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Teaching Our Kids to Be Zero Waste

Most of us learned about a zero waste life during adulthood. But if you have kids, there’s much value in teaching them about a zero waste lifestyle and how to apply it.  For kids, it can be a bit challenging to do this. Children are exposed to so many influences like the media and their friends. They will want to buy toys, school supplies, and other knick-knacks that they might otherwise not need. But, it’s not impossible. Here are some tips for teaching your kids how to apply zero waste. 

1. Understanding is the Key

You should never underestimate your child’s capacity to understand. Teach them how to care for the environment, even in their own small ways. Take the time to guide them and make them appreciate the beauty of the environment. Try to teach them about how nature works, and create games around recognizing plants or trees for example. 


This is so they understand where you are coming from. Kids don’t always understand their parent’s motives, and making sure they do is essential. Once they have their own understanding and appreciation for zero waste, it’ll be so much easier for them to integrate zero waste into their lives. 


2. Make it fun!

Kids love fun. They’ll do anything as long as they think it’s fun! With that in mind, don’t forget to keep zero waste kid-friendly. They might not appreciate a zero-waste mindset at first, but making it fun is a great start. 


You can set up zero waste challenges for your kids and come up with fun (zero waste) prizes. The prizes don’t have to be tangible items either. Kids will appreciate quality time with you just as much as a new toy or candy. For example, ask them to find 5 ingredients in your kitchen that are about to go bad (or expire), and challenge them to cook (with your help!) a decent meal for the family.

3. Plastic Free toys

Toys are notorious for copious amounts of packaging. Toys are usually packaged in vast amounts of plastic that don’t add value to the product itself. Not to mention, toys are usually made of plastic and kids tire of them easily. 


Once your child gets bored of a toy, they likely won’t use them anymore and it’ll be added to a mounting heap of waste in your child’s room.


Instead, make use of low waste and easily recyclable toys; traditional wooden toys that last forever should be great for kids. Make sure these are sustainably sourced though, for example, look for the FSC logo. When playing with toys, kids tend to immerse themselves in their own universe and won’t necessarily notice whether these are the most fashionable version. 


Take note that this isn’t about depriving them of happiness or quality. So many brands market toys in a way that make kids feel left out, but mainstream toys aren’t necessary for your kid to enjoy their time! 


5. Plastic Free lunches and snacks

Packing lunches and snacks for your kids can be wasteful if you’re not conscious about what you include. Many snacks meant for kids are individually packaged in plastic. That’s not even counting the food waste generated by school’s cafeterias!


6. Plastic free and low waste reflexes 

Applying zero waste in our private lives should go hand in hand with promoting it in public areas such as schools, sports centers and the like. The tendency is that schools often require supplies that generate waste and are wrapped in single use plastics. Moreover, there is a significant amount of the paper used for books and crafts, most of them end up in landfills rather than being properly recycled in a dedicated facility.


Thus, one thing you can do to lessen waste from school is to recycle paper and other materials properly and ideally encourage your kids school to do the same. But you shouldn’t stop there. Teach your kids to take care of their belongings to make them last longer. Making sure objects can be reused for years is an underrated aspect of zero waste.


Thus, generating less waste and being more respectful of our natural resources.


As for going plastic free, take sufficient time to explain to your kids that most plastics today are hardly recycled compared to glass, carton, or cans. Therefore, our recommendation is to build a graph together that shows the best and worst options. Lastly, raise awareness by showing them the damage plastics does to wildlife. More often than not, sad images will mark kids more than long explanations.


7. Plastic free household


How are plastic free and zero waste principles related? Well, if you apply the logic behind reducing waste, avoiding plastic is at the top of the list as it cannot be easily recycled (and for sure not composted). 


The purpose is not to teach your kid to throw away all their plastic toys and plastic lunch boxes. Rather, make it fun and explain the Rs rules: Refuse what you do not need (make them look for old toys they might have forgotten rather than buy new ones), then Reduce what you buy (aka buy less buy better), then Reuse/Repurpose as much as possible; in this case, encourage your kids to sell or donate these plastic items. Lastly, Recycle as much as much as possible; why? Because creating a virtuous cycle is crucial for our planet; ideally, whatever we use show be reused in some ways without compromising our natural resources.


A significant portion of your child’s life happens within the household. Since children don’t make many decisions by themselves at a young age, a lot of their zero waste (practical) behaviors have to do with what they observe at home. 


Concretely, this might include telling them to use compostable or eco-friendly products in the bathroom, reusable rags instead of paper towels, or teaching them to compost, so that in the end, they become experts of the Rs principles.

8. Set an example

Lastly, don’t forget to set an example. Your kids imitate your behaviors more than you know. If they see you are successful in leading a zero waste life, chances are, they’ll gain an appreciation for it and follow your lead. 


It will be challenging and kids have their own way of operating, that’s for sure. But the satisfaction of teaching your child to be more environmentally conscious is priceless. 


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