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How To Reduce Plastic as a Family (it's possible - really)

Updated: Oct 7, 2021

Plastic is kind of like an annoying commercial at the gas station: it’s hard to avoid. And especially as parents, you can’t simply go plastic-free overnight (and launch a beautiful Instagram-account about it). But we can start today with saving the planet (yup), even as busy parents. How? By eliminating one item of plastic at a time. Here are areas to rethink as we parent with less plastic. And if you are ready, we have a 12-week challenge for you!

Reduce Plastic as a Family

Ditch the plastic baggies

It might not seem like saving a little plastic baggie is going to do much for the environment. I started with one simple change—no more plastic snack bags. It was hard to remember to use the reusable cloth snack bags when I had a box of disposable plastic ones in reserve. I had to stop buying disposable ones altogether. Later I invested in silicone reusable bags to replace larger plastic baggies. Then my sister let me use her reusable squeeze pouches to freeze my own baby food in. With each reusable item I upgraded to, I went through a similar process of creating the habit by discontinuing my purchase of disposable ones. It’s been three years since I have bought a plastic storage bag and all the plastic bags I saved are adding up. Considering that the average American uses 500 Ziploc bags every year, my family has probably saved 6000 plastic bags from the ocean and landfills.

More water, less plastic

Buy each kid their own water bottle to replace juice boxes (plastic straw, polyethylene sleeve, and plastic coated cardboard), drinks in a plastic bottle, and take-away drinks. I know, it sounds almost impossible. It helps me to add up the savings to see the difference I can make over the course of a year; a juice box for two kids every day is over 700 juice boxes and little plastic straws saved. Multiply this savings for each family member, with each reusable cup and bottle we skip, and the planet will be thanking us. If you have to use single-use water bottles, choose aluminum over plastic.

Rethink shopping and eating

Once we start noticing it, plastic and food are almost inseparable. Between kids and Covid-19 I have definitely not been proactive about my shopping habits associated with plastic. Did someone say “delivery”? Here are some ways I am working to cut back on the plastic we are accumulating at the grocery store, as I rethink how we shop and eat. Cutting back on processed food and packaged snacks is a great place to start. I know kids love packaged food and it is harder to put carrots in a reusable snack bag, but we can do it! I am getting more creative about how we buy food without all the packaging. One change I made this year was getting a local CSA membership for organic and local produce, dried products, honey, preserves, cheese, eggs, breakfast meats, and less plastic packaging. My next goal is to start shopping for the rest of my items at a minimal packaging grocery where I can bring my own containers and bags. There is also the option to shop from a bulk-buy minimal packing food distributor like Azure Standard.

Streamline cleaning

Who else is going through a lot of cleaning spray with kids throwing food on everything and a toddler trying to pee on the potty? When I first became a parent I was worried about the toxins in many cleaners so I bought a Young Living concentrated household cleaner. I would just refill the same reusable spray bottle with water and a tablespoon of the concentrated solution, and start scrubbing. That bottle of concentrated cleaner has lasted me over a year. After I finish up this bottle I am excited to invest in Force of Nature, which is strong enough to kill Covid-19, safe enough for my baby, and doesn't use any single-use plastic bottles—pretty much everything I want.

Change how we diaper

Diapers are the 3rd largest consumer item contributing to landfills. Wait, I thought we were talking about how to cut down on single-use plastics? Well, diapers could take up to 500 years to decompose, because they are mostly made of non-recyclable polyethylene plastic. For a family with a kid in disposable diapers, 50% of their waste will be diapers. Unfortunately, the diapers that are biodegradable aren’t much better. The solution? Reusable diapers. I know people will roll their eyes, but reusable diapers are easier than I expected. Reusable diapers today are so much better than the ones that our parents used. If interested, here is a great resource with all the reusable diaper hacks.

Making the choice to use less plastic in our lives is never going to be an easy decision—whether we have kids or not. It takes discipline and lifestyle changes that won’t happen overnight for most of us. Wherever we are on the journey to less plastic, Covid-19 has probably set us all back on our plastic goals with delivery, take out, and homeschool while working. Join me in doubling back down for the rest of 2020 to cut back on single-use plastics.

12 Week Challenge: Parenting with Less Plastic

Week 1: Buy reusable cloth snack bags.

Week 2: Invest in reusable water bottles for each family member.

Week 3: Buy reusable silicone bags.

Week 4: Ditch plastic straws for reusable ones.

Week 6: Skip take-out drinks for the whole month.

Week 7: Stop packing juice boxes for lunch and pack reusable bottles with juice.

Week 8: Cut three processed or packaged food items from the grocery list.

Week 9: Join a local CSA or head to the farmer’s market this Saturday.

Week 10: Visit a minimal packaging grocery with cotton produce bags or place an online order from Azure Standard.

Week 11: Make baby food and freeze it in reusable squeeze pouches.

Bonus Round: Give reusable diapers a shot.

Ready to ditch single-use plastic water bottles?

On the soccer field, during summer camps, or whenever you forgot their water bottles: with thirsty kids, you're often trapped into buying a single-use plastic water bottle. But what if you always have a tray of our aluminum bottled water in your trunk? Problem solved! The turtles will thank you later.

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