Raising Zero-Waste Babies and Kids

"We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children."

I guess I had an idyllic childhood of “dirt, mud, puddles, trees, sticks and tadpoles”. And I very much wish the same for my own kids. As a mom, a huge motivator for becoming eco-conscious was to protect the environment so that future generations will also be able to marvel at the Earth’s natural beauty. But how do you live zero-waste with babies and kids? Let's just start at the very beginning:

Buy the basics

If I could go back and give advice to a pregnant-for-the-first-time me it would be this: press pause on all the unsolicited advice, endless catalogues of baby items and excessive baby showers. Your baby doesn’t need half the paraphernalia you think it needs. A white noise machine? There’s an app on your phone that does the trick. A bottle warmer? How about a warm water bath instead? Stick with the necessities and add nice-to-haves once you know they will be really useful in your own parenting journey.

Cloth nappies

It is estimated that one baby will use 4140 nappies, and generate almost a ton (952kg) of waste before being potty trained. Shocking stats, no?

Cloth nappies (and cloth wipes) were my first step to becoming more eco-conscious. Yes, it may seem daunting, icky and time-consuming, but the reward is a cute fluff-bum that saves the planet and your pocket. Not sure where to start? The SA cloth nappy users website is incredibly informative, please take a look. There’s also loads of cloth moms out there (myself included) who are more than happy to show the ropes.

Food

I’m going to state the obvious here, that breast-feeding is the most waste-free first food available for a baby. However, I am sensitive to the fact that there are many moms that would have wished to have breastfed their babies and weren’t able to, so let’s not add to that guilt.

Zero waste food for toddlers and kids is all about preparation and curbing the convenience of puree pouches, ready-made meals and packaged snacks. It’s hard! You’re going to work yourself into a frenzy if you are going to try replicate everything you can buy in your own kitchen. Stop comparing, make choices as to what you can and cannot do yourself and (forgive me) your child will be perfectly fine with a peanut butter sandwich and a piece of fruit in his or her school lunchbox.

I now have a baby starting solids, and to be quite honest, it is my least-favourite phase. My baby tends to show his appreciation of my efforts by smearing food into his hair or purposefully nudging it off his feeding tray onto the floor. The best way to limit both packaging- and food waste is to make your own baby food. Steam and puree a wide variety of vegetables and fruits and freeze small portions in ice cube trays. For every meal, thaw a couple of cubes, and offer more if all is eaten. Once a baby is accustomed to the different tastes, our babies eat a mashed, pureed or finger food version of our (saltless) meal.

Toddlers and school-age kids are snack royalty.  Here are some waste-free suggestions:

  • fresh fruit
  • cut veggies with hummus
  • nuts and/or dried fruit
  • biltong
  • popcorn
  • homemade yoghurt with fruit coulis (I have loads of that with a baby in the house ;-)
  • homemade cookies, muffins or granola bars
  • We’re also entering citrus season, so pressing your own fresh fruit juice is a great vitamin C boost!

Clothes

Oh how I love hand-me-downs! It’s really helpful when you have friends with kids just a bit older than your own, as those hand-me-downs form the base of my kids’ wardrobes. There are also many amazing second-hand kids clothing businesses to keep tabs on (Petit Fox, ReYouth, Pre-loved Kids Clothes). If you have the wardrobe space (I don’t!) there’s value to buying pre-loved clothing items that catch your eye a few years in advance.

When buying new clothing items, try, where possible, to buy natural fabrics (cotton, hemp) and support locally-made brands. When you support local businesses you are breaking away from fast fashion with good quality and well made clothing pieces that (depending on your boy’s wild antics of course) should last many a year.

Toys

My kids enthusiasm for making it look like a tornado has hit my living room has taught me the difference between zero-waste and minimalism. My minimalist mind would love to declutter to only visually-appealing or natural toys. However, my kids breathe new life into a vast array of hand-me-down and second-hand toys, and I cannot fault them for it. 

Think consciously when buying toys - avoid cheap plastic or battery-operated toys that inevitably break and get thrown away. Break the consumerism mentality in your kids by buying quality over quantity and by teaching them to value their belongings. 

Zero-waste does not necessarily mean buying only wooden and natural toys that are beyond the budget of many. Although I personally choose to not buy more plastic, my kids' favourite toys has to be the LEGO blocks they inherited from me - certain plastic toys are made to be passed on and on. Alternatively, buy second-hand, start a toy-swop with a few mom-friends, visit the library often instead of buying books, let them do art work with pencils or crayons on scrap paper, get creative and crafty with natural objects or things lying around the home. 

Teach kids to be zero waste

I’m going to end with what I believe is the crux of raising zero-waste kids: we need to take them along on the journey. Both with our actions and our words. Let them fill up the cotton totes with fruit when you go grocery shopping. Remind them to take along their straws when you go out for a milkshake. Teach them what goes into the recycling, compost and rubbish bins. Let them fill an eco brick. Explain your reasons when you consciously refrain from buying or doing certain things. Let them help you cook or bake. Instil a love for nature in your children by letting them help you in the garden, taking care of your pets, by getting them outdoors, going for walks in the park or watching nature films.

If our kids learn to cherish the Earth, they will easily connect the dots to also take good care of it. 

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