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Reducing Waste: Simple Practices to Teach Kids Today


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Trash talk is trending—in a good way! People are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of reducing waste, purchasing reusable products, recycling, composting and more. And what’s even more important than that? Teaching the next generation to be good stewards of our environment, too. 

To Start Reducing Waste Lead by Example

Children are naturally good-hearted. Many love “helping” mom or dad with projects around the house, finding joy in making their parents proud. Because of this, leading by example is key to teaching good habits for reducing waste at home. Our minis tend to emulate the behaviors they are observing, meaning that when we are eco-conscious and model sound environmental practices, they will as well.

So, with this as the backdrop, what else can parents do to foster a mindset of excess awareness and waste reduction at home? Read on to learn some simple practices you can try introducing kids to today.

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Focus on Food

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply in the United States. This corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010, and it’s very likely that number has only grown. As you can see, when embarking on efforts for reducing waste, it makes sense to start in the kitchen. Here are some ideas.

  • Make a family menu together. As you are planning your weekly menu, evaluate the food you already have available and what will spoil the soonest. Teach children to always “choose fresh first” when snacking, or before whipping up staples with a longer shelf life, such as canned soups or mac and cheese. If it’s in the fridge or on the counter, it gets priority treatment.
  • Practice source reduction. Make proactive packaging choices by shopping the perimeter of the grocery store, especially the produce department. By purchasing food with minimal packaging (or none!) to begin with, you are taking a proactive step at reducing waste before it ever enters your home. Use a similar approach with packaged foods as well. Do you really need those tiny individual servings of yogurt, or would a large tub portioned out into reusable containers work just as well? Explain these tactics to the kids as you go, and let them help identify low-waste options, too.
  • Encourage independence. Kids love making decisions, so when it comes to their dinner plate, let them prepare their own instead of making it for them—but with some guidance. Add in any guiding principles that your family wants to incorporate, such as requiring them to try one bite of every item, eating the rainbow, etc. But most importantly, make it clear that they must eat everything that they put on their plate, and enforce it. Your littles will soon learn to start small, choose wisely and that seconds are always available. This will not only teach them to avoid waste, but also introduce the concept of moderation.
  • Turn food scraps into garden fuel. Regardless of how much food waste you are able to eliminate, there will always be some scraps—banana peels, apple cores, eggshells, coffee grounds—that you just can’t consume. A great way to keep these out of the landfill is composting. Teaching kids what to save and why is easy, and you may find that they are soon the ones reminding you! If you have a garden, composting will help it thrive, and if not, now is a great time to start.
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Conservation is Key 

Another important aspect of reducing waste is conserving resources like water and electricity. 

How many times after the family has walked out the front door and piled into the car, have you found yourself running around the house turning off extra lights or televisions? Or knocking on the bathroom door to put an end to a shower that has been running for far too long? Power and water usage comes at a price, and this needs to be explained to kids in terms that they can understand. Thankfully, there are educational resources you can turn to for help, with the following being two of the best:

  • Water – Use It Wisely. What started as a campaign to promote water conservation in Arizona in 1999 has grown to become one of the largest conservation educational outreach programs in the world. The website offers games, tips, videos and challenges to teach children about water conservation early, so they can build smart habits that will last a lifetime. (We found the Home Water Challenge video to be full of many great ideas!)
  • EIA Energy Kids. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the statistical and analytical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy, has developed an award-winning energy website for kids that provides a wide range of lessons across all subjects and grade levels. The site, featuring games, activities, calculators and quizzes, uses plain language and clear graphics to help explain this sometimes complex, but vital subject. (We especially liked their Comparing Light Bulbs experiment, to help remind kids to turn off lights when not in use.)

Leaving lights, electronics or water on when they are not being used is wasteful. And awareness is the first step to breaking bad habits. By helping kids recognize their wastefulness, its impact and the potential savings to the environment and the family budget, they will grow into better global citizens.

Photo by Unsplash

Donate, Don’t Throw it Away

If having a lot of time on your hands lately has had you channeling your inner Marie Kondo, there may be unwanted clothes, housewares and toys piling up in your home. Instead of discarding unwanted items, consider selling or donating them, and make kids part of that process. 

Encourage kids to go through their toy boxes and closets themselves before any major gifting holiday. When they realize that new birthday gifts are just around the corner, this makes it a little easier to part with the toys they haven’t played with in awhile. (Or since their last birthday…)

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. There may be churches, community or senior centers, thrift stores and other nonprofits who could use your unwanted items. You will not only be reducing waste, but also helping those in need in your local community. Be sure to make kids part of this process—selecting the charity, loading the car and delivering the items—so they can experience the rewards of their kind act as well. 

Photo by Unsplash

With all of the time we’re spending at home lately, this may be the best time to make reducing waste a priority for your family. Don’t get overwhelmed with tackling all of these practices at once, though. Choose one and start somewhere—the important idea here is to try. Work to create one new habit and once that becomes part of your family’s routine, then later on another and another over time. Happy reducing! Which area do you plan to start with first? 

There are many ways to make a positive impact on our environment. Learn other healthy habits you can create to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

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Reducing Waste: Simple Practices To Teach Kids Today

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I am a father of three and my wife is a registered nurse specialized in children.

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