By Virginia Petrucci
Zero waste with kids? It might seem like an unattainable aspiration, but slow living can be incorporated into our parenting practices with the right mindset and proper resources. With a little bit of research and a lot of heart, we can start showing our kids what it’s like to live responsibly and gracefully–for the environment, for each other, and for ourselves.
Incorporating these 10 zero waste parenting tips into your family’s routine can help you and your children start living intentionally and sustainably. Slow living is largely about the positive environmental results we can achieve through zero waste life hacks and sustainable secrets. But the slow living lifestyle is also about gratitude and connection.
1. Cloth Diapering
Replacing regular disposable baby diapers with environmentally friendly cloth diapers is the first step that many parents take on their journey towards a sustainable family life. Disposable diapers take up to 500 years to decompose in a landfill – yep, 500 years! Disposable diapers are also the 3rd largest consumer component of all landfill waste. Although disposable diapers have been the go-to solution for baby diapering for many years, cloth diapers are becoming increasingly popular, and there are a host of different cloth diaper options and brands available. If you aren’t totally ready to ditch the disposables, start by cloth diapering at home, and then transition to cloth baby diapers on the go – it’s easier than you think!
2. Make Your Own Baby Food
As recently as 2018, commercial baby food has been found to contain dangerous heavy metals. Most popular packaged baby food companies–including those offering organic options–were found to produce baby food that contained at least one heavy metal, such as lead, cadmium, and inorganic arsenic. Arsenic levels are frequently present in rice-based foods, such as rice baby cereal and rice puffs for toddlers. And while the presence of harmful chemicals in baby food is plenty frightening, the environmental toll of plastic baby food containers is huge. So what’s a parent to do? When you make your own baby food at home, you have much more control over what your baby is actually going to ingest. There are many baby food makers on the market, and regular blenders and food processors can work just fine as well. For bonus points: let your older children (safely) help prepare the baby food!
3. Wood Is Good: Choose Toys Wisely
Gone are the days of minimal toys and imaginative play…or are they? Decades of development in the toy industry have resulted in brightly colored plastic toys that are often battery powered. Not only are young children overly stimulated by an excess of noise and light, but they are also delighting in toys that are not so delightful for the environment. Regular home recycling programs typically do not accept plastic toys as recyclables, so even if you’re retiring your plastic toys to the blue bin, they are likely to end up in the landfill. Double this negative impact for toys with batteries inside. Many conscious parents are reverting back to wooden and fabric toys in an effort to ease the environmental impact of their kids’ toy box. For those must-have plastic goodies, try your local thrift store for gently used toys before resorting to Target or Amazon.
4. Sustainable Grooming
Bath time is a wonderful time to decompress after a long day, and this goes for children as well as grownups! By ritualizing your childrens’ baths, they will appreciate the routine as something relaxing and calm. Adding zero waste bath products to the mix will ensure that bath-time is eco-friendly and easy on your wallet (reusable bath accessories such as our Bath Brush with Handle and Bath Brush with Knob will last far longer than plastic loofahs). A few drops of lavender or chamomile essential oil in bath water can also help little ones settle down at night.
5. Slow Living Laundry
One of the most overlooked health and environmental hazards in our daily lives is that of dryer sheets. Dryer sheets contain a host of toxic chemicals that make their way into our clothing, and they don’t do much in the way of reducing landfill clutter. One zero waste laundry solution that we favor is using wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets. Our Pure Wool Dryer Balls can be used with essential oil to freshen your laundry, and help reduce drying time up to 25%.
6. Meal Prep To Moderate
In many cultures, food preparation is a sacred activity. Busy western parents, however, often find themselves resorting to prepackaged meals, often with plastic packaging (no good!). It can also be tempting to order delivery, but this too comes at a cost: the plastic utensils and straws that are often included with your meal wreck havoc on the environment. And unless your delivery driver sports an electric car, they are adding harmful emissions to the atmosphere just by delivering your meal. One solution to keep your dinner routine a zero waste one? Designate a specific time each week where you meal prep lunch and dinner for the next five to seven days. Once you get the hang of it, it can actually be quite a relaxing activity.
7. A Zero Waste Kitchen
One important way to keep your family active and eco-friendly is to purchase high quality zero waste products that replace the disposable products you’ve been using. Zero waste water bottles for you and your children are a good way to eliminate the need for plastic water bottles. The same goes for sustainably produced coffee mugs and hot/cold cups. When it comes to school lunches, stock up on reusable straws for your little ones. And don’t forget to send your kids to school with a reusable lunch bag, such as our canvas Lunch Bag.
8. Less Tech
In our fast-paced world, parents are increasingly likely to let their children play with iPads, phones, and other devices. Many children have their own tablets. There are certainly benefits of educational apps when used in moderation. However, too much screen time (for adults too) can result in decreased attention spans, irritability, and other behavioral and emotional problems. Children ages 2-5 should not have more than one hour of screen time per day, and older children should limit their time to two hours per day.
9. Get Local
One of the unofficial tenants of slow living is that to embrace the environment is to embrace communalism. That’s why shopping at small businesses and connecting with other parents in your local community is one of our favorite ways to slow your lifestyle. Thrift stores offer gently used children’s clothing and baby items, and many stores will accept your well-loved items as donations or even pay you for your contributions. Mom groups and parenting circles can bring invaluable support and friendship, and can also offer opportunities to meet up and swap your gently used items.
10. Zero Waste Shower Routine
Choose bar shampoo and conditioner, or products that can be refilled. Use wood and natural fiber brushes in place of plastic. Helen Milan sells brushes for body, face, and nails, as well as pumice stones to replace plastic based exfoliators.
As you incorporate these zero waste parenting tips into your own busy life, be kind to yourself. Just as you celebrate your children’s first steps and rejoice in their small accomplishments, appreciate your own efforts as you take small but important steps toward a sustainable, eco-friendly life.