6 Totally Manageable Ideas for Zero Waste Parenting

Try these creative tips to reduce waste in a more manageable way
Zero waste items like bamboo cutlery, glass jars and reusable bags
© Can Stock Photo / almaje

Zero waste is an aspirational goal that I often fail to meet. I fully believe in the concept: reduce, reuse, and recycle to avoid sending waste to landfills and help break the cycle of irresponsible production and waste to create a better planet. I’ve got the reuse part down pretty well. I am great about washing and repurposing old containers and I recycle quite well too. Reducing my waste, however, feels like an immense challenge with a child. Especially with a picky child.

And while I might not be at zero yet, I’ve got to get started somewhere. To find inspiration, I turned to my local zero-waste group on social media. The members were more than happy to help me with ideas to improve my zero waste skills as a parent.

Purchase Experiences, Not Things

Gifts don’t have to be toys. For older children, consider tickets to a concert or their favourite sports team. Younger children may benefit from a membership to the local science centre or children’s museum. With our family love of nature, we gave our child a Passport to the National Parks, collecting a book of experiences that can last him over time. (Parks Canada offers something similar with the 12-Month Discovery Pass.)

Puree Produce that isn’t Perfect

I’ve always liked to rescue dented or bruised produce and day-old pastries from grocery stores. I’m not sure if it’s my “allergy” to paying full price, or my aversion to seeing good food go in a dumpster. Whatever the reason, one answer is clear: no 3-year-old will eat that apple with the brown spot. One mom’s solution was to use less than perfect produce to create purees and smoothies. This hack makes it easier to afford those good organic fruits and vegetables while reducing waste in a child-friendly way.

Brown spots can usually be cut away, but do remember to always follow safe consumption guidelines that include washing produce correctly. Careful planning in the kitchen can also help you reduce waste and save money.

Reusable Wipes

Fortunately, I’ve passed the stage of needing diapers and baby wipes, but kids are still sticky—often. Another trick to reduce your waste as a parent is to use reusable wipes. One parent explained how the reusable cloths she originally purchased for diapers, worked even better for an older child to clean up after eating, spilling, and runny noses instead.

Community Sale and Gifting Groups

I do most of my “shopping” on Facebook. Children’s clothes and toys are often outgrown while still in fantastic condition. Especially kid’s shoes, those things are expensive! I’m able to supply an entire wardrobe for my child with items gifted or sold at reasonable prices in my community. Our carbon footprint is also reduced by minimizing the transportation of these goods to a local area.

And it’s not just clothes, but toys, too. Quality toys can last a very long time, especially solid builds like wooden trains (a staple in our house). For parents, I love a “community bag” or box. One family will donate a grab bag full of goods, then next person takes some and donates others before passing it along, then the next person, and so on. Community gifting is a great way to extend the life of clothing and again reduce waste.

Go Natural with Cleaning Solutions

As one parent described, reducing our chemical consumption is something we already want to do as parents, keeping damaging compounds away from sensitive children. It incorporates naturally to the zero-waste idea. By using simple cleaning ingredients, purchased in bulk and mixed into reusable bottles – we can greatly reduce the environmental impact of our non-stop mess maintenance. Remember the value of baking soda, lemon, and vinegar for safe and effective solutions.

And don’t forget, over-sanitization and antibacterial products can be bad for you anyway.

Upcycled and Biodegradable Crafting

One last idea includes crafting and creative ideas you can do with kids. One of my favourite ideas is leaf confetti. Simple hole punches and fallen leaves can create a biodegradable art supply to toss in the air, paste to a picture, or decorate a treehouse. Add to this opportunity by studying the different life cycles and patterns of leaves around you, and the beauty of nature.

If you have something broken at home, consider visibly mending it to give it new life. For torn clothing, this entails selective embroidery or patching to fix a tear. For a broken plate or picture frame, grab some affordable and non-toxic supplies to create a homemade version of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of golden repair. Show your child that cracks and breaks can yield something even more beautiful than the original on a store shelf.

If your zero waste is more aspiration than inspiration, don’t despair yet. Creativity is key to helping break the cycle of consumerism. Elite athletes didn’t become great in a single day, professionals didn’t learn their skill in a week, and you might need some time to get things right too. The important part is that you keep making progress, and don’t give up.

Get your kids involved! We've got tips to encourage kids to care about the environment.