20 ways your family can help the planet
Saving the planet is a big ask, especially when you’re busy raising little humans. But there are plenty of ways one family can make a huge difference, as Gretchen Carrol explains.
There are all sorts of pressures on parents and becoming more environmentally friendly may feel like just another thing to add to your list. Or perhaps you already feel like you want to help save the planet, but just don’t know where to begin.
I’ve been on a journey of sorts recently so I’ll share what I have learnt. I think you’ll find that there are some easily achievable changes you can make amongst these tips. Start out small and then you might find you want to move on to incorporating others. I’m not saying I do all of these all the time, but every action makes a difference, especially if we can give a collective message to companies and government that people want change and to look after our environment. And once you start, it’s hard to stop. Making ‘green’ choices can save money, enhance your lifestyle and health, and means you are contributing positively to the earth’s future. Which has got to be good for our kids!
1. Kids' clothes
Thanks to the hard knocks of play and growth spurts, children go through clothes quickly. Second-hand clothing saves you money and means the items have multiple lives. See if you can inherit clothing from friends with older children, and pass clothes on to friends with younger kids. Op shops and social media sites such as Neighbourly are good places to source kids’ clothing. Another idea for the super crafty is to make or repurpose clothing.
2. Baby paraphernalia
Borrow or buy second-hand items such as bouncers, baby baths and play mats. With bassinets, high chairs and cots, check they’re safe to use first.
When my son stopped using nappies, our rubbish reduction was astonishing. Using reusable nappies full time is obviously best for the planet, but do what you can. We only managed to use reusable nappies about once a day in the first year, but even one less disposable nappy a day prevents 365 going to landfill each year. Kate Meads (AKA The Nappy Lady) runs workshops around the country on waste-free parenting, including reusable nappies. Find her at thenappylady.co.nz.
Try to avoid single-use wipes. Buy Chux cloths, or similar, and have two containers in the nursery, one with water to dunk the wipes in, and another for storing the used wipes. The used wipes can then be soaked in a bucket of water and vinegar before being machine washed.
5. Plastic toys
It’s not just the plastic toys that are the problem, the packaging they come in is often excessive and destined to go straight to landfill. Simple items such as a cardboard box can spark creativity and play, but when shopping, look for natural materials. Look to reduce the number of toys in your home (within reason) and encourage your kids to pass on outgrown toys to younger tots, or donate to charity.
A nice idea is to give experiences rather than things for presents – such as a yearly pass to somewhere you know they’ll visit multiple times, or a day trip that will provide memories rather than more clutter.
Parties weren’t something I associated with waste until recently, then it became obvious. Disposable plates and cups are single-use, over-catered food is wasted, and balloons either go to landfill or oceans. For our son’s fourth birthday party we used decorations already in the house and made our own from paper. We also used our own plates and cups, avoided plastic-packaged food or prizes, and left out the balloons. I mentioned to parents beforehand that we didn’t need any more plastic toys as gifts and they all understood. Did he notice? Not a bit. He had a great time with games, homemade food, music and friends.
8. Food packaging
There are a raft of ways to reduce your family’s waste. It is staggering the amount of single-use plastic food packaging that is available, and how much energy is used to create something which is only used once (and may or may not be disposed of thoughtfully). Soft plastic can now be dropped off for recycling at many supermarkets and other food outlets, but it’s even better not to use it in the first place. Many items, such as cling film wrap and foil muesli bar wrappers can’t be recycled, so a great alternative is to pack kids’ snacks into reusable containers when out and about, and to choose products which don’t have unnecessary packaging. Reusable beeswax wrappers are a good cling film alternative and can either be bought or made yourself at home.
Making your own snacks, such as crackers, smoothies or muffins, means you can avoid wasteful packaging and you know exactly what the ingredients are. Children often enjoy being involved, so bake and create together and you might get them to eat something they wouldn’t usually. Whole foods are usually healthier too and things such as fruit come in their own natural wrap! Baby food and yoghurt pouches seem handy, but they are single-use products and can contain high levels of sugar. Terracycle (terracycle.co.nz) offers drop-off points to recycle pouches, but look to make the equivalent filling yourself and put it into a container and take a spoon. Or opt for a reusable pouch like those in the Kai Carrier range.
Terracycle also offers drop-off points for recycling toothbrushes and related products, however our family is moving away from plastic to bamboo toothbrushes which are compostable.
11. Meat consumption
One of the most effective things you can do to combat climate change is to cut back on meat consumption. Farming contributes to New Zealand’s pollution and greenhouse emissions significantly. Start out simply by having one meat-free day a week. Our family is aiming for meat-free about half the week, and buying organic meat and dairy where we can.
Whether grocery shopping in store or online, there are ways of making this more planet-friendly. Before you shop, create a menu for the week and a list. It sounds too simple, yet means you only buy what you need and reduce the amount of food waste. Take reusable bags with you (including small produce bags), and once the bags are emptied at home, put them back in the car or by the front door so you will remember to take them next time. If shopping online, ask them to pack your shopping in banana boxes, which are cardboard, rather than lots of plastic bags.
13. Food waste
New Zealanders throw away a huge amount of food through buying too much or not storing it properly. Remember that leftovers make a yummy lunch the next day and that there is a difference between use by and best before dates. Try to use all the parts of fruit and vegetables you feasibly can, and freeze those brown bananas for baking. For handy tips and recipes, check out lovefoodhatewaste.co.nz.
Much of your kitchen scraps (and brown waste such as cardboard) can be composted, so look to set up a compost bin, worm farm or similar system. Not only will this reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, it means you will be able to give your garden lovely nutrients in return. Have a look at compostcollective.org.nz to get further inspiration and information.
15. Reusable cups
Parenthood relies on caffeine, some would say. Most takeaway coffee cups from cafés are a single-use item that can’t be recycled or composted, so take along your reusable cup. Even better, why not truly enjoy your drink by sitting down in the café and using one of their
We all fall into the comfort of using cars for convenience, but see if you can use the car a few less times each week. Walking or taking public transport can be better for your pocket and your body, and sometimes kids enjoy the journey more than the destination.
17. Love of nature
Help to instil a love of nature in your children from a young age. Littlies love being outside anyway, so start to talk about the beautiful nature you see when you’re out and about. Get them involved in gardening at home (if you live in an apartment, this could simply be a pot plant); show them how compost works; go for bush walks and see if there is a nature playgroup you can join in your area. When you see litter at a beach, pick it up and talk about that too.
18. The laundry
Washing in hot water uses a lot more energy than cold water, so set your washing machine to cold and the quickest setting possible. Also look to use your dryer rarely or not at all, and watch your power bill drop!
19. Think local
If you find your passion for environmental and community causes growing, there are countless local groups who are tackling waste by making reusable shopping bags, running green workshops, harvesting fruit for charities and so on, and of course there are the larger well-known environmental groups as well. Start investigating and see if you can volunteer time, skills or a few dollars. Simply signing a petition or emailing a company about an issue you feel strongly about can help.
20. Smile and nod
Stay positive and try not to feel overwhelmed! Pick one idea to start with and go from there. Tell your friends what you are doing, and pretty soon, they’ll be making changes too. By simply sharing your good work, you’ll create a ripple effect.
Gretchen Carroll lives in Auckland with her husband and son. She works as a freelance writer, allowing her more time to spend with their preschooler.