Being environmentally conscious is very important to me. And it’s a cause I hope my children will hold close to their hearts. If we’re not looking after the Earth it won’t look after us.
Growing up my parents were also very forward thinking, environmentally. We had a big garden, a compost heap, and we reused everything we could. As soon as recycling was a thing my parents figured out where and how to recycle our recyclables – even driving into town once a month to meet the recycling truck that didn’t come out our way. That made a big impression on me!
Despite being a very busy family, we find ways to reduce our waste every day. From using the city’s recycling and compost program, to buying items in bulk and repackaging them into containers for lunches, we find easy ways to keep our garbage amounts down.
*This post was inspired, and sponsored by, A Greener Future. They asked me to write a personal post on what their project means to me. I though sharing ways we reduce our waste as a family ties in well with their environmental mission. This post also contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through my link I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This commission helps support my blog.*
How we reduce our waste as a family
We have been amazingly lucky to be in a large family with lots of cousins for the girls. This means we get bags of hand-me-downs and rarely need to buy new clothes. This is great for me because I’m really not a shopper, and clothes shopping is my least favourite thing to do – even if the clothes aren’t for me!
Having 2 girls helps here too. Once Emma outgrows (or gets tired of) something it goes right to Rose. I’m a bit worried Rose will overtake Emma in a few more years, but then they can share! We also have younger girl cousins who we then pass our clothes onto after we’re done with them.
I also try hard to mend things. I’m a terrible seamstress, but I can stitch up seam holes or other easy fixes. They’re not beautiful, but it works. Plus it’s good for my kids to see me doing those things – Emma already has shown an interest in learning to sew. I may have to find someone to help her learn this skill!
The last tip I have for clothing is shopping second hand. I donate my clothes that I’ve outgrown, or gotten tired of, to the second hand stores in town. They can be a goldmine, as long as you have the time and patience to sift through 1000s of items. I don’t usually, but I do take the girls sometimes to find new dresses or when they’re out of shorts for some reason (like they both wear the same size and Emma won’t give any up to Rose!) While they’re looking I’ll browse for myself and sometimes I do find something great.
Food and Groceries
Sometimes this is tough. My kids are picky. And the schools are picky too. Sending items that don’t have labels or “nut free” packaging sometimes causes problems. But as your kids get into the higher grades they seem to get a little more lax with this. So homemade items (cookies, muffins etc.), as long as you make them nut free, are acceptable to take in lunches. And often just a note or chat with the teacher is enough to put their minds at ease about your home made treats.
We buy fruits and vegetables and cut them up into containers for the girls. Avoiding pre-cut items means they last longer, and there’s no packaging to deal with. Even though the plastic clamshells are recyclable, they still don’t always get where they need to go. Or they blow away while your recycling bin sits outside waiting for the collector.
If the kids want cheese and crackers, we cut up cheese and open a box of crackers. We don’t routinely buy pre-packaged “snack” items like this. It’s a waste, and often it’s not resealable. If they don’t eat it all, it either goes in the garbage (bad!) or gets all over the inside of the lunch pails. In our own containers it comes home contained!
Rose likes peaches in light syrup. We were buying the little 6 bowls in a cardboard sleeve until we were sure she actually liked them. Now we buy them in a large container and portion it into our plastic lunch pail containers. We have control over how much she gets, and if she doesn’t eat it, it comes home sealed in that container. This can work for all kinds of things: raisins or nuts (though not at school!), pretzels or chips, snack crackers like Goldfish, puddings or jello desserts (make these yourself for extra waste saving!), anything you can buy in club size, or at a bulk store.
Yard and Kitchen Waste
As a kid we NEVER threw out food scraps or yard waste. Everything was composted. In our backyard! Where I live now we tried backyard composting, but I couldn’t get it to compost, and honestly I didn’t (and still don’t) have time, or make time, to make backyard composting work for me. Thankfully the City of Kingston has a curbside recycling and composting program.
All our kitchen waste, including meat scraps, go into our green bin for weekly pick up. I think that’s great! Meat waste was always garbage growing up. Putting meat in our outdoor compost heap was just asking for trouble. From wildlife, and also maggots and other unsavoury critters that you don’t really want in your yard or garden.
This compost program allows a bit of yard waste to be composted in the green bins, but it’s not recommended. Instead you can take your yard waste to the city facility for free. They do pick up yard and leaf waste in the fall every year. But if you’re a gardener, or do a lot of yard maintenance you will have more organic waste than you can easily sneak into the green bin with your kitchen waste. This is where the backyard composting comes in very handy – check out this book if you want to get started on your own backyard compost heap. Then you don’t have to schlep your yard waste anywhere but to your compost!
We rarely update our household items. Unless something breaks, we’re not ones to change our decor season to season, or follow any new trends. That means we don’t create waste seasonally. I keep all our decor for holidays in Rubbermaid bins in the basement and pull them out as the season dictates. We rarely buy new decorations, or costume pieces for Halloween.
Something I do participate in is the Buy Nothing Project. I belong to a local group on Facebook and the aim there is to give and take as a community without spending money. That means I post something I’d like to get rid of, someone is interested in it and off it goes to them (you make the choice as the “gifter” of who gets your item if there’s a lot of interest) without them buying anything, and without adding waste to the world. I think it’s a great initiative. I’ve gotten some books for my kids, I’ve given away plants I’ve divided from my garden, old toys my kids grew out of, and other household items we don’t need or use anymore. It also fosters a sense of community.
I try to use reusable cloths and towels for our cleaning around the house. Wiping down sinks, mirrors, and any other bathroom or kitchen surface with washcloths and towels headed to the washing machine is a great way to cut back on paper product use. While we do keep paper towels on hand (for messy kid spills that need extra absorbency) we can compost them in the city program.
Community clean up events demonstrate WHY it’s so important to reduce our waste.
This year we participated in Love Your Lake, an initiative by A Greener Future. “A Greener Future works hand-in-hand with local communities to promote environmental preservation through organized litter cleanups, educational programs, and events. Our expanding family of volunteers are committed to creating a clean, healthy environment that can be sustained for generations.”
We picked up waste at Lake Ontario Park on a Saturday morning. The Love Your Lake project has a progress report that they add to as they go along. You can see it on their website (scroll partway down the page.)
The girls and I filled 2 fabric grocery bags with trash and litter from the waterfront. I was astounded at some of the things we found. A propane tank (the small ones for camping), tampon applicators (lots of them – I had to “explain” them to my girls), socks, a diaper, a water shoe and broken goggles, reusable water bottle, and of course tons of cigarette butts, beer cans, and fast food waste. What an eye opening experience!
Rochelle from A Greener Future shared this with me after the event: In total we picked up 1,778 pieces of litter at Lake Ontario Park which brought the project total to 80,746 over the 100 cleanups that kicked off in May. This also brought our overall total to over 1 million pieces of litter since A Greener Future started in 2014, a HUGE accomplishment!
Love Your Lake picks up trash and litter along Lake Ontario from Niagara to Kingston. If you live close to the lake in these areas I highly recommend finding a Love Your Lake cleanup in your area in the summer season.
Does this all sound overwhelming?
My easy tip to get you started is 2 fold. Stop using straws, and buy a few reusable water bottles. We used to buy cases of water, and I’ve finally got my husband trained to use refillable water bottles. You’ll drink more water, and most cities are making it easier to refill the bottles throughout your day by replacing water fountains with water refill stations. (They have both a place to fill your water bottle, and a traditional drinking spout.)
Refusing straws can be a bit more difficult. If we’re eating in a fast food place, I fill my cup and don’t put on a lid. That saves both a lid and a straw from becoming waste. When you drive through it is more convenient with a lid and straw, but I’ve been not purchasing a drink now because I have the lovely water bottle full from home that I carry with me most everywhere. Restaurants are easier – just say “no thanks” to straws. Same when you buy a drink at a store and they offer a straw.
Once you get in the habit of thinking about your waste, you’ll find new and easy ways to work on cutting back yourself. I sincerely think it’s very important to reduce, more than reuse and recycle.
How do you reduce waste, or help look after the Earth? I know there is a lot more we can be doing (changing our commuting style, using less electricity (though we’ve cut down on this over the last decade for sure), and paying more attention to where items are coming from before we buy them) but at this point I’m happy with the amount we’re doing. It’s sustainable for us right now.
Share your other ways to reduce our waste in the comments – maybe there will be something else I can add to our lives!