April 09, 2010

Zero Waste Kids

Overdue... I agree.

I confess (yet again): I am a lucky mom of two fantastic boys.

Our home could not be Zero Waste (and this blog would not exist) if it wasn't for the whole family's combined effort, including that of my two supportive and conscientious kids.

It's funny that our waste-reduction efforts did not even phase them until last year, when I realized that they had not taken notice of our package-free pantry. Because our transition was unplanned and progressive (we did not simply decide one day to go Zero Waste), the kids never asked questions about our lifestyle, and I had assumed they knew what those 200 Le Parfait jars were doing in our kitchen. It's only when I went on a school field trip with my younger son to Whole Foods, where he could not answer the simple question: "Why is it a good idea to buy in bulk?" that it dawned on me that an explanation was in order. That night, we taught the kids the concept of Zero Waste and we received their full blessing and cooperation. An easy conversion (considering their growing environmental knowledge) that would surprisingly, and dramatically reduce our waste. It's amazing how much their “street junk” added to our weekly garbage tally (plastic bits, tennis balls, electronic bits, etc)...

Refuse has been their most essential assignment since that point. But it does not go without its challenges, in a society where kids (especially shy ones, like my eldest) feel ostracized when acting different than expected. Refusing party favors from school or birthday parties is difficult, but manageable if you teach your kids that actions have consequences, that examples must be set for others and that every effort can make a difference.

Sometimes I feel bad, providing my kids with an alternative lifestyle, deprived of tortillas, oreos, and chips, but books like the one I just read (“Slow Death by Rubber Duck”) quickly straighten my volatile mind. From what we know of the effects of plastics on our health, and the waste of resources that packaging generates, I believe that our lifestyle educates them, is better for their health and ultimately gives them a better future. As parents, “it is our responsibility to do what we can to ensure that they have a brighter, cleaner, healthier world to live in.” (smartparenting.com), and it is our duty to educate them about environmental issues so they too can make the right decisions when we're gone.

After all, our children are the future of a better planet. And it starts with your 8-year-old commenting aloud when a cashier hands out a plastic bag, “Oh my gosh, a plastic bag, mom!”.

Here are some of the things we are doing with our kids:

That your child is invited to:
  • Talk to the host parent and request no party favor for your child. You can talk to them about your zero waste efforts, or more quickly, you can let them know that you are working on de-cluttering your home. Plus, that's one less tantrum that you'll have to comfort, when the cheap Chinese toxic plastic toy breaks after just one use.
  • Bring a present that you would be happy to receive for your own child: Scout the thrift shop for an interesting book or give the gift of new experiences. My 10-year-old recently gave his best friend the gift of going out to lunch on their own (Their 1st time in a restaurant without parental supervision). Priceless.
That you are hosting:
  • Remember the good old cake served on a ceramic plate with stainless forks? Forget about disposable plates, forks, glasses, napkins and cupcake wrappers.
  • Request zero waste presents: For his recent birthday, my son received a gift certificate to the local gelato parlor, an afternoon of indoor climbing, and a ski trip. An ideal Zero Waste birthday! I pointed out to my son, that these great birthday presents are not only kinder on the environment but they also made his birthday last longer. It did not just stop at the unwrapping of a toy.
  • Bypass the party favors: Who really wants them anyways?

Grocery Shopping:
  • Shop together: It goes without saying that grocery shopping is easier without kids. But when they do come with me, I take the opportunity to teach them about eco-shopping (like choosing local products), I let them pick the meat and fish of the week (within financial reason), and treat them to their favorite sweet from the bulk section. That's when the organic gummy bears make it into my pantry.
  • Get them involved: Our kids go to the ice cream store on their own with a jar, which they can fill with their chosen flavor.
  • Visit the library: We do not watch TV, but the kids get to choose the movie of their choice from the children's library every week. They also get all their books here.
  • Watch movies!: Kids can absorb so much from movies and "Wall-E", "Earth" and "Home" are great options. We look forward to “Oceans” releasing soon!
  • Propose inspiring books: Both “Land of Curiosities” and the “Little House on the Prairie” series are good examples.
  • Connect with nature. Our weekly hikes are a great way to learn about nature. We get to spend time together, I teach them about botany and they see what they are fighting for with a Zero Waste lifestyle. Saving nature is ultimately what Zero Waste is all about.
  • Play games: To get closer and not waste valuable together time watching TV.
  • Focus on togetherness: Too many soccer matches, baseball games, over scheduled weekends all take away from simple family quality time. Hiking, volunteering, biking, beach going, everyday dinners, all make us closer and in agreement for Zero Waste.

  • Request less paper from your teacher/school at the beginning of the year: Our teachers have been more than cooperative about paper reduction, they know to only send necessary papers home with our kids.
  • Simplify and reuse lunch containers: We are very lucky to have an organic lunch service that supports our school PTA, but the setup is not yet Zero Waste (working on it though). So, I send my kids to school with a fork and a napkin on the days that they do use the hot lunch program. Otherwise, I make them a sandwich, put a cookie and fruit in a small Le Parfait jar and wrap the whole thing in a kitchen towel, furoshiki style – I told you I was an addicted furoshikier!:). The towel serves 4 purposes: it is a protective padding, a carrying handle, a place mat, and a napkin all in one. No need for lunch boxes, lunch baggies, specialized lunch containers, or paper napkin. Although, a stainless steel container would be useful to little ones or those wanting to lighten their load.