Kids, Their Stuff, and Sustainability

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When I was in eighth grade, I used to walk around with a big *Save the Rainforest* sticker plastered across my clarinet case. I belonged to a magnet school that encouraged creativity and critical thinking, and my newfound environmentalism was one result. But I had the typical fervent-yet-shallow belief of the new recruit. While I cultivated this hazy, abstract idea of respecting the Earth, my activism stopped at that sticker.

Having a kid with breathing problems made me start caring a whole lot more. That, and the passage of almost 20 years.

Here’s what I believe. Keeping the air as clean as possible inside my house for AG does her no good if I’m not also addressing the airborne junk she breathes in the minute she steps outside. Air pollutions isn’t known to cause asthma, but poor air quality sure does have a reputation for making it worse. It’s that knowledge and the protective instinct to keep the world safe for both my daughters that drives my interest in sustainability, and it’s a special kind of irony that the most natural process around–making, delivering, and then raising a baby–can involve a staggering amount of stuff in this culture.

Luckily, when AG was a baby and toddler, I was young and poor.

I’ve written here before about my very abrupt–very early–entrance into parenthood, and since frugality involves reusing and buying secondhand I was more or less a *green* mom by default before I became one by choice.

My biggest challenge right now?

Art and lunchbox supplies.

These two are magnets for disposable stuff, as kids’ product companies well know. Children’s television programming is crammed full of commercials featuring non-recyclable quick fixes to tired, busy parents or–my absolute favorite–marketing trendy new glitter pens and specialty paints directly to kids themselves.

Four items, in particular, are hard to use sustainably:

1. Markers
It’s not good to stifle creativity, right? But my kindergartener especially <i>loves</i> markers, and when she uses them up I’m stuck with that empty plastic tube. I asked Allie for suggestions, and she had some really creative ideas I haven’t tried yet. Go check them out, and the rest of her site, too. (Thanks, Allie.)

2. Crayons
If you’ve never recycled crayons before, here’s a tip your kids will love you for. It’s easy, too–I’m not crafty at all, and anything I can manage has to be user-friendly.

Save up broken crayons until you’ve got a bowl full, unwrap the nubs, break them into smaller pieces, and melt them down in muffin cups to make crazy multicolored disc crayons. Here’s a photo essay on the process.

3. Drinkboxes
Have you ever seen those horrible tote bags of recycled Capri Sun pouches? Yeah, they’re as tacky as they sound. Except for field trips, I pack reusable sports bottles full of juice in the girls’ lunchboxes instead to avoid the whole problem. I can handle recycled crayons, but I’m just not going to stitch together used drinkboxes.

4. Ziploc Bags
Same solution here. I probably own every size and shape of plastic container my local Target carries, and I use those instead of disposable bags in their lunchboxes, too.

Got any green parenting tips of your own?

9 responses to “Kids, Their Stuff, and Sustainability”

  1. freadom says:

    I think your kids deserve a dog. Personally, other than the poop and the barking, I’d prefer to have a dog over a cat.

    She was so cut holding the cat last night, I almost just gave in and told her to carry it home. Almost.

  2. Asthmagirl says:

    You know… I’m clear on the first three by virtue of my children being older. But I admit to the sin of Zip lock bags although I do keep a drawer of those that may be reused…. which my husband thinks is odd. He may be right!

  3. Amy says:

    Rick,
    You know you’re going to cave. Just sayin’.

    Asthmagirl,
    Ziplocs were one of the very last things I gave up. They’re just so damn handy.

  4. Jack says:

    Asthma Girl,
    Buy books from http://www.betterworld.com, carbon neutral shipping, saved over 11.5 million books from landfills, free shipping in the US also raised $4.5 for global literacy. Besides, your going to need some animal training books :)

    I also would suggest a Chico Bag for those random times you need a reusable bag, can’t tell you how many times I’ve used the thing.

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