Recently, my daughter and I ran a 5K. Like at many road races, there was water available in small paper cups for runners to refuel and then toss on the ground for volunteers to pick up later. It was cute how many kids, my daughter included, who balked at the idea of littering. Even some adults commented on how unnatural it felt. This interaction reminded me of how far we've come as a society that littering is something that isn't normal. For our kids' entire lives, properly disposing of trash has been the norm and basic minimum expectation.
However, there's always more that can be done.
Here are some ideas from real parents for decreasing waste and minimizing their families' footprint.
This is likely the easiest way to have a positive impact on Earth's health. Minimize use of disposable water bottles, disposable diapers, disposable wipes, paper towels, straws, individually wrapped snacks, zip lock bags, paper plates and napkins, paper, plastic, Styrofoam cups and plastic cutlery.
- Kids lunches can have stainless steel water bottles, reusable snack bags and no disposable plastic. In my family, these changes had a huge impact on how much trash we generated.
- Bring reusable bags everywhere you shop. Put your wallet and shopping list in your reusable bags so you remember to bring them into the store. Use reusable mesh produce bags when selecting fruits and veggies.
- Refill soap bottles instead of buying entire new ones each time they run out. Health food stores refill some items, and some brands have refill bags you can buy.
- Petco has refillable cat litter containers if your family has a feline friend.
- Bring your own travel mug when buying takeout coffee. Bring your own containers for restaurant leftovers.
- Consider supporting your favorite newspapers and magazines with digital subscriptions rather than receiving a physical copy.
- Do your best to minimize the incoming junk mail.
- Ladies, look into Diva Cups and Thinx underwear to minimize use of feminine hygiene products.
- Take shorter showers. A five-minute shower is a good goal.
- Turn off the water when brushing your teeth.
- Re-wear clothing if it’s not dirty.
- Use microfiber cloths for cleaning instead of paper towels.
- Make homemade stain remover and all-purpose cleaning spray.
REUSE what you can.
It’s not only frugal, it’s green.
- Food containers can be washed and reused.
- Bread bags can be reused for food storage or to pick up pet waste.
- Save most vegetable scraps in a container in the freezer for making stock. I add celery, carrot, onion and other vegetable ends to a bag in the freezer, and when I have a chicken or turkey carcass—or when the bag gets full—I simmer it into a delicious, homemade stock.
- If your family turns its nose up at the second day of leftovers, put it in the freezer for later. They may not be excited about stew for the third day in a row, but they’ll be happy about it again in a few weeks when you pull it out of the freezer.
- Cut up old, unwearable textiles for cleaning rags.
All of us recycle, but most of us can do it better.
- Compost food scraps that can’t be saved for stock.
- Sneakers can be recycled. Nike will take any brand.
- Give clothing, which accounts for five percent of landfills, a second lease on life by buying (and selling!) secondhand at Poshmark and ThredUP. Hand down children’s clothing, toys and sports equipment to friends and family with younger kids or donate it to Goodwill.
- You probably have a collection of plastic grocery bags on hand from before you knew better, or from the times you forgot your reusable bags in the car. Use some for picking up pet waste, reuse the rest as often as you can and once they are beyond use, recycle them at your local grocery store.
- Walk more. Ride bikes. Plant fruits and vegetables to eat. Turn off lights. Use LED lights, and turn the thermostat down a few notches in the winter and up a few in the summer.
There are so many ways to minimize our impact on Earth. Take what you can from this list and incorporate them into your family’s life. Once those are habit, try a few more.
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