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How to Be Environmentally Friendly in a Home With Kids

NASA projects that the effects of climate change will continue to be felt throughout the next century, but the severity of the change will depend on the amount of heat-trapping gasses that are emitted globally. By reducing, reusing, and recycling in your home, you can decrease the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from your household and create routines with your children that can impact the state of our world’s climate for the better. Below are some ways that you can start to live green with your kids.

Recycling

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the average person produces about 4.4 pounds of trash per day. This may not seem like a lot initially, but in a year, that adds up to 1,606 pounds of trash generated by one person. If you’re living in a multiple-person household, you can see how this number can start to skyrocket. This is why taking the initiative to recycle in your home is so important — because it can divert this amount of trash away from landfills, and help decrease your carbon footprint.

General Tips

There are several strategies that you can use to make recycling easier and more accessible in your home. These can be:

  • Joining a recycling program — Your city’s municipal government may offer residential recycling bins that are collected with your trash. There may also be city-sponsored drop-offs available at landfills.
  • Setting up recycling bins — Setting up recycling bins in your home can help make recycling a household habit. It can also help you sort your different types of recycling, which can make drop-off easier.
  • Taking advantage of local recycling initiatives — Some businesses may have recycling initiatives in place for customers. For example, some grocery stores have bins set up for the return of plastic bags, and some technology stores take old or broken phones and computers for parts.

How to Get the Children Involved

Recycling can be a whole family effort. You can invite your kids to join in on the recycling process with some of these activities:

  • Make it a game — While you should be careful with materials like glass, sorting cardboard and paper for recycling can be easily made into a game for your kids. You can put a hoop over your recycling bin, or have a competition to see who can fill up the bin first.
  • Create a schedule — Having a schedule can help enforce the habit of recycling. Having your kid help you put the recycling bins out for pick-up, or come with you to drop-off on a consistent basis normalizes the activity as part of their lifestyle.
  • Offer rewards — You can reinforce positive recycling behavior by offering rewards. You can put a bowl of treats by the recycling bin, or keep a scoresheet of how many times your child recycles and reward them at certain milestones.

Reducing

When it comes to waste management, reduction is a preventative tip. This strategy is about thinking intentionally about what excess waste you can cut out of your lifestyle altogether. This can include reducing your use of small things, like plastic grocery bags, all the way up to bigger options, such as opting for public transport rather than a private vehicle. Reducing can be one of the harder strategies because it takes more intentional thought, but it can also be one of the most flexible.

General Tips

You don’t have to become a full-blown minimalist to start effectively reducing waste in your life. These easy tips can help you cut down on waste without sacrificing the things that you enjoy:
 

  • Bring your own grocery bags — You can reduce the amount of plastic and paper bags you consume by bringing your own grocery bags to the store. These bags can also be helpful for holding loose or bulk produce in the store, as an alternative to pre-packaged produce.
  • Avoid pre-packaged produce — For individual produce items, or items with a skin or rind, skip the packaging or plastic bags and simply wash them when you get home. Not only does this reduce your waste, but it also ensures that your food is clean and ready to eat when you need it.
  • Learn to repair instead of replace — Learning simple repair skills, such as basic sewing, can increase the lifespan of items like clothes, bags, and other similar items, and keep still-usable objects from the landfill.
  • Cancel unnecessary mail subscriptions — In some cases, you can cancel ad mailers that are delivered to your house. If you find yourself repeatedly throwing these things in the trash, it can be worthwhile to cancel them instead and reduce your waste amount.
  • Switch from paper to cloth products — While paper is better than plastic, as paper waste decomposes it releases methane gas, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Therefore, making the switch from common paper products — such as napkins or face wipes — to cloth versions cuts down on your paper waste.

How to Reduce With Children’s Items

Reducing children’s items can be a challenge, because of the rate at which children grow and the number of things that you can collect over the years. Here are a few strategies you can use to reduce waste in children’s items:
 

  • Avoid pre-packaged lunches — Much like avoiding pre-packaged produce, switching to home-packed or school lunches can help reduce the amount of waste your child is throwing away every day.
  • Switch from paper to cloth products — Switching from disposable diapers to cloth diapers reduces the amount of waste your family is generating. A switch like this can also help you cut down on recurring diaper costs.

Reusing

Reusing or repurposing items in your home is one of the easier ways to be environmentally friendly at home. Likely, you have several items you could be utilizing for reuse already in your home.

General Tips

The reuse strategy is about being creative and doing a little planning ahead in your day-to-day routine. Here are some great options for the reuse strategy:

  • Invest in reusable grocery bags — Not only do reusable shopping bags cut down on paper and plastic waste, but they have a long lifespan, so the amount of waste they end up saving is quite large. Plastic Education estimates that reusable shopping bags can save the lives of up to 100,000 marine animals a year by keeping plastic bags out of the ocean and our landfills.
  • Invest in reusable dishware — Reusable water bottles, storage containers, and travel mugs are all great options to reduce plastic and paper waste. You can even bring reusable travel mugs to coffee shops in place of a paper cup, and bring lunches in Tupperware instead of paper bags.
  • Compost food waste — One way to cut down on your household’s food waste is by composting. All produce, and even some other food products like coffee grounds and eggshells, can be composted. You can compost at home, or some places have community compost piles or processing plants you can contribute to.
  • Buy used or pre-owned — Thrifting has risen in popularity in recent years because it is a more eco-friendly option than buying new. You can thrift for clothes, shoes, furniture, even kitchenware. Cars and other big-ticket items can also be bought pre-owned. Often, buying used or pre-owned is not only the more environmentally-friendly option, but the cheaper option as well.

How to Get the Children Involved

You can encourage your children to reuse in fun and creative ways, including:

  • Making crafts — You can make fun toy crafts or yard ornaments from common paper, cloth, and glass leftovers. Old blankets or clothes can be repurposed for pillows or quilts, and glass is easy and fun to paint. If you’re working with glass, make sure you take the necessary safety precautions.
  • Holding clothing swaps — Holding a clothing swap with other parents or kids your child’s age is a great way to exchange clothes, toys, and books that you or your child may not have interest in, but that someone else might. This can also be a fun social experience, and for kids to feel like they have some independence in picking out their own clothes.
  • Encouraging charity donations — For anything that can’t be used for a clothing swap, you can always donate clothes and other items to charities or thrift stores. You can set up a reward system for these donations, or simply have a conversation about the importance of doing good for the planet, and for other people.

Water Conservation

The average residential household in the U.S. uses between 80 to 100 gallons of water per day, according to the United States Geological Service. The bathtub and toilet are two of the areas associated with the highest amount of water use indoors, followed by the washing machine, shower, and dishwasher. Saving water can decrease the amount of water pollution in our rivers, bays, and estuaries. Additionally, water conservation can cut down on water waste treatment costs and personal water bill costs.

General Tips

Here are some things that you can do to conserve water use in your home:

  • Buy efficient appliances — There are appliances that are specifically designed to be energy or water efficient like dishwashers, washing machines, and even shower heads. Investing in these appliances is a great way to start saving water on autopilot because the appliance is programmed to save the water for you.
  • Save cooking water for plants — If you have houseplants or any sort of outdoor plants, water use for boiling vegetables or pasta can be repurposed to be used for plants. Plants can tolerate salty water on their leaves, but not on their roots, so make sure your water is salt-free and room temperature before you give it to your plants.
  • Limit washing machine use — Washing machines are some of the top water users in the home. By hand-washing certain clothes or repeat wearing clothes that aren’t stained, you can save water use in this area.
  • Get a water conservation audit — A water conservation audit can be a useful tool when you’re looking to save water because it can inform you where you’re using the most water and give you ideas on where you can save.


While DIY options can be effective for helping you cut down on your water use, when it comes to larger problems such as fixing leaks or replacing pipes, hiring a professional can save you time and money, which can, in turn, cut down on excess water, waste, and energy use.

How to Get the Children Involved

You can help your kids save water by:

  • Using a shower timer — Sometimes kids get distracted, and end up being unintentionally wasteful. If your child is prone to taking long showers, setting a shower timer may help cut those times down and save on some water usage.
  • Opting for a kiddie pool instead of sprinklers — When the weather starts to get hot, you can replace playing in the sprinklers with lounging in a kiddie pool to save water. You can get toys, other inflatables, and even add bubbles or bath bombs to make some summer fun without having to constantly run your hose.

Energy Conservation

Energy conservation efforts have been shown to decrease emissions, resulting in better air quality. Additionally, saving energy plays an important role in the maintenance and use of non-renewable resources, like fossil fuels. You can also save a lot of money on your heating, power, and air bills as a result of energy conservation efforts.

General Tips

If you’re interested in what you can do to be more energy conscious in your home, here are some strategies:

  • Invest in energy-efficient appliances — Appliances such as refrigerators, lightbulbs, and stoves all have energy efficiency options. Some people are drawn to this type of appliance because they are programmed to save consumers energy on autopilot.
  • Be mindful of energy use — Some household habits may be contributing to energy waste without you realizing it. Leaving the lights or TV on in unoccupied rooms or forgetting to adjust the thermostat when you won’t be home can all add up. Even keeping countertop appliances and other electronics left plugged in when they’re not in use can use up serious electricity in your household. Small changes in your routine can add up to be energy savings.
  • Limit hot water use — Your home’s hot water heater uses energy — either electricity or gas — to heat the water even before you turn on the tap. Limiting your hot water use and striking a temperature balance can be a good way to save energy. Washing clothes on cool cycles, or only using the hot tap when you really need it are easy ways to save energy this way.

How to Get the Children Involved

If your kids are a little bit older, you can explain to them why it’s important to turn the lights off when they leave a room, and start to create the habit of unplugging things when they’re not in use. If you have younger children, you can get them indirectly involved by encouraging outside play, or activities that don’t require electricity.

Composting

Composting is the process by which organic matter — such as food wastes — decompose into the soil. Compost is rich in nutrients that help soil fertility and plant growth, and it is a great way to reduce household food waste. There are many ways that you can start composting in your household, depending on your lifestyle and needs.

General Tips

When it comes to residential composting, hot composting is most common. All you need to begin hot composting is a storage container, some soil, and your composting matter. If you want to start a compost pile, here are some tips:

  • Temperature control — Your compost pile should be between 120 and 175 degrees Fahrenheit while hot composting. This ensures that the microorganisms breaking down the food into compost can thrive. If you are composting in a place that experiences cold weather, you may need to have a system in place to combat freezing, such as a small greenhouse.
  • Rotating your pile — You will need to turn your compost so that you can introduce oxygen throughout the pile, which helps with the breakdown process. You should be turning your compost every two to five weeks. The more frequently you turn your compost, the faster it will break down.
  • Vary organic matter — Compost piles need a ratio of about 60% carbon to 40% nitrogen to be successful. “Brown” matter, such as dead leaves, hay, and fruit peels, are rich in carbon, while “green” matter, such as plant clippings, spent coffee grounds, and produce ends are rich in nitrogen.

How to Get the Children Involved

Your child’s age will have a big influence on their physical involvement with the composting efforts you pursue in your home. Nonetheless, there are still ways to keep your kids informed and excited about composting at any age. You can:

  • Set up activities — There are some activities that you can do to help your child understand and get into the routine of composting. This can include having them help you maintain the garden or house plants. You could even have them experiment with a compost jar or their own to watch the process happen in real-time.
  • Join community education programs — Check your community for any classes or demonstrations about composting or recycling. These programs often have age-tailored activities and lessons designed to make teaching your child, no matter what age, easy and effective.
  • Visit farms that compost — If you know of a local farm or community lot where they compost, this could be a great field trip opportunity. Your child can learn more about why compost is important to the food industry and what effects it has. Additionally, this is a great chance for them to learn more about where their food comes from.

Product Sourcing

The manufacturing of products, from clothes to cars, can have a big effect on our environment. If you’re looking to shift toward a more sustainable lifestyle, it’s important to know the processes behind the products you’re buying so you can make an informed choice.

General Tips

Here are some ways that you can shop for products more sustainably:

  • Research sustainable brands — Many household brands are making an effort to incorporate sustainable manufacturing practices into their business model due to consumer demand. Brands are classified as sustainable if they take environmental, economic, and social impacts of production into account during the manufacturing process.
  • Make sustainable choices — In some cases, especially when it comes to food products, what you choose to buy has a bigger effect than where or how you choose to buy it. Some products intrinsically take more resources than others to produce — this is seen particularly in the meat industry — so making product substitutions can ultimately be the most environmentally-friendly choice.
  • Consider packaging — A lot of what we buy comes in plastic, paper, or cardboard packaging. All of these materials have an effect on the environment, though plastic is viewed as worse than biodegradable options. When you’re shopping with sustainability in mind, buying products with little to no packaging, or reusable packaging like glass, can be a great sustainable choice.

Ethically Sourcing Children’s Products

As a parent, you spend a lot of money on the things your child needs, from bottles to clothes, to school supplies. If you’re interested in sustainable shopping, here are some ways that you can ethically source some children’s products:

  • Take advantage of hand-me-downs — One of the most ethical and sustainable options when sourcing children’s goods are hand-me-downs. This decreases the number of heavy plastics that get sent to landfills in the forms of high chairs, strollers, and car seats, and is an effective reuse strategy that can save excess waste, emissions, and money.
  • Research companies — Being an informed consumer can make a huge difference in selecting ethically-sound children’s toys, clothes, and other items. In the case of toys and clothes, you’ll want to look for Fairtrade certifications. This means that the working conditions of the manufacturers were taken into consideration and had to meet certain standards. For food products, anything with organic certification is typically the ethical choice, meaning that produce and livestock were raised without certain chemicals and within ethical processing standards.

Additional Resources

Many companies are committing to lowering their carbon footprint as climate change continues to be an issue that consumers care about when shopping. Below are a few that are specifically working to reduce their carbon footprint:

  • Imperfect Foods — This company, and others like it, aims to cut down on food waste by selling perfectly edible but unsightly produce that would be wasted by grocers due to appearance. Imperfect Foods also uses recycled fibers to make their shipping boxes.
  • Hewlett Packard — ranked at number 15 in Forbes Top 100 Sustainable Companies of 2020, HP has committed to making energy-efficient products and helping consumers understand their energy consumption and emissions output, with their HP sustainable data centers.
  • Beyond Meat — Beyond Meat, a vegan meat alternative company is looking to reduce emissions created by the beef industry by creating a viable, and delicious, alternative to beef. They’ve successfully gotten their patties into huge fast-food chains, like Denny’s and Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr., making sustainable meat alternatives more accessible to the public.
  • BMW — BMW has received environmental and sustainability acclaim for its commitment to creating fuel-saving and fuel-alternative cars with clean manufacturing processes.
Patagonia — The outdoor and clothing brand Patagonia has committed to getting 75% of its materials from sustainable sources, and it donates 1% of all profits to groups that seek to cut carbon emissions. Over the last 30 years, the company has raised around $110 million for these groups.