How to raise zero waste and plastic free children

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Today, children are born in a world where we produce and consume more than we used to or even need. With the many options available, we can choose what we want, whenever we want and even how we want it. Raising children in this era can be challenging when you are an eco-conscious parent. However, you can choose to be the change in ensuring your children contribute to a better planet, a planet free from waste. You can choose to ensure that children will be inspired to live green lives even when they become adults.

Being a zero waste parent may be tricky and requires strength. This is more so if you have family, friends or colleagues who will really not understand why you are doing what you are doing. Remember, children are more accommodating to new changes and challenges. They do not mind being pushed out of their comfort zone. They also do not worry about the unfamiliar, unlike adults who might take a while to break free from plastics and employ zero waste lifestyles. They can also be passionate about the environment, especially when they know they are helping keep our planet alive.

As an eco-conscious parent, present or future, here are some tips to help you through the zero waste journey with children.

Start simple

Say no to plastic straws. This may seem easy but considering how much children may want to use straws just because their friends are using straws may pose a challenge. Start with yourself. Do not buy straws, even in bulk. Do not take straws while at a restaurant. Avoid straws at all costs. Children will do what you do and when they see you not using straws they also won’t. Depending on age, you can explain to them why they do not need straws and that they are not even necessary. Children are very receptive to learning something new and interesting.

Watch documentaries

Start the green mindset from an early age. I can say this has worked for me because I grew up watching documentaries from the time I could speak; in black and white though. With the advancement of technology and the ease of access to information, finding documentaries, even online, has become easy. Documentaries introduce children to a different world than the normal four walls they are used to. Just prepare for the many questions you will be asked. All you need is a little patience knowing you have repeated the answer before, but in the long run, it will be worth it.

Waste not, want not

When your children waste food, remind them that it is not okay. Not because some parts of the world are facing hunger problems but because food waste is not sustainable living. Encourage keeping leftovers to be eaten soon, as they can be made into a different meal the following day or even as a snack. When eating out, remember to carry all leftovers as leaving them just adds food waste. Again, be the example.

Declutter and repurpose

This mostly applies to toys. If the toys are past their age bracket and they do not need them anymore, you can give them away to a younger child. This instils a discipline to only buy toys that will last longer. They can also be repurposed into other items in a creative way. When you have a lot of stuff in your house, you will want more thus create more waste. Practising minimalism and decluttering reduces the chances of buying into the consumerism habit.

Buy second-hand clothes

Children outgrow their clothes very fast. Buying new clothes every now and then is not sustainable as the fashion and style industry is one of the most waste producing industry in the world.

Involve your children

As an eco-conscious parent, it is advisable to include everyone. When you are not using plastic bags in the house, explain to them why. When you shop in bulk, tell them why. Switch off the lights when not in use. Close running taps and fix faulty taps and water systems. Go out to parks and green spaces and occasionally visit national parks and reserves. Grow trees, shrubs, herbs and even flowers. You do need a garden or a large piece of land, only a creative mindset. You may already have a green thumb but someone is looking up to you to know why they should also be like you.

Kitchen Hacks

Snacks bought in the store always come in single-use packaging. This is a dilemma for the eco-conscious parent. Trick: If you can make it at home, go ahead. This goes well for popcorns, cakes, mandazis and healthy snacks such as seasonal fruit salads.

It is not easy raising zero waste children in a consumer based world but it is important.

Also read:

Five ways to spark environmental awareness in children

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Vicki Wangui
Vicki Wangui
Vicki Wangui is a believer in all things beautiful. A believer in spreading information in regards to environmental awareness. A believer in sharing all that is good in Kenya's natural world. A believer in speaking truth with no boundaries. Do you have a story, photo, experience or message you need to share? Send your work to or

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