How to reduce some of the waste that comes with having kids

From disposable diapers and wipes to water bottles and packaged snacks, there's a lot of trash that starts to pile up when you're raising kids.

Photo: istock

Anyone with kids knows that they come with a lot of trash—the disposable diapers, wipes, squeeze fruit packs. Not to mention all that plastic! It wreaks havoc on the environment (both in its creation and disposal), but there may be a better way to limit your carbon footprint.

Here are some better-for-the-environment options to consider: 

Diapers and wipes 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that disposable diapers account for approximately 3.5 million tons of waste in landfills, and their manufacturing process uses about 20 times more energy, materials and water than cloth diapers. Disposable wipes contain microplastics, which don’t break down and are hazardous to marine life.

Try this:
Modern cloth diapers and wipes aren’t the rubber pants of our parents’ generation—they come in a wide variety of brands and styles, are easy to use, are gentle on the skin, and, best of all, they can be used on more than one kid—no need to stock up again for baby number two or three. Cloth diapers are easy to use and can be tossed in the laundry along with your cloth wipes and any dirty clothes. A lot of cloth diaper parents also report that their kids are out of diapers much sooner—and let’s be honest, (if true) that’s a pretty awesome perk.

Disposable diaper bags

Sure, they’re convenient and make for smooth cleanup, but again, so much waste. 

Try this:
Even if you’re using disposable diapers and wipes, you can still switch to reusable wet bags. Wet bags are designed to keep moisture contained, and they either zip shut or have a drawstring opening, so they’re super easy to use. If you’re using cloth diapers, toss these in with dirty clothes then deposit them straight into the laundry. You can even store one in a diaper pail. For on-the-go, you can keep one or two in your diaper bag, or keep one handy for when you go swimming with your little ones as they can hold wet bathing suits, towels and swim diapers. 

Diaper changing

Disposable changing pads generate a lot of trash (and sometimes are sticky and uncomfortable against a little one’s skin).

Try this:
At home, opt for a reusable changing pad made of an antibacterial material that can be easily wiped down, or use old thin towels or muslins to cover a cloth changing pad. For diaper changes in public restrooms or the park, pack a portable changing pad that can be easily wiped or rinsed, or bring along an old towel. Dirty towels can go inside your wet bag.

Swim diapers

Disposable swim diapers are expensive and wasteful. 

Little girl carrying a bucket to the backyard How we became a zero waste familyTry this:
Many parents are surprised to find out that no diaper, disposable or reusable, can contain pee in a swimming pool (sorry to ruin your image of the kids’ pool forever)—they’re just poop catchers. With this newfound knowledge, it might be helpful to know that reusable swim diapers are a good way to go—they hold poop just as well as disposables and are easy to clean as they don’t have any additional liners. If you’ve got a couple, you can swap them out when “doody” calls and you’ll save money by not having to continually buy packs of throw away swim diapers. After your swim, discard any waste and toss the reusable swim diaper in the laundry. The ones with snaps on the sides are especially practical for wiggly babies and toddlers.

Balloons and party favours 

Though balloons are a popular party favour, scientists at University College London and Cambridge University warn that helium itself is a finite resource—and balloons, even biodegradable ones, can be hazardous to animals and marine life, disrupt electrical power systems if they get tangled in electric wires and, being one-use items, take up space in landfills when they pop or lose air. Similarly, small plastic toys tucked into loot bags are short-lived and are typically produced in factories abroad with poor environmental and working conditions. 

Try this:
There are plenty of colourful, fun ways to jazz up your child’s birthday party decor—long fabric ribbons that kids can run around with in rainbow shades can be reused for play time and time again. If you’re having an outdoor party, kites or pinwheels (which you can make on your own from recycled or reused materials) can provide a lot of entertainment for young children. Instead of small plastic toys, get creative! Small flowerpots and seeds are a fun activity for kids to do at home. Why not pull together bags of home-baked goods, art supplies or a mix CD of your child’s favourite tunes for your guests to enjoy at home? Or just forgo the goody bags and make a charitable donation in honour of your child’s birthday to a local organization with meaning to you.

Water bottles and squeeze pouches

It happens to all of us—we’re rushing out the door and forgot to pack a drink or snack, so we hit up the convenience store for a water bottle and fruit squeeze pack. The problem? These items often don’t get—or can’t be—fully recycled, which can contribute to ocean pollution and other environmental issues. Additionally, production of single-use plastics uses tons of water and fuel, and many factories have little to no environmental regulations in place. 

Try this:
Swap out your cases of plastic bottles for one reusable bottle! Many water bottle manufacturers make bottles that are adaptable for babies and young children with nipples, straws and other easy-to-use lids. Another nice bonus is that many of these types of reusable bottles are insulated, keeping your child’s milk warm (or cold) long after it’s been forgotten in the back seat of the car. Reusable squeeze pouches are also available. You can fill them up with yogurt, applesauce or vegetable purees and throw them in the dishwasher when you’re done. 

Food storage  

On-the-go snacks for babies and kids are often packaged in throwaway plastic or foil, creating additional waste and often costing more for smaller servings.

Try this:
Stock up on some reusable containers, especially those made of stainless steel or bamboo, and make sure they’re easy to clean. Fill them up with leftovers, crackers, pieces of cheese, cut fruit, veggies or any of your kid’s other favourite snacks. Not only is this a great eco-friendly option, but it’s a huge money saver.

Read more:
Why it’s time to stop giving your kids plastic straws
7 homemade baby toys you can make out of ordinary household stuff

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