How We Can Reduce Plastic (and Waste)
in Our Kids’ Lives
Andrea Arria-Devoe, a longtime editor at Daily Candy, is the executive producer of Straws, a documentary about how ditching plastic straws can make a massive difference to the environment. In her column for goop, Arria-Devoe shares her extensive knowledge about the best countertop composter, how to shop bulk, and other hacks to living the chicest, greenest life possible.
Start as you mean to go on.
I received this advice from my mommy-and-me group eleven years ago. I was trying to establish good sleep habits for my son, which at the time seemed impossible. (I’m happy to share that he sleeps through the night now…mostly.) These days, I find that same advice just as relevant in helping me be more mindful when dealing with the crazy amount of plastic and waste that can come with raising children.
Because plastic is everywhere—from food packaging to toys to containers—you can’t escape it completely. (When your five-year-old insists, loudly and persistently, on a packaged treat in the checkout aisle, admit defeat and move on.) But with a little gumption, you can reduce the amount of plastic in your little one’s life. Stick to your guns and choose plastic-free reusable products whenever possible. By modeling these healthy values, you’re making better choices for their health and the planet’s. These ten steps will help you get started.
1. Diaper change. About 20 billion disposable diapers are dumped in landfills each year, according to the EPA. And disposable diapers can take an estimated 250 to 500 years to decompose. If you can, choose cloth diapers. There are a number of laundering services, like Diaper Kind, that do the dirtiest work for you. If the idea of cloth diapering doesn’t appeal, look for nontoxic disposables from the Honest Company or Bambo. If you live in the Bay Area, check out Earth Baby. It offers cloth options as well as a professional composting service for disposables purchased through its site.
2. Bottle up. BPA-free doesn’t mean chemical-free. The chemicals used to replace BPA can be just as harmful as BPA itself. Choose glass or stainless steel bottles, like Pura, and make sure the nipple is medical-grade silicone.
3. Wipe right. Wet wipes can be a lifesaver. But they also contain tiny plastic fibers that do not biodegrade and can make their way into the ocean, get ingested by sea creatures, and even wash up on beaches. The antibacterial chemicals in the wipes have also been linked to endocrine disruption and the creation of superbugs. Go for organic cotton cloths or napkins for runny noses and sticky hands. If you absolutely cannot do without wipes, choose a chemical-free version, such as Caboo or Natracare—and use sparingly.
4. Table it. Skip the disposable changing-table pads. The Peanut Changer is nontoxic, it’s easy to wipe down, and it stays still even when your baby doesn’t. A folded-up towel also does the trick.
5. Rethink the puréed food pouch. They’re easy, I know. But they’re made from multiple layers of materials that are hard to recycle—and they contain BPA. When possible, opt for mashed banana or avocado, or make your own purées and store in a reusable pouch. And if you can’t part from the pouch, TerraCycle makes boxes that offer a recycling option for some of the brands.
6. Heat smart. Warming food in plastic containers allows the materials to leach chemicals faster. Choose glass or ceramic for reheating. For everyday kid-friendly dishes, try old-school enamelware—tough enough for stove-top, grill, and outdoor use.
7. Hand-me-down hookup. UpChoose curates the safest and most sustainable preloved baby basics. Once your babe outgrows her onesies, send them back and get a discount on the next size up. If fashion equals self-expression for your little one, check out the kids’ shop on The RealReal for secondhand designer dresses and such.
8. Snack pack. Put snacks (ideally purchased in bulk) in reusable metal containers and cotton pouches. Encourage “naked” snacking by having kids make their own trail mix of dried fruits and nuts. Bulk sections often sell sweets, like gummy bears and chocolates, which can win over mini skeptics.
9. Less is more. Toys made with PVC are particularly toxic. Avoid soft plastic bath toys and books, for example, and choose natural rubber instead. Even if you say no to plastic toys, they can still make their way into your home via well-meaning grandmothers and school treasure boxes. I keep a zero-waste toy box from TerraCycle in my garage to make sure broken plastic doesn’t end up in a landfill or the oceans.
10. Model behavior. If you remember to bring your own coffee cup, takeout containers, straws, and bags when you’re out, your kids will get into the habit, too.
For more information and resources, check out the Healthy Baby Guide, a collaboration between Made Safe and the Plastic Pollution Coalition.