Are you trying to reduce your consumption and become more eco-conscious? Yvonne Walus has some little steps to get you started.
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First of all, this is not a guilt-trip. Parenting is a full-time job (with a lot of compulsory overtime), so whatever shortcuts you implement in your life to get you through the challenges of child-raising, embrace them. Your mental health and the family’s wellbeing should come first. Having said that, zero-waste parenting is not only about the distant vision of cleaning up the planet for our kids – it’s also about saving money. So if that sounds all right, read on.
We’re so used to giving children ready-made toys that we tend to forget one thing: Kids love to create. If you give them paper and crayons, homemade play dough, egg cartons and bits of wire, building blocks, a wooden spoon, or scraps of fabric – chances are, they will have as much fun with that as they would with a toy. A dress-up box is another idea; an old suitcase or box filled with no-longer- needed clothes, handbags, scarves, hats, and costume jewellery. Almost anything can be a toy – measuring cups, cardboard boxes, an old lace curtain. When you do want to buy toys, though, explore op shops. Joining a toy library is also a good way to have variety without waste.
When your baby is ready for solids, don’t bother with anything in a packet. Cook, purée, and freeze your own in ice cube trays. With bananas and avocados, you can mash a portion whenever needed, and use the rest in your own meal.
Baby-led weaning is another idea worth exploring. This is when you skip the spoon-feeding stage altogether and go straight to finger foods, letting your baby eat what you eat. This helps with motor skills and teaches the baby to self-regulate and stop eating when no longer hungry, but do watch out for choking.
When it comes to the lunchbox, make your own, too: Cookies, cupcakes, pizza wheels, muesli bars, and bliss balls. Use beeswax wraps instead of plastic bags, metal or bamboo straws and spoons, and eco-conscious reusable water bottles.
Buy nuts, seeds, raisins, and pretzels in bulk, then create your own trail-mix portions in small reusable containers. This is also valid for yoghurt. Buy a big tub, spoon it into reusable containers, and freeze them until the morning they’re needed.
Consumable gifts, such as homemade fudge, movie tickets, or plants for the garden work well for other children’s birthday presents. For your own child, you might like to consider personalised gift vouchers such as ice cream for lunch, two extra bedtime stories, bedtime 15 minutes later for the whole week, a family outing to the aquarium, or a get-out-of-chores-today card. If your child’s been saving money to buy something special, gifting them a portion of that money is also an option.
For wrapping, try reusable gift bags or fabrics. You can also put your gift in a mason jar and decorate it with seashells, cinnamon sticks, a pine twig, a few old buttons, feathers you find in the garden, fabric scraps, or old costume jewellery.
For birthday cards and Christmas cards, home-created is best. You can make them extra special by using seed paper – that’s paper that contains flower seeds or herb seeds, ready to be planted in the garden.
Disposable nappies take ages to decompose in the landfill, while reusable nappies use extra water, electricity, and detergent. Conventional wisdom dictates that cloth nappies are the more eco-friendly option. You may also find biodegradable nappies; check packets and ask questions to find a brand that is good for your family and the environment.
And interesting take on the nappy wars is elimination communication (EC). This is when you learn to respond to the baby’s cues and learn when they need to go – typically after naptime and after eating. This is said to lead to children learning to use the toilet a lot sooner and outgrowing the need for nappies.
Zero-waste parenting is actually a misnomer; it’s more of an ideal rather than an easily reachable goal. It’s about the transition, the mind-set, the one-step-at-a-time approach.
What parents say
“Instil in your kids, as early as possible, knowledge and passion about our connection to the planet and how we can be good kaitiaki (guardians). That way, it's less about imposing rules and more about working together as a team to do the best you can for Papatuanuku (Earth).”
“Best thing is to lead by example; show them good life habits. My son loves helping with my worm farm.”
“Compost bin for using up all the food they don't eat or throw on the floor. Or chickens!”
“For Christmas gifts: Something to read, something to wear, something to eat, and something to share.”
“Be kind to yourself. Sometimes you haven't managed to get the prep done, and it's okay. Parenting is tough, and parenting zero-waste is tougher, especially if you are forming new habits. But putting the effort in is worth it.”