Parents, it is our responsibility to step up our game. Ugh, I know. We are all doing the best we can in so many areas of our lives. You might say, “Please don’t push me to do better.” But I am going to do just that because wherever you are in your consumption of plastic (which is actually both figurative and literal), you can do better. We must all do better.
Earth Day is the best when it’s about the kids. Kid-centered activities of recycling crafts, seed plantings, and science experiments are so much fun! But it’s about the kids in another way, too. We have to think about what type of Earth will we bestow upon our children. Do we really want to pass on an Earth that is covered in plastic? Plastic pollution is everywhere: air, soil, rivers, lakes, oceans, beaches, even in our drinking water!
China and India are no longer taking the plastic we drop into our recycling bins. It’s piling up in some communities or being sent to landfills or incinerators in others. The answer: stop using so much plastic!
We use plastic for many reasons; it’s inexpensive, lightweight, but most of all it’s convenient. However, the convenience and the savings aren’t convenient or inexpensive if we stick our children with the bill and a big mess to try to clean up. (Our kids can hardly clean their rooms!)
Enough, I say. Let’s think about how, when, and where we can avoid plastic as if our children’s future depends on it.
- Reusable bags: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has a new member: “Refuse.” If you haven’t gotten into the habit of bringing your own reusable bags everywhere, now is a great time to start. There are endless options for bags. You can even find bags that fold up into tiny pouches that fit into a purse. Yes, bringing your bags takes planning and you have to make it part of your routine, but it’s worth it. Plastic bags are the low-hanging fruit of what we can live without.
Don’t just stop with bags at the grocery store. Take your reusable bags to big box stores, the hardware store, even take out for restaurants. Tell them why you are bringing your own bags and refusing the plastic. (It’s for the children!) If you’re kids are like mine, they may say, “Mom, don’t embarrass me!” Do it anyway.
- Produce bags: OK, you’re a pro at bringing your reusable bags to the grocery store. But the first thing we do in the produce aisle is pull on that big roll of plastic bags and tear one off. Instead, put your produce in your own muslin cloth or recycled bag. Also, seek out produce that isn’t pre-wrapped in plastic. You’ve already created the habit of bringing grocery bags. Just add produce bags to the routine.
- Water bottles: It’s 2019. Disposable plastic water bottles are so last decade. Fill up your own stainless steel or glass water bottle. Not only is the plastic hugely wasteful, but water bottling companies are draining the freshwater in small towns in Michigan, Maine, and other beautiful states. If you are providing the drinks for the soccer game or birthday party, bring a large dispenser and paper or compostable cups. You can encourage others to bring their own drinking vessel, too. Collapsible stainless steel cups are fun!
- Coffee cups: Some of us drink as much coffee as water! (Hey, we’ve all got to get through the day). Many take-out coffee cups are lined with plastic and can’t be recycled. Find yourself a ceramic coffee cup or insulated thermos. Make your coffee at home or hand your empty mug to your favorite barista. You’ll skip the waste of the stirrers and lids too!
- Pay attention to packaging: Wherever possible (grocery store, big box store, etc.) opt for items wrapped in paperboard or cardboard rather than plastic. Notice other places you can skip the plastic, like choosing cotton swabs with paper sticks rather than ones with plastic.
- Lunches: The European Union just passed a law to phase out the use of many single-use plastics, including cutlery, plates, straws, and Styrofoam food and drink containers to help reduce marine litter, prevent 3.4 million tons of CO2 emissions, and save about $25 billion in environmental clean-up costs.
- Kid-friendly options abound for reusable and non-plastic lunch packaging. Try beeswax wraps (they are fabric dipped in a beeswax blend) instead of plastic wrap. Consider stainless steel bento boxes with separate compartments for each lunch item. Reusable bamboo or stainless steel cutlery comes in compact cases or cloth pouches. Find reusable lunch packaging that fits your style as well. We can’t let the kids have all the fun. It can be a great conversation starter.
If all of this is new to you, it’s not too late to take action. Start with one or more of the action items. When you’ve mastered those, add another. Some of these actions may require us to expand our comfort zones. But hasn’t much of parenthood? And what better gift could we give our children than a healthy, thriving Earth? Parents, we can do this. Happy Earth Day!
– Melissa Cooper Sargent is Beaumont Parenting Program blog contributor with a background in green living.