I recently read a statistic that said not only was their so much plastic trash in the world that it would cover the 8th largest country to be knee deep, but that 80% of plastic ever made has been single-use plastics.
That means our world is drowning in trash. So how do we live a more sustainable lifestyle with kids?
How teach our kids to be low waste? How do we raise children to be eco-conscious and live a bit more green when everything around them is disposable?
The first I personally did to go green was accept a motto. “IF I DON’T ACCEPT IT AS AN OPTION, THEN I CANNOT CHOOSE IT.” Plain and simple. I can’t choose what was never an option.
If I know there is something out there that’s better for me, that’s all I will focus on, no other options. If there’s a hard and fast rule in our family to not use plastic water bottles, then it’s not up for discussion.
But sometimes that’s hard.
And to teach it to kids is harder.
Going green can be simple and easy to do with children
My friend Honey from Honey’s Life wrote this section for our site back in April 2014 and it’s a great way for children of any age — toddler to teen — to learn about making more eco-responsible choices. We have edited it and adapted it with descriptions for each finger.
With this guide, it’s easier to teach children from an early age ways to reduce their carbon footprint using their own fingers as a reminder.
Thumbs up, it’s a green choice
- Is this made somewhere I can walk to? Bike to? Drive to? Or would I have to take a boat or plane to see it made?
- Is this a local product? Can I find a more local version or is the item made under fair trade agreements?
Pointer finger, will it point back at me negatively?
- Will I be sad later for buying it?
- Will I be disappointed or ashamed of myself that I bought it?
Middle finger, does it point to someone else negatively?
- Was someone or the world hurt to make this?
- Does it support hate, violence or crime in any way, shape or form.
Ring finger, am I committed to this product?
- Will buying this make my other things sad because they can do the same thing?
- I commit to keeping the product for a long time and/or will rehome it to another person that can use it as soon as possible.
Pinky finger, what can I promise?
- I promise that using it will make the world a better place and here are 2 reasons why.
- I promise the use of this will make the world a better place and here are 3 reasons why and here are the 2 alternatives I thought of to using this and why I think this purchase will be better.
Want a free printable download to teach kids to make green choices?
I hear your doubts. But it really IS possible! My youngest, Sunshine, at 3, tickled us all when I found out she was going through her Mamal’s house and checking the bottom of items for the words “Made In China” (we will not buy items from China due to environmental and political practices we disagree with). She cleared an entire shelf of stuff. – Honey
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Easy ways to live greener as a family
I always have to remind myself that even really small, simple changes can make a big difference. Sometimes better is the best we can do in the moment.
In fact, recycling is not that great of a system and doesn’t help the environment as much as we think it does, but I would rather something get broken down and reused than sit on our earth for eternity seeping into our soil and water. And it’s better than going in the trash. So the first thing we must do is train ourselves to ditch the idea of perfection and adopt an attitude of better.
Quick changes anyone can implement
Unplug and Turn off to reduce energy consumption
Even electronics that are plugged in suck electricity so sometimes it’s about using less energy than before (which also helps save money too). Make it a habit to unplug those items not in continuous use like cell phone chargers, microwaves and more. And while you’re at it, learn to turn off the lights if you are leaving a room for more than 2 minutes.
In the daytime, utilize natural light (and strategically placed mirrors) so you don’t even have to turn the lights on. I personally don’t love LEDs for a variety of reasons, but do your own research and decide if swapping light bulbs is the right decision for your family and reducing energy consumption.
While we don’t have a thermostat anymore because we live in an old farmhouse, this is another area you can look to set your baseline at a manageable level and learn to utilize blankets more than other heating methods, and fans and other cooling techniques over air conditioning.
Related: Energy Conservation – Simple Tips,
Ditch the straw and forget the faux fork in favor of a quality eco-friendly product
Disposable silverware and plastic straws are usually not able to be recycled. They wind up in landfills, inside of animals that mistake it for food, and in the ocean. Natural materials are both better for our heath and the planet.
Learn to forgo the straw (or bring a bamboo, metal, other reusable straw, or just don’t use one) and learn to have a small bag in your car with a set of reusable forks/silverware. Definitely ditch the straw though. If you do use the plastic forks and straws, consider re-using them so they get a maximized life.
Drink more tap water & use a reusable water bottle
This not only means you are healthier, it means that you are not contributing to the drought crisis and you’re not going through an incredible amount of plastic bottles (that are not always recyclable). The saying “reduce, reuse, recycle” is in the order for a reason; therefore, consider making a concerted effort to choose items that contain less trash.
And consider using a Berkey filter as they last years and even filter out many pharmaceuticals, fluoride, and other unwanted chemicals in our water supply.
Support Local, even if it’s just a small grocery store
Even if you only pledge to do it once a week, find a store, restaurant, or farmer that is local and get what you need from them. We found a great market here in NH that is locally owned and sells a lot of locally raised food but they also buy in bulk and at auction food that would otherwise go bad. We love it so much and it serves the purpose of sustainability both from local food and making sure even non-local food doesn’t get wasted. (Plus we get great prices).
It means less environmental impact because it’s not traveling across the world to get to you, it means less packaging usually, and it means putting money back into your local economy for the cycle to them be restarted. And, as the link suggests, supporting local doesn’t even just mean local to you! Support the small business wherever they are.
Choose eco-friendly activities for family fun.
Instead of going out to eat or seeking entertainment that can contribute to overall waste, choose going into the great outdoors, to local parks, nature reserves, and a hike together with the kids.
Simple eco-friendly activities and habits like this instead of modern conveniences create a positive impact over time.
Grow Something in your own backyard!
It does not have to be a huge garden. No one ever said you had to move to a farm or have a green thumb.
You can grow micro-greens and sprouts in a windowsill Find even just one thing to plant in a container on your porch. If it’s successful, branch out the next year. It means less processing of food, the most extreme form of local food, and more money in your pocket!
More ways to live a lower impact lifestyle with kids
I remember almost 10 years ago when I was searching for a better lifestyle that was healthier and more sustainable. I struggled with even how to go green and make eco-friendly choices. Thankfully in the last 5 or so years it has been exponentially easier, especially choosing sustainable living with children. Back then it seemed so daunting that going green wasn’t even on my radar and was so foreign, but I knew it was a step in the right direction for my marriage and future family. Today it is who I am and I am so glad that I took those steps.
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I have chosen to buy glass and metal storage containers for food and have gotten rid of old plastic old ones. I also do not even use plastic ziplock bags. The most important plastic for to get rid of is anything that comes in contact with food.
This also means that I do not want plastic toys in my house. Kids gnaw and chew on everything… so why lets them put something in their mouths that can potentially harm them. This is especially since heat and scratches can break down the chemical composition of plastic over time, releasing its toxins… sounds like a kid’s hot, slobbery mouth can do just this over time. I LOVE the
Reduce and Recycle
This is everything from the plastic that is unavoidable to cardboard, tin, aluminum, paper, and glass.
It cuts down on trash consumption which for many can even lower their trash bill if they pay by the amount of times a month it gets picked up.
Homemade household cleaners
I have done this for several years. I make my own all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, dusting spray, carpet cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, and sometimes laundry and dish detergent.
And really most of the time I just use soap and water. This cuts down on allergies and exposure to chemicals, plus is also cuts down on waste!
Related: Homemade Carpet Deodorizer Recipe
Shop all organic and at the Farmers’ Market
I know this one is becoming more and more popular, but it is still not mainstream yet. BUT IT’S SO IMPORTANT!
This has drastically improved our health if for no other reason than eating more fresh produce and less food that has been packaged in any way shape or form. We eat more fruits and vegetables, we make our own smoothies , juice, and pulp bread, and we have less trash.
In fact one thing we also do is compost food scraps; therefore, between a composting bin, eliminating plastic, and recycling, we take our trash out maybe once every 2 or 3 weeks and rarely have to put it out at the curb. We also just like to support local farms because it means we can get quality all organic, non-GMO food for both cheaper and in a more environmentally friendly way.
Related: Taking Kids to the Farmers’ Market
We reuse, re-purpose, and shop garage sales and thrift stores
This is really one of my favorite pastimes. I love to browse Craigslist and go into Goodwill. Count me in! One thing that really bothers me about Western Society is our apparent “need” for newer, bigger, better. But why? It is so unnecessary! You can find awesome stuff that is even brand new if you just know how and when to look.
Not only that, but don’t look at everything for what it is, but imagine what is could be! I have purchased things both that were in bad shape and fixed up or that was intended for a different use than I had in mind.
Garage sales are great because you can haggle AND most of the time people like the stuff they’re selling, but just need to downsize. The best way to find awesome garage sales is to look for ones that involve a change in marriage or location – they just don’t need or want stuff anymore because it’s cumbersome.
How we maintained an eco-friendly lifestyle with a baby
Because I know for many parents, the first 3-5 years are the hardest to maintain a green lifestyle, here are some basic ways to reduce your impact if you have young kids.
Now that we have three kids, I still stand behind many of these things that I wrote back in 2013 and 2014. While life has changed for us because we’ve moved across the country and some of the things we used to do are not as easy, we still try to make them work.
It is what God and nature intended for my baby to have and in order for my child to have proper nutrition, I must also be good to myself. It is a “no excuses” mentality. Why would I want to give my precious baby anything else and why no give her the best and me benefit as well? This breastfeeding
My breastfeeding goal for each child is until age 2. What this also means is that I am not buying something that is manufactured and takes resources to both make, produce, and ship… not to mention resources to use on my end. Breastfeeding was one of those things that sealed the deal on me being green. No turning back. There are so many ways to go green and this one is one of my favorite. I have now been breastfeeding since October 2012.
This is how women and babies have interacted for thousands of years. This is how the animal kingdom raises their young. Therefore, why would I want to place my child in another room, away from me? It was so unnatural for me to send my child away from me and keep her isolated. On top of that, it’s expensive. No need to buy cribs, mattresses, sheets, and all sorts of other gear. Cribs are also not supposed to be something that is shared because there are safety concerns, making them an even less sustainable option.
I never bought an infant car seat
Yes, read that again, you read it right. May you’re thinking “That’s illegal!” But no, no it is not. I still had a car seat, just not an infant car seat/carrier. There are several reasons behind this.
- REASON ONE: It, like so many other things, is so unnecessary. For thousands of years women have lived without carrying their babies in little car seats.
- REASON TWO: I like to conserve resources. This means both in my pocket book and for the planet. If I buy an infant car seat, my child will use if for at most a year. If I buy it, the company will be signaled to make yet another one, which I do not want. AND car seats are another item that because of safety concerns are not supposed to be bought and sold secondhand.
- REASON THREE: I wear my baby. Studies show that babies that are worn are less fussy and better adapted to their environments. This means they cry less, are disrupted less, and can be nursed easier. Also, because of all this bonding time, women who baby wear are often less likely to struggle with PPD.
My solution was to find a great car seat that was highly rated and safe for both small babies and older toddlers and even children. We actually have two Clek Fllo seats now for our two youngest that are rearfacing!
Related: Extended Rear Facing in the Car Seat
We Cloth Diaper
Disposable diapers and trainers? You mean they get one use and sit in a land fill for hundreds of years? And they sit there for so long because they are filled with chemicals?
Ok. No, that is not the option for me. I have used them… sparingly and only when I had to either for my own sanity or because our washing machine was about to shake the house to the ground.
As you know by now, I don’t like chemicals. So I try to curb that as much as possible. Especially on my sweet little baby’s bottom. Those chemicals can suck all the moisture out of a baby’s butt and leave a diaper rash, and how do you fix that? With diaper cream you say? Oh no… Ok, so cloth diapering means less diaper rash (which can actually be fixed with breast milk and other natural means), less waste, and more money in our pockets. It can be quite an investment upfront, but they last! And maybe for all the multiple babies you want to have. In fact, buy them used which is even better.
We practice Baby Led Weaning
Weaning in this sense is just about introducing solids and not ceasing to breastfeed.
The reason this has helped us be more green is because it means we don’t buy baby food or have expensive machines that make our own baby food. We have less waste, healthier food, and we never forced any food on our kids.
While so many are ready to give their kids food as soon as possible, we waited for as long as possible. Our oldest didn’t become interested in solids until 16 months and our youngest was 15 months before he started eating. It’s saved money and resources in the long run and I find that if I eat healthy and have healthy options, that’s all she has too.
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Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 5 children living on a farm in New England. She believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience and has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development. She is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!