“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”The Dalai Lama XIV
It’s not easy being a parent, in fact there are days when it’s incredibly hard to do the most simple things. So when you layer in the need to try and be conscious of sustainability and your impact on the environment, it can feel like an impossible task.
We believe, it’s a lot easier to achieve if you include your kids in the process from day one. Too many adults treat their children as incapable of grasping tough concepts like climate change, not because it’s hard to understand, but because they fear it will burden them.
However, the most important thing, is not that you and your family become zero waste ecowarriors, but that you make small changes towards more sustainability. If everybody were to make a 5% reduction in waste, it would make far more difference than a small handful being zero waste.
So first practice is to include your children in making your lives greener from day one, let them know why you don’t want to buy plastic things, why you don’t buy them every toy they want, and why you get annoyed at masses of packaging. You’ll be amazed at how supportive (and accountable) a three year old can be.
Plastic Panic – the three R’s Reduce, Re-use and Re-use
Ever since the 90’s brought us recycling bins for every house and the blue bins that you can put your plastic bottles in arrived, we have become complacent about our impact because, well everything gets recycled right?
Well in short, no. Most plastic is of such poor quality that it’s not recyclable in the first place, and even higher quality plastics can usually only be recycled once or twice, and then they go to landfill or are burned. In fact, the average US state is recycling less than 10% of what goes into those blue bins. There’s been a huge number of stories in the press recently about exporting garbage, and how much recycling is simply sent overseas, where it is picked and then put in landfill, ie shifting the problem elsewhere (for more information read this article.
There’s only one real solution which is to cut your use of plastics, stop buying those clamshells of fruit (almost every farmers market will let you put it straight into a reusable container or sell in a cardboard tub), take a bottle of water with you when you go out, and pack a lunch instead of buying something off the shelf, and of course, always have a reusable bag with you.
We share this with S, who now asks if we’ve brought bags with us whenever we go shopping, and loves helping measure out food into the bulk aisles and always asks if we have his bottle and snackbox when we leave the house.
Shop local – it’s so much less convenient and saves you a fortune…
Nothing drives us more insane than when you order something online and it arrives in an enormous box, wrapped in five times the size of bubble wrap. It’s just lazy from the shipper, and a real hassle on you as most of the time, it’s of no use.
The only way to truly avoid the issue is to buy in person. It’s surprisingly hard to get out of the house and do a successful shop for an important item with children in tow, but in a lot of ways, that’s what makes this a great way to be more sustainable.
Convenience has made us lazy, something broke, just open the amazon app and order a new one; want to try on a dress, order 3 and return 2 which don’t fit, it’s free returns. However, think of this, how much plastic is in every package sent, how much gas is wasted to deliver it to you, and finally, did you realise that the vast majority of returned clothing ends up in landfill? Over 4 billion lbs of online clothing returns ends up going straight to landfill every year in the US. Basically that’s equivalent to every US household deciding to unload their washing machine one evening and throwing it all in the trash… (Check out this incredible Ted Talk on this issue here by Aparna Mehta).
So a little inconvenience in your life when it comes to purchasing might just make you a little more mindful of your purchase. Do you really need that item so bad you’re willing to take the kids into a store and risk a meltdown? or enough to hire a sitter for a few hours so you can try on some stuff? If the answer is yes, then great, make the sacrifice and buy what you need, but if you can’t be bothered, do you really need that item? You’d be amazed how much you really don’t need.
Let your kids help with food prep – they’ll appreciate it a lot more
Due to me having a dodgy gene or some problem, both S and E are allergic to dairy, projectile vomit allergic so we just don’t have any in the house. We used to buy carton after carton of almond milk, which was both expensive and wasteful. S would pour himself a glass, and then leave it on the side and do something else.
And then we decided we’d make almond milk from scratch. It’s super easy, 1 cup soaked almonds, 3 cups of water, blend in a vitamix and strain through cheesecloth. The point is. it’s really annoying to make and the kids share that annoyance.
So when S reaches for the almond milk now, there’s a little voice in his head that says when it runs out, he’s going to have to help daddy milk almonds for half and hour instead of playing trains, and he only pours a half glass and drinks it on the spot! The practice works for almost everything, the more your kids put into creating something, the less chance there is that they’ll waste it.
The same goes for meals, he’s far more likely to eat a meal he’s had a part in making, then if it’s simply served up. It helps him build an understanding of where food comes from and most importantly, that it can be scarce.
Get everyone a library card
S is a voracious reader, he loves books and loves a selection. Now I know lots of people are moving digital (I only buy books myself on kindle) BUT, I still think there’s a big place in kids lives for physical books, being present with something which the only purpose is to tell a single story or impart knowledge.
We don’t let S (or E) have screen time, so they have books and for a while, we bought a lot, but then we went to our local library. There’s so many books there (and they cycle their stock frequently). Maybe we’re just very fortunate to be somewhere that has a great library system, but it’s free, you get to take home up to ten books for a month, and when you’re done, they go to someone else. There’s no better community use resource in my mind than a library.
You’ll also find in a lot of cases that most libraries have awesome local outreach projects, classes and read-alongs on a regular basis where you can learn about new things.
Teach your kids about power and why it’s important to conserve it
Now we cheated on this one, living off grid for an extended period or time on solar power, makes you kind of obsessive about turning things off, but we explained to S, why it was important (so we could turn on the heater at night), but also that it was important in the bigger picture to reduce global warming.
Taking the time to tell your kids about the impact their decisions could have, make a huge difference, not just in the fact they will be far more likely to turn off the lights when they walk out of a room, but also that they will see you trust them with the truth.
We are living on borrowed time, and this world is not ours to own, we’re but guests. If we are to create a world that our children survive and thrive in, we need to make changes now to address the global issues of climate change, pollution and waste. It’s too easy to be terrified by the news and assume that someone will fix this, we’ve known all these things since the 80’s and no government or big business has scaled back, in fact it’s got worse, so as a great man once said (and was later paraphrased)
“Be the change you wish to see in the world”Muhatma Ghandi
Let us know what ways you’ve found to encourage your family to act more sustainably.