10 ways to reduce waste with kids

Did you catch that phrase from other parents who knew better than you: living-zero waste?  Yeah, just wait ’til you have kids.  Hm!  Well, I heard that a few times before having my first child, and now that she is a toddler, I still do not really understand it (hence my blog post).  There are many ways to keep living zero-waste, low-waste, or plastic-free, and still more ways for any family to reduce their waste.  Children learn from you.  Here are some ways to lower your impact with kids:

  1. Second-hand AMAP (as much as possible): this was not only a huge money-saver for us, but also kept our impact low.  Using local thrift stores, parent friends, and local Buy & Swap Facebook pages, we second-handed most items that had to do with baby: clothing, crib, change pad, stroller, car seat (mind the expiry), rocking chair, etc.  This saves so much money, reduces emissions from delivery transport, and reduces the need for new resources to be used for items that already exist in excellent condition.
  2. Hand-me-downs: Yes, I consider hand-me-downs different than second-hand.  We received many hand-me-downs from a neighbourhood family down the street.  They were so kind to give us their daughter’s clothes she grew out of – that her sisters had grown out of.  I also handed-me-down some of my own things, such as stuffed animals, dolls, clothing, bibs, wall decoration, and board games.
  3. Focus on needs: this may sound simple enough, but it is difficult for some to do, given our consumer economy in North America.  On numerous platforms we are bombarded by lists and tips for things you “need” for kids.  Focus on the true needs.  When our first came along, we prioritized: what would baby EAT, where would baby SLEEP, diapers, car seat, and what would baby WEAR.  Everything else was extra, and we took time to consider a need before buying anything.  We also kept in mind: will we be able to keep using this as child grows up?
  4. Segue: Reusable water bottle and cutlery: when our first began eating solids, I thought to myself: OMG, what kind of cutlery am I supposed to use?!  I literally went to my online zero-waste community and asked this, and someone said: Teach them to use the cutlery you already have.  Such a simple thing never occurred to me.  Using teaspoons and small forks, baby learned to use the cutlery we already had.  If I think back to a 1987 photo of me with a tiny baby spoon in my hand, I think… well… that was a waste because there is no way a 15-year old would still use that tiny spoon!  We also got a reusable water bottle that we take everywhere.
  5. Homemade/bulk snacks: the packaging for children’s food products is a smidgen out of control.  Everything plastic, squishable, stackable, and mostly processed: quick and convenient, but perhaps not the healthiest, cost-effective, or low-impact choice.  I nursed as long as possible – ultra convenient, cheap, and healthy!  Then, baby learned to eat what we ate.  If we are on the go, I pack snacks such as: cut up fruit, veg, leftovers, bread with PB, cheese, or other unpackaged things.  In bulk aisles you can also get seeds, nuts, and dried fruit for older children.  Better yet, involve them in baking granola bars, etc.
  6. Gifts and birthday parties: this is another challenging one for some: saying no, especially to family members.  My family has been very considerate since I had “the talk” with them.  I mostly said NO gifts because we had everything we needed.  If a family member really wanted to get a piece of clothing or a toy, I requested it to be made of natural materials.  Birthday parties were potlucks with friends and their families; everyone brought a food to share, and we just socialized.  As our child/children grow up, I will be that parent that uses no decorations, or perhaps reusable decorations, and revamps the “goody bag”.  If you think about it – kids don’t remember their decorations, they remember the fun they had and how special they felt.  Better yet – just go camping!
  7. Involve them: show them how to compost, and involve them in the soil-digging fun.  Take up gardening together, plant seeds, and watch them grow; then enjoy the harvest together!  Take them shopping, let them watch you ask for meat at the butcher’s in a reusable container, and take them to the farmer’s market to watch you buy package-free produce in your cloth totes.  Involve them in your household recycling, make it all part of their normal.
  8. Connect with nature: the best way to ensure children will take care of their natural surroundings is by helping them form a connection with it.  We have so many beautiful lakes, rivers, mountains, forests, and wetlands in our area – there is so much for kids to explore.  Point out the birds, berries, and (bears? eek), but also point out and pick up garbage that may be in that environment; children will learn that in order to protect what we love, we must lessen our impact.  My favourite childhood playground?  The forest!
  9. Cooking: food waste is a huge problem in our society.  Nearly half of our food is wasted (not to mention the resources required to grow that food) before it even reaches the store.  Supermarkets care more about the curvature of a banana than sustaining our resources.  Involve children in the buying, as well as the cooking of food.  I remember when I was first allowed to use my Oma’s “potato knife” to help in the kitchen (basically a very dull paring knife); peeling, cutting softer foods, and composting scraps, is something I got to learn in my Oma’s kitchen.  Get creative together if something needs to be used up, and make extra to take to school for lunch the next day (if your child likes leftovers… I know about picky eaters).  Buy only what you need, and use up all you have.
  10. Toys and play: the toys I see at birthday parties nowadays are somehow all on steroids.  Everything turns, blinks, twists, moves, spins, and makes sounds.  I also notice that most toys just tell you what to do with it, and it stops at that one function.  Where is the imaginative play?  The open-ended toy discovery?  Be choosy with toys.  Kids don’t need a lot (despite what they may tell you).  People often asked me: Did you bring a toy for her?, but my child was much more interested interacting with her environment and the people in it, because that is what she learned.  My childhood was spent outdoors mostly.  We made our own games, and used nature to only our imagination’s limits.  If you want toys, you can buy them second-hand, or some places even have toy-lending libraries.  I learned today we have one in Cranbrook: EK Child Care Resource & Referral!

What has your experience been staying low-impact with children?  What do you find most challenging?  What influences you?




  1. This is such a great list, Nadine! People like YOU influence and inspire me and I appreciate it! I find it challenging all of the propoganda and media influence out there that has all of these subliminal messages encouraging you to feel the NEED for so many things…you really have to stop and think about needs versus wants. I think baby-led weaning has played an important role in developing our son as a good eater and it has also helped me avoid/reduce food waste because he simply eats the same things as us.


  2. Great tips. We did many of these and tried others – as a toddler son very happily ate what we ate – at about 4 that changed as he developed friendships at nursery and at 12 he is still extremely fussy and particularly isn’t keen on some of the things I make . We tried getting him involved – in fact it was taking on an allotment that started my blogging journey- but he absolutely hated it and similarly refuses to get involved in any sort of food preparation or shopping. We do still manage to reduce waste in many areas, and he is pretty waste aware – but it is still a journey, and a challenge – and one where we realistically have to compromise on some things for a stable family life.


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