This post if the first in a series of three about the 3 R’s: reduce, reuse, & recycle. (Check out my previous blog about how they’re not all created equal.)
The first — REDUCE — is often the best one to start with when trying to limit your family’s impact on the environment. Reducing is simply avoiding using a product in the first place. It’s numero uno for a reason. Sure, things can be reused and reused and that’s great, but eventually, they’ll end up in the landfill or need to be recycled. Worst case, they become pollution of some kind. And while recycling is better than landfilling, it often results in “downcycling” which happens when the material inevitably becomes lower quality than the original. So, if you can avoid using a material in the first place, that’s the best option.
Ways that you can reduce can be pretty personal. You can probably do a better job than someone else can at coming up with ways to do it in your own life. But here are some examples for inspiration.
Starting from when you have a newborn, the easiest way to be eco-friendly is simply to avoid buying a lot of the stuff that is on all those Pinterest “must-have” lists for new moms. Consider if you really do need it, and if not, skip it! Here’s some ideas of things you might be able to just skip. Leave us a comment of things you’ve found were easy enough to pass up.
- Don’t get a bassinet, but have baby go right into the crib. If you’d like them next to you in those early months, consider a Moses basket made out of renewable material. After baby outgrows it, the basket can live on as a laundry basket, a display piece, or can store magazines, blankets, or toys.
- There are many things that are sold as baby items that you might already have. Who needs a baby food maker if you’ve already got a great blender? A special mat for tummy time? A blanket should do. Rather than buying an actual changing table, why not use a waist-high dresser that can continue to be used once baby is potty-trained? If you need more ideas, just Google, “baby stuff you don’t need!”
- When it comes to birthdays and holidays, try to opt for “experiences” rather than giving your kids a bunch of stuff that may end up broken in a landfill. A season’s pass to Slidewaters, Ohme Gardens or a family membership to the Wenatchee Museum & Cultural Center – yes, please! If you figure how to convince grandparents to do this instead of buying plastic toys that make noise, please tell me how.
- Also related to birthdays and holidays: try to avoid buying the junky plastic toys from China as favors, for trick-or-treaters at Halloween, as stocking stuffers or for Easter baskets. Opt for eco-friendly party favors that you make, the kids make, or that are plastic-free.
Buying higher-quality items or more durable things will help to reduce your overall consumption of baby and kid stuff. If it can last through several kids before it goes to the landfill, it’s a better option. That’s also why I try to opt for gender-neutral products for the most part. That way, they’re easily passed on to the next kid and then on to family or friends after that. Ok, we’ve got a lot of pink clothes for my daughter, but other items can easily be found in gender-neutral colors such as nursery decor, swaddles, sleep sacks & blankets, bottles & sippy cups, bibs, etc. Yellow is the classic gender neutral color, though I think green works well too. My favorite is the trendy turquoise which is kind of a “girly” blue and works great for any kid.
If you’re a hippie like me, maybe your kids drink plant-based milk instead of cow’s milk. My daughter likes almond milk just as much as cow’s milk, so I opt for that most of the time. Those wax paper “TetraPak” cartons that shelf-stable plant milks often come in – soy, almond, hemp, oat – technically can be recycled, but really aren’t ideal according to Waste Management. [If I’ve learned one thing about recycling, it’s less of a black-or-white, yes-or-no topic than a, “well, it depends.”] One way to get around this is to make your own! I’m not suggesting you buy a cow. But if you’re into almond milk, it’s actually super easy to make if you have a high powered blender like a Vitamix.
To make homemade almond milk:
Buy almonds in bulk and soak your almonds for a few hours or overnight, blend with some water, put it in a nut bag (available at health food stores or online) and “milk” it till there’s nothing but almost-dry almond meal. Then if you choose, add a little vanilla extract and/or sweetener and voila! Homemade almond milk with no carton to dispose of. The almond meal can then be used for baking or can be composted. It’s just one example of a way to avoid purchasing a product in the first place.
Here’s another take on “reduce:” try reducing the servings sizes you dish up for you or your kids. I’m totally guilty of loading up my toddlers plate only to have her only eat half of it. While it can often be composted – or cleaned up by my dog – I wish I would learn to just give her less in the first place! Food waste is a huge issue, so this is a pretty easy way to reduce the amount of material going to the landfill.
A final suggestion for a way to reduce, is to buy in bulk or search out items that have less packaging. When I say buy in bulk, I’m not talking a huge box of individually packaged processed food like you’d get at Costco. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Costco. My dog is named Kirkland, and I’m not kidding. But buying individually wrapped anything, as wonderfully convenient as it is, isn’t a great idea. Sometimes to be sustainable you’ve got to fight that culture of convenience. So when packing those lunches, think of ways to reduce the garbage that your kids end up with. Try buying things in larger containers and putting them in your own reusable containers. Kids love yogurt? Buy the big tub and refill smaller, reusable containers rather than buying a box of small yogurts that might not get eaten by their expiration date anyway. We’re wandering dangerously into the 2nd R, “reuse,” though, so I’ll leave it at that for now!
Stay tuned for next time, when I’ll share my ideas to reuse at home, at work and on the road. As always, I welcome comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.