Simple ways for families to reduce plastic use

One of the things you quickly realize once you’re a parent is the vast amount of stuff that comes along with raising a kid. Aside from all the essentials, there seems to be an ever-growing pile of toys, snacks, gifts and gadgets – much of which includes plastic. But if you’re up for doing your bit for the environment and saving some of money by reducing the amount of plastic you use, where do you start?

Why is using less plastic a good thing?

Plastic is everywhere. As well as making products and packaging, it’s used for building our homes, shops and offices, for constructing planes, trains and cars, and it’s even woven into our clothes. Plastic is used in all sorts of ways we can’t do much about in the short term, but where we can make a difference is as consumers. Where and how you spend your money is your superpower.

Lots of people make an effort to recycle some of their plastic, but even that uses up unsustainable amounts of energy and fossil fuels. An incredible amount of plastic ends up in landfill or washing into our oceans where it becomes a serious threat to the natural environment and wildlife. An estimated 79% of the world’s plastic remains in the environment after use and it can take up to 1,000 years to break down.

To live a life that’s entirely plastic-free would be a monumental undertaking. And parenting takes enough effort as it is, without piling pressure on ourselves to achieve life goals that probably aren’t that realistic. But every small step you can take to buy and use less plastic will make a positive impact and if everyone does a little bit, then it will add up to make a big difference.

Shopping

Berries in plastic containers

We know how strong the temptation can be to add just one more shiny plastic bag to that overflowing cupboard in your kitchen, but you can resist! Often, the intention to not take any more plastic bags home is there, but remembering to bring along your reusable bags when you’ve got a screaming toddler on your hands or a car full of demanding teens, is quite another thing. If you’re shopping locally and have forgotten your own bags it’s always worth asking if they have another way of you carrying your purchases, like a spare box, and let them know your customer feedback on the bags they do use.

“We’ve put reusable bags in every place we can think of – kit bags, the car, hanging right by the front and back doors. We don’t remember it every single time, but we try and the kids like reminding us if we’ve forgotten! If we go in for a few things last minute, we can usually carry it between us without bags anyway.” Pete, Dad to a 5 and 8 year old

“I’ve told my local greengrocer how pleased I am that he’s started to stock brown paper bags, but for some reason he has them hidden behind his counter and the plastic bags out on display. My main mission at the moment is trying to buy fruit without plastic wrapping. Even at the market they use plastic boxes and bags.” Mandy, Mum to a 4, 7 and 9 year old

Eating

Glass storage jars

There seem to be loads of new products around to help keep food prep and mealtimes low on plastic when you’re eating at home and on the go. Beeswax wraps, refillable bottles, reusable straws, bento boxes and washable fabric bags are all worth checking out. As well as making the most of the latest innovations, it’s worth thinking about how we stored and transported food before plastic was such a big part of all our lives.

“I’ve just bought some fancy new stretch eco wraps for food in the fridge. The amount of half eaten things we have is immense and I hate cling film.” Nicola, Mum to a 2 year old and newborn

“I’ve started trying to reduce the amount of plastic we use in the kitchen by thinking – what would my Grandma have done?! She was born in 1919 and became a mum long before plastic was readily available. I remember she had a great cupboard full of Pyrex dishes and glass jars that she used for leftovers and she also had milk delivered, so that was all reusable glass bottles too.” Jo, Mum to a 2 year old

“Instead of buying loads of little snack packs to take to school, we just get the big bags and put portions into smaller reusable containers or direct into their lunch boxes.” Dave, Dad to a 7 year old and twin 5 year olds

Playing

Plastic toys

It can be really hard to resist the pester power of a child when they make a beeline for the shiniest plastic toys in the store or beg you for the latest action figure even though they’ve already got hundreds just like it. Second-hand toys are often just as good as new and you can pass them on again once your child grows out of them. If you’ve got little ones, you could start the recycled toy habit early so they don’t know any different. And if you’ve got older kids, involve them in the conversation so the whole family is on board with the change.

“As much as you’d like your child to want to play with chic Scandinavian looking wooden toys, they’re always drawn to the bright plastic stuff. So, I always try and get second-hand plastic stuff so we’re not adding to the problem!” Nicola, Mum to a 2 year old and newborn

“Our kids are learning about climate change at school and are quite concerned about it, so we made a decision as a family not to buy any more of those magazines at the supermarket that come with plastic toys.” Steph, Mum to a 5 and 10 year old

“We use a toy hire service, so we’re buying fewer toys overall including plastic and the kids are getting more variety and are less hung up on possessions.” Marty, Dad to a 5 and 1 year old

Celebrating

Kids party decorations

Birthdays can be particularly plastic-tastic, what with planning the perfect party and all those generous gifts from friends and relatives. If your kids are old enough, it’s possible they’ll feel quite strongly about reducing plastic anyway, so sit down with them and see if that 6ft inflatable unicorn is negotiable or not.

“When the kids start having parties and having opinions about them, it’s clear they’re getting taught in school about avoiding plastic. You can plan the party with them and get them on board with the reasons for avoiding plastic. My daughter was fine with less plastic for party bags and food.” Rose, Mum to a 7 and 4 year old and a newborn

Do you have any tips for reducing plastic use for the whole family? We’d love to hear your thoughts.