9 easy ways to reduce parenting waste

Sometimes, when I read “zero-waste” blogs or Instagram accounts, I think to myself “well, easy for them to have just a Mason jar of trash when they don’t have kids.”

There’s definitely some truth to the fact that having children increases the amount of waste you produce. Tiny humans need things, and sometimes those things come in plastic packaging. However, the dominant parenting culture in the US often sends the message that the tiny humans need more things than they actually do. Moreover, marketers are constantly trying to convince parents that certain products will make our lives easier.

The truth is, more stuff rarely makes your life easier. Less stuff is the way to simplify! So, if you’re trying to cut down on your family’s waste, here are nine easy steps you can take:

Register for less. It’s been 7 years since I was pregnant with my first, but at that time, as soon as you were pregnant you started creating your baby registry. It was exciting. It was a way to prepare. A way to materialize an important life event ;) Despite being aware of the pitfalls of too much stuff, I still registered for too many things. I’m not sure exactly what I’d do differently if I could go back in time, but I know there are ways this cultural phenomenon could be adjusted. So much baby stuff could be procured from friends or second-hand stores. Maybe there’s something else you could ask your friends to gift you?

Use CLOTH wipes! The wet wipe has become ubiquitous. Any time one of my children has a runny nose or a messy face, another well-meaning parent will offer me a “wipe.” I sincerely appreciate the gesture, but on the inside I cry a little that wipes are so readily available. They are so bad for the earth. Single-use water bottles or disposable straws get used for longer than a wet wipe, and many of us have come to realize how awful those items are for the environment. I am not alone in this opinion: the UK is currently considering a ban on wet wipes.

The solution is simple: carry a little bag of cut up rags (made from old clothes or towels!) in your diaper bag, add water, and you have a wet wipe! Cheaper, too. Not to mention, a wet cloth arguably works better to clean a soiled bum. And if you feel like you just can’t give up a wet wipe for a poopy diaper change, maybe you could try to use fewer throughout the rest of your parenting day. It never has to be all or nothing!

Rethink convenience foods. Plenty of kids have made it to adulthood without eating a goldfish cracker. Honest! And babies learned to eat before puffs that come in plastic containers existed. And don’t even get me started on pouches of pureed foods (in short, they’re bad for kids’ health and bad for the environment).

Give your kids real food. Bananas and oranges come in their own “wrapper.” Apples are easy to transport without getting squished. Dried fruit tastes a lot like fruit snacks. Nuts are full of protein. Of course we all love crackers and pizza and mac and cheese from time to time, but remind yourself that babies and kids can usually eat the same foods you enjoy.

Use what you have. This is kind of a no-brainer, but it’s good to keep reminding yourself that before you had children you likely had most of the things you needed to live, and many of those items can also be used for children. Marketers want you to think you need baby-specific everything, but honestly how different are baby nail clippers from regular nail clippers? And are baby wash cloths softer than the wash cloths you already have? This logic is widely applicable. Before you buy something, ask yourself if you already possess something that could serve the same or similar purpose. But if you don’t…

…Borrow + buy used. So many people have babies. And all those people buy baby stuff. And then, their babies grow up. They don’t need their baby stuff anymore. They’d love to sell it to you! Or maybe even give it to you. When I wanted to get Willa a Bumbo, we shuddered at the thought of millions of Bumbos in a landfill. Just picture that for a second…. As a world, don’t need that many foam seats! So I found a used one through our neighborhood parents’ group, and made friends with the gal who sold it to me too! If you can’t find what you need from family, friends, or neighbors, hit up your local consignment stores or Goodwill. There are also lots of Facebook groups to “buy nothing” or you can purchase used clothes on online/app options such as: thredUpKidizenSwap.com, or Poshmark.

Buy milk in glass bottles. Some kids don’t drink milk. But some kids drink a lot of milk. If your family likes dairy, try to find milk in reusable glass bottles. The glass goes back to the dairy to be refilled. Hurray for a circular economy moment! In Denver, you can find this milk from a local, organic dairy (their milk isn’t yet marketed as “organic” because they’re in one of the final years of an almost decade-long process of getting organic certification). You can also use their milk to make delicious homemade yogurt (if you’ve ever had Noosa yogurt, it’s made from their milk, so clearly it’s a good choice for yogurt!).

Say “no thanks” to cheap plastic toys. You know the kind I’m talking about. The ones you get at birthday parties or school carnivals or at the dentist. These toys serve barely any purpose. They’re fun for a minute, and then they break and/or are forgotten. Just save the whole hassle and teach your kids to say “no thank you.” This goes for balloons and stickers too! Some might say “what’s the harm?” But I say, “What’s the point!?”

Make your kids share. If you have more than one child, don’t aim to have multiple versions of everything. Of course we all want our kids to learn to share, but this can be applied to more items than we might realize. Water bottles. Lunch boxes. Swim floaties. An iPad. Your kids will benefit from realizing that resources are finite and they don’t always get their own everything. In our family, the things we buy for the kids are to be shared right away. If they receive a gift for a birthday or holiday, they can decide they don’t want to share it for one week. But after that, everything is to be shared. (This family policy is a work in progress for us…of course the kids are changing all the time, so we’ll keep revisiting the rules. But overall, I want to promote the idea that we share things and each member or our family doesn’t always need their own specific things.)

Go to the library. Books take up space. Printing books uses trees. Kids “favorite” books change all the time. Buy a few you love, and then go to the library for fun new ones. This isn’t rocket science. (You’re all like, “duh!”) But take it to another level and look for a toy library in your area. We have one in Denver, and it’s amazing to be able to check out toys for a few weeks and then take them back for something else that's new and exciting. I’ve even heard that some cities have baby wearing libraries. Awesome.

kids, at homeMelissa Colonno