Welcome to our series of posts on the A-Z of zero waste!
An overview of everything that has been shared so far can be found here.
Today we are going to be talking about how to live a zero waste life when you have children. I don't have any children so I'm happily going to hand you over to my lovely friend Jenna from the Zero Waste Mum.
"You might think that zero waste living with kids is surely too difficult to even attempt. You’re so busy already, why add anything else to your plate?
Being a parent is unique for every person. We all have different opinions, different strengths, time and budgets etc. So when thinking about living with less waste, it’s going to be different for everyone. There are no hard and fast rules. If we are encouraged into thinking about our waste because of something that is unjust, a new story, or a programme like Blue Planet; we’ll be compelled to act in our own way. Within that - we’ll start setting our own expectations, thoughtfully considering our choices for our own lives.
One thing I’ve learnt over anything else is that a zero waste mindset means getting back to simple living, moving away from a consuming mindset, being happy and thankful for what we have. Zero waste, to me, is seeking out all the goodness in the world; and living my best life with the tools I have in front of me.
Below are a few common themes that have come up for our family; how we navigate them and what we’re still learning. I love that our parenting is adapting and progressing with each new season and age they’re in (we have a 4 year old, a 2 year old, & one more on the way).
1. Using reusable, not disposable
We’re very bought into a disposable culture in the UK. Use it once, then it must be dirty for our kids, so we throw it away. Using reusable rather than single use has been the biggest personal impact I have seen our family achieve.
Reusable wipes and nappies are incredible. I swapped to reusable nappies a year ago with my second child when he was 16 months old. The adverts of course would say “don’t bother because it’s too late!!”; but since starting reusable nappies almost a year ago (and not quite being full time with them) we have saved approximately 1,140 nappies going to landfill..!
When starting reusable nappies particularly, (I’ve written a couple of how to articles on my blog) the key thing I would say is, start small and build up. Don’t go all out and buy a whole set to then find you can’t cope. Start with 2-3 nappies, a handful of wipes, and test it. Within 2 weeks of me starting reusable I was itching so much to do it full time, it just felt so right. Don’t let the vastness and the extra loads of washing put you off! If you even do it very part time to begin with and save 4-5 nappies a week going to landfill, it’s worth it.
2. Buy secondhand
If there’s one thing kids do, is grow quickly. Whether it’s clothes, toys, books, or large items like pushchairs and cots - why not buy second hand? It’ll be cheaper than buying new, people often sell really quality items, and some things you might even find will have never been worn with the labels on. There are lots of different ways to buy secondhand: Ebay, Facebook groups, charity shops, local kids playgroups, school fairs etc. And if you have a great community of your own with nothing like this available, why not be the one to set up an event where you encourage swapping? (This is actually something we do personally, a termly kids swap at the church playgroup we run and, honestly, it’s awesome).
If there’s one thing that always delights me about buying second hand for my kids is: new to them is... they’ve never seen it before. They don’t care if it’s ‘box fresh’.
3. Meal plan / batch cook / save food waste
I wrote about meal planning once on Instagram and had lots of people telling me that meal planning isn’t for them, they ‘live by the seat of their pants’ kind of parenting. And that’s really cool and we’re all different.
But I’ve found that if I meal plan for the week/few days ahead, I buy less, waste less & panic less. My priority as soon as my kids started eating at 6 months was that I wanted to feed them home cooked, healthy food; and I’ve found that it takes time and thought to prepare these kind of meals. Scratch and batch cooking at it’s simplest. I find I have a few solid meals that they love on rotation, and I plan when I might cook big, time consuming meals around how much free time I might have beforehand. I also plan adult meals too, perhaps hoping to use some of the leftovers my kids won’t eat (bye bye unnecessary food waste), or using the same sauce base.
Anything extra, I shove in a box for the freezer or I might make double and freeze it to use a week or two later.
4. Share our things
When you’re done with something (or at least done until the next baby comes) why not loan out your baby equipment to friends? Be clear, say you’ll want it back at some point and make a little list on your phone of who you’ve lent things to (trust me, you’ll forget) or even find a little group of friends of different aged children that you can do a continual clothing swap, so you end up just giving bits back and forth. If you buy second hand in the first place you won’t be so bothered if you find it comes back to you with a few more stains than you sent it off with.
We can become so protective over things we ‘own’ - why don’t we try to re-train our brains to think about ‘managing’ things; looking after them well and giving them a new loving owner when the time is right.
5. Being prepared on the go
This one takes preparation (even a tiny bit). The number of wrappers our family have used because of single wrapped snack bars is ridiculous. And it’s always because we don’t prepare in advance. So this point is a nod to myself as much as to you. Consistently - I need to find time to prepare for the day.
We’ve found that if we find a couple of healthy snack recipes, make in advance (even with your kids so they can bake too!) and take out in a container. Or it might be as simple as packing fruit with it’s own skin (bananas, apples, oranges) plus a pot or two of dried fruit. We now always use water bottles, and take washable wipes out with us. We keep the wipes dry in our bag, use a tap or water bottle to wet, then wipe up the spill/dirty hands. I keep a mini wet bag in my bag for any wipes I’ve used and need to chuck in the next clothes wash I do. We also always take a packed lunch when we can, or an empty container to fill up with lunch. And of course the obvious, a coffee cup for an on the go caffeine fix.
A little preparation, whatever that might look like for you, always goes a long way to having less waste.
6. Small swaps are actually big swaps
A small, simple swap might seem a bit pointless and not helpful in the grand scheme of the world’s climate emergency, but as you start to consistently make changes and swaps to the simple things, they add up. Back to the nappies - potentially saving 1,140 a year from landfill. We used to empty our black bin every week or twice a week; we now empty it once every 3-4 weeks. Small, simple swaps or habits with your kids can make a real, tangible difference.
7. Involving our kids
No matter how old our child is, they can get involved with something. Helping us put the food waste into compost, choosing which bin the recyclable rubbish goes in, scooping food at the zero waste store, choosing loose fruit and vegetables, carrying the empty containers. We have decided as a family to try not to rush the many day-to-day activities that we can so easily speed through. We’re generally slowing life down, giving space to learn and chat about what we’re doing, and then one day - when they’re ready - why it’s so important that we’re doing it. My 4 year old now always notices if he sees someone not taking their litter to a bin, and that’s because of all the simple times we talk about how important it is to pick up after ourselves. I can’t wait to see what he asks about next.
8. Focusing on the things we can control
If there’s one thing that happens when kids go to nursery or school, or just make new friends, is, they start to become more independent and they are influenced by people other than you, even with their grandparents! One thing we’re trying hard not to do is to be a stickler for enforcing our ‘zero waste rules’. It’s good to let our kids explore everything that’s in the world, and we will be there to guide them through it. But when we’re not, and they come home with a plastic wrapped magazine or a party bag full of sugar, we just keep gently leading and teaching them by example. Starting conversations with our friends, family or other parents about what we’re up to as a family is a really positive step, but (as it is with all areas of parenting) being open to their point of view and opinions too!
9. Remembering it’s not all or nothing
Going ‘zero waste’ with your kids sounds like it’s a bit all or nothing. Which I can tell you from trying to do it myself, it isn’t. In fact it’s a constant learning curve. The key thing with trying to be zero waste (or as low as you can manage) is doing it sustainably for yourself and your situation. Some weeks I’m able to prepare and meal plan in advance; other weeks I’m not. Some weeks I don’t have a washing machine readily available for nappies, so I don’t stress. Other weeks my kids aren’t feeling well, or we have little time, and my zero waste ideals go out the window.
What I consider to be most important is to keep my good intentions at the forefront of my mind. To know what I want to achieve, and to do my best with the time, access and budget that I have. I am finding it’s the most fun learning and doing these things with my kids in tow, having them in the conversation. They sharpen me and ask me all the right questions. Together, as a family, we are changing our habits and broadening our scope from a ‘consumer culture’. I’m loving the journey we’re on and can’t wait to see what’s in the seasons ahead."
So there you have some amazing tips about how to live a zero waste life if you have children, but actually most of them are applicable even if you don't have children! With a little bit of preparation and being mindful about how and what we consume, we can all reduce our waste.