A “zero-waste” lifestyle is impractical and unsustainable for many families. Looking after our environment and teaching our children to follow a sustainable low-waste lifestyle, however, is one of the most important things we can do.
But many parents aren’t sure where to start.
You might even find your children are starting to come home from childcare and kinder with lessons for you about how to live greener.
Let’s have a look at some tips for talking with your kids about living a sustainable life and clever ways you can show them how to be a part of a low-waste family, even from a young age.
You’re never too young (or too old!) to start being green.
The Beginner’s Guide to Being a Low-Waste Family
Be Positive About What You’re Doing
There’s a constant onslaught of information for our kids on the dangers of climate change and about how, if we continue with current practices, there may not be an earth for later generations to enjoy.
Depending on how old your children are, fear of destroying the planet may not be the best place to start when teaching them to be more eco-friendly.
Be open-hearted and positive about what you’re doing, and about the capacity your family has to make a difference in the world. It may help your child to talk about what we can do to look after the planet, not just what not to do to destroy it.
Try not to overwhelm your children with all the things they should be doing (even grown-ups get overwhelmed by this!). Instead, implement small habits into every day that can reduce waste, and these will naturally start to become routine for your kids.
Use Less and Recycle More
The basic lesson of being eco-friendly is to create less waste. It means using less of the things that we can’t reuse and looking for more opportunities to re-use or recycle the things that we have.
The intention is to:
- Use less water and fossil fuels, such as electricity generated through traditional means and petrol
- Use less single-use waste products like plastic straws, glad wrap or combined material items (like disposable coffee cups)
- Recycle wherever possible by separating rubbish items including glass, paper and cardboard, cans and soft plastics (soft plastics can be recycled, but not put into your household recycling bin – these can be taken to specific Redcycle bins
- Recycle food waste in compost or through share systems
- Donate or sell used clothes and toys rather than putting them into the rubbish
For more information about what can and can’t go into your household bin, see the Sutherland Shire Council website and download the RecycleSmart app, for whenever you’re unsure where to put something.
Talk About Where Your Food Comes From
Talking to your children about food often is good for all sorts of reasons, including teaching them healthy eating habits and having a positive relationship with food.
It also puts being an eco-friendly family right at the focus, because the food we eat every day is one of the biggest ways we create waste, and one of the best ways we can teach our children better green practices.
Chat to your child when buying food, when cooking and eating and explain the choices you make.
Talk over the dinner table about where your food has come from, and why this food is better for the planet than others.
When clearing the table, talk about what waste goes where, and teach your child to recycle as much as possible.
There are a few different ways you can be a low-waste family when it comes to food. These include:
- Not wasting food by meal planning, using all of the vegetables before they go out of date
- Reducing snack packs and single-serve items and instead buying or baking in bulk and putting ingredients into reusable containers
- Having nude food lunchboxes when out
- Making better food choices such as sustainably-sourced, organic, local, whole foods, and free-range eggs, fish and meat
- Eating less meat and actively going meat-free one to two days a week
- Using plant-based waste in compost or to feed rabbits or chickens
- Eating foods that have been through as little processing and travelling as possible, because these steps use up water and fossil fuels
If you don’t have a compost bin, you can find other ones locally that you can give your kitchen scraps to – to find one near you, check ShareWaste
Talk About Where Your Rubbish Goes
We are pretty good at teaching our kids to put rubbish in the bin, but beyond that, we may not talk about what happens to everything. The incredible importance of reducing waste means that your child needs to understand what happens after waste leaves your home.
Talk about the difference between waste that goes to landfill, or that ends up in the waterways (such as littering in the park or on the street), and the items that we can instead reuse or recycle. The goal is to create as little waste as possible, and always look for an option to re-use or recycle instead.
Chat to your children about landfills and what happens there, and how long things take to break down in the environment (if they ever do…)
Talk about all the ways we can recycle goods instead, and reward them if they see a chance to recycle something instead of throwing it out.
There are some great printable resources here.
When buying clothes, toys, and treats, chat with your child about whether you really need a new item or if there is a secondhand option. When getting rid of items talk about donating and explain where things go and why this is helpful, both for the community and the environment.
Create a Garden
Not every person has a natural green thumb, but if you get your children interested in growing their own plants from a young age, looking after the environment will come more easily to them.
You can teach your child the benefit of plants and trees in the environment, as well as not using chemicals in looking after them. Talk about growing your own food and how this reduces the need for fossil fuels. Create a compost heap and chat about how your plant-based waste can then be reused to make healthy new food for your family.
You can find local tips and resources on the SO Shire website.
There are even more excellent online resources with checklists, activities, and ideas of ways you can improve your eco-friendly practices at home, such as: