one change at a time. The small, but steady, changes you are making in your own home really do make a difference.
Do a waste audit.
Look in your trash and recycling at the end of a typical week to see where the waste is coming from. Then try to replace those things with more sustainable options. For example, you can replace individual yogurt cups by making your own yogurt, or by buying the biggest possible tub you can find, and portioning it out into reusable containers. This will help to minimize the packaging waste and carbon footprint created by the production of the yogurt.
Use what you have and wear it out!
Chances are, you already have much of what you need to shift your kids into a zero waste mindset. Get into the hand-me-down habit, and swap clothes and toys with other parents and families.
It takes a little something extra to go against the norm and do things differently. You aren’t weird! You simply express your values in a real and tangible way. Not only are your kids watching and learning, so are other parents. And this is how real change happens.
Mama #2: Sophi
Get One, Give One
This caters more to my aspirational minimalist, but it does tie into consuming less. We have a donation box where our daughter has to give away an item for every item she brings into our home. She actually enjoys it and is very conscientious of what she owns.
Involve the Kids
Have the kids help you with activities, and explain your reasoning for doing things, especially when it comes to shopping and cooking. Our daughter really enjoys scooping bulk goods into reusable bags and helping me out in the kitchen. These activities really build her appreciation for food, and she enjoys it so much more when she’s participated in the prep work.
Talk to Parents Before Parties
Ask parents if their child would enjoy an experience or consumable item instead of a traditional gift. On the flip side, you can give specific suggestions of what your child would like for their birthday celebration. This could be as simple as a gift card to the cinema, the aquarium, or a favorite ice cream shop. Or perhaps they’d like bath products, cookies, or a favorite food. See a full list of zero waste gifts here.
This is much cheaper than buying new, and you can often find items that have never been worn. If you don’t have access to thrift shops, there are facebook groups, marketplaces, schools, church bazaars, and yard sales that offer incredible secondhand options. If those aren’t available, there’s always thrifting online via Etsy, Ebay, Swap.com, and even through Instagram accounts.
Use What You Have
For craft projects and holiday decor, you can use the materials you have in your home or have found in nature. Using varied natural decorations, like pumpkins for halloween or pine cones and greenery for the holidays, are great zero waste options. We also cut up old holiday cards we’ve received and upcycle them into new, homemade cards. Heck . . . we’ve even used egg cartons to make an advent calendar!
You can find out more about Sophi on her instagram
Mama #3: Katelin
Katelin travels A LOT with her kids and knows exactly how to prepare for even the most unexpected situations. Take it away Katelin!
Being a military family, we move a lot, and our most recent move to Brussels has also allowed for increased opportunities to travel. Maintaining Zero Waste while traveling does require some planning, but it’s doable!
We only travel with carry-on size luggage, which saves time, money and waste. A small suitcase is often more than enough space for a few outfits, electronics, toiletries, and extra shoes. To avoid confiscation of liquid toiletries when flying, I pack a shampoo/conditioner bar, my safety razor (minus the blade), a solid deodorant in a cardboard tube, and baking soda in a small jar for brushing my teeth. I also always pack a water bottle, travel mug, bamboo cutlery, napkins, a cotton tote, and a container filled with reusable produce bags. When traveling in warmer months, I also transfer sunscreen into a jar smaller than 100 ml (for TSA regulations), and clearly label the contents so it doesn’t get confiscated.
Call Airlines to Refuse Meals:
When flying internationally, you are faced with the conundrum of creating waste when you accept in-flight meals. The real head-scratcher is that flights over a certain length require the serving of meals; however, you can avoid this by calling the airline ahead of time and requesting no meal. Most airlines will oblige your request.
We pack snacks for flights and fill our water bottles prior to boarding the plane. We also use mason jars with Cuppow lids should we desire an onboard beverage (flight attendants are always willing to fill our personal cups). Lastly, we opt for dining at restaurants during a stop over, or before boarding our flight. And if we’re in a hurry, we purchase baked goods or sandwiches using our own containers. This isn’t always fool proof, but it’s the best alternative I’ve found.
Research What’s Available at Your Accommodations:
You can save valuable packing space by checking what amenities are available at your accommodations. Our family tends to choose Airbnb as there are more options for traveling with young children (and we don’t want to go to bed when they do!). This also saves us money since it allows us to cook our own meals. If we’re not traveling by plane, we pack a cooler with frozen meals or components of meals, such as soup, bolognese sauce, and sausages. This way, we don’t need to purchase bags of ice and don’t have to worry about keeping the food fresh while in transit. When arriving at our destination, we simply transfer the items into the fridge.
Apps Are Your Friend:
I tend to avoid learning new things when it comes to technology, but finding apps that can enhance your trip and reduce waste are worth spending the time on. First, you can avoid printing boarding passes & tickets by downloading an airline’s app onto your phone. This also allows you to receive important updates regarding your trip via the app, which is especially helpful when traveling with kids. You can also download city maps, local transportation apps, and travel guides that reduce the amount of paper you would otherwise accumulate over a trip. Lastly, you can download apps for locating secondhand clothing stores, bulk food stores (like the Bulk Finder App), and vegan and vegetarian restaurants (like the Happy Cow App).
Prepare for the Unexpected:
When on vacation, we try to not leave our accommodation without a container, a water bottle, a tote bag, and a couple of bulk/produce bags. You never know when you might fall upon a fantastic little artisan bakery or secondhand shop and want to purchase something. Also, when dining out in restaurants where you are unfamiliar with the portions, you will be happy to have a container for leftovers.
Now, you may be thinking that this is a lot of stuff to cart around, but since we’ve adopted an attitude of less-is-more, we’ve found that we actually carry a lot less with us. My purse is often empty, aside from my wallet, phone, and lip gloss. This leaves lots of room for all my zero waste travel essentials!
Katelin has also been kind enough to offer my readers a 15% discount off of her website. Simply use the code: Mamaeco15 at checkout! 🙂
I hope these zero waste parenting tips have given you a good starting point for working toward sustainable living. I know it can seem overwhelming, especially considering how much you already do for your kids. But the truth is: there’s really no right or wrong way to do it. As long as you’re making an effort and explaining it to your kids along the way, you’ll be just fine! Remember, your kids are like eco-friendly sponges—they absorb just about anything! Plus, they’re going to be lightyears ahead of us since they’re learning this stuff from young.
And going back to the idea of reusable diapers, I fully intend on using them when I have kids. I even have a game plan for how I’m going to clean those puppies! A Pressure Hose Attachment + Mama Eco = The Dirty Diaper Annihilator! I just have to get my husband on board . . . we’ll see how it goes 😛 . If you’re also thinking about opting for reusable diapers for your little nugget, check out my friend Zoe’s blog on the Best Cloth Diapers out there. She’s tested them all and can save you the trial and error of figuring it out yourself.
Aside from that, I’m going to make it my mission to dodge plastic and waste at every corner. I’ve even started building a list of what I’ll need to get the job done. Combine that with a boatload of hand-me-downs from friends and family, and I’ll be just fine. And I know . . . you will too! 🙂
So, be honest with me: if you haven’t had kids yet, do you think this sounds doable?
If you already have kids, what are your thoughts? Do you wanna try to make the transition?