July certainly marks a bit of a milestone in the calendar. Mid-way through the year, the start of a new financial, and also Plastic Free July: your annual reminder that you’re probably not doing as much as you’d like to help our poor bruised and battered planet.
We get it. You’ve got kids, and excessive amounts of plastic is kind of part of the package. Throw in the fact that it’s currently also school holidays, and I’d forgive you for being sceptical when I tell you that you can wrap kids entertainment and sustainability efforts all into one potent, eco-friendly cocktail. But hear me out: with just a little creativity, and a few strategically placed bribes, your little plastic toy tornadoes can become your household’s very own sustainability wardens.
Read ahead for nine tried and tested tips for going (almost) plastic free with kids this Plastic Free July!
Make a game of sorting into coloured bins
One of the things I love about my almost three year old is that, between bouts of the terrible tantrums, she is endearingly eager to please and copy whatever I am doing. If you have a little one who is similarly keen to mimic, profit from this. I have been known to let her ‘play’ with our recycling – with a bit of modelling (plastic here, paper there), and plenty of encouragement, you can have your own little recycling sorter! Bonus points for parents of two or more: make it a race or competition, and reward the winner.
Recycle and play arts and crafts
One man’s trash is a three year old’s treasure! If your kids are old enough for basic arts and crafts, there are plenty of ways to turn your household’s plastic waste in awesome play-things. The ‘Recycle & Play’ movement has so many ideas (just search ‘recycle and play’ on Pinterest) or check out our ocean-themed e-book for plenty of ideas that use items you likely already have in the bin or store cupboard.
Involve them in more sustainable purchasing decisions
There’s nothing like involving your kids to make them invested in the outcome. Make a special adventure out of going to the shops and letting them choose their own reusable bottle, sustainable lunchbox, re-usable tote bag and re-usable straw/cutlery set. Make older children accountable for remembering them when you go out. Imbuing these items with a special sense of ownership will help these eco habits stick!
Return and earn for pocket money
Incentives, when deployed wisely, can certainly be a force for good! My sister-in-law has a genius way for her 8 year old to earn his pocket money and it’s called Return & Earn. Her son is responsible for collecting all the plastic containers from his family’s waste (and a fair few from the neighbours’ too!) and taking them to the local collection point, earning himself 10c per bottle. He’s made it quite the little side hustle, and now the state government pays his pocket money. Win-win!
This may be one for the parents of younger bubs, and certainly requires their co-operation, but we promise it’s one of the most impactful things you can do for our planet! A staggering 3.75 million disposable nappies are used each day in Australia and New Zealand, and each one takes approximately 150 years to break down! With potty-training programmes that start as young as 18 months, starting your little one in the transition to the ‘big kid toilet’ might be one of the best ways of reducing your plastic impact.
Organise a toy swap
With a stretch of school holidays ahead, it can be tempting to head to the toy aisle to look for ways to entertain the kids. However, now is a perfect time to introduce the idea of give one – get one. If your children can donate one un-used toy to someone more needy, they can trade it in for something “new”, all via the local second-hand store. Alternatively, organise a toy swap amongst their friends and make a play-date out of it. That’s a win for the environment, and your back pocket!
Bake and cook ahead with your little chefs
Snack wrappers are an absolute menace when it comes to environmental impact, and are abundant in most of the households with kids I know. Involving your children in pre-making snacks and meals to take on the go is an excellent way of reducing the amount of plastic packaging you are sending to landfill, and a fun activity to boot. We love little egg frittata muffins as an amazing way of using up leftovers, but loads of other ideas are just a quick google away!
Join a beach clean-up
Whether you take the kids on a pre-organised clean up, or set one up yourself, this is an amazing way to get kids out in the great outdoors, and start important conversations about conservation. A little competition never hurt anyone here. See which of your little beach scavengers can fill a bucket first, or who can collect the most bits of plastic, and reward the winner with an ice cream or hot treat.
Plant a vege patch together
Despite the fact most fruits and vegetables come in nature’s own packaging, unfortunately our supermarkets do like to add a little extra plastic before they hit the shelves. Growing your own herbs, or even some basic veggies, is a great way of cutting down on unnecessary plastic, and a really fun way to involve the kids. Finding hardy crops that are quick and easy to grow is crucial when involving the kids. Something like a rosemary or basil plant, or some tomatoes if you’ve plenty of sunshine, is ideal. Plant as you come into Spring, reap the rewards next July!
So there you have it, entertaining the kids can be fun and eco-friendly too. Recruit your kids this Plastic Free July, and you’ll be amazed how many eco-habits will stick even when the month is through.
About the Author
Jessica Page is a mum-of-one and founder of Little Fishy Swim — an innovative kids’ swimwear and toys company, based in Bondi Beach. With the aim of removing 1 million plastic bottles from the ocean by 2025, their adorable ocean-inspired swimwear and toys are made from recycled plastic bottles, with $1 per purchase returned to Australian ocean clean-up charities.
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