It’s not easy being green. When you have young children it’s extremely challenging. If you or your child has a disability, it’s nearly impossible.
From diapers well past the toddler years, to medical supplies, to therapy tools; even if we want to do what’s best for the environment we have to balance that with what is best for our children and our sanity.
With this, we are launching our Life Hacks! Series with an Earth Day edition. Just some simple ideas for us to do better for our planet while still doing right by our children and ourselves.
Americans use 500 million straws every day. Many of them never make it into recycle bins. Straws, however, can be an integral part of speech therapy. For some of us, it’s the only way we can drink.
HACK THE STRAWS
There are reusable straws out there, many of them plastic. Stainless steel straws are on the market, but they can be dangerous and difficult to clean.
The happy medium – PAPER! Paper straws are biodegradable. You can use them once and feel a little less green guilt about tossing them in the trash.
There is no way for many of us to ditch the diapers. But there are some things we can do to ease the pain they inflict on our landfills. If a child needs them at night and they wake up dry, consider reusing them the next evening. Some parents opt for nudity instead of pull ups when potty training at home.
HACK THE DIAPERS
For those out there who don’t quite need diapers during the day, but still have accidents, consider incontinence underwear. Children size 4T and under can use potty training underwear. Some people opt to use the GoodNites brand underwear with disposable inserts during the day. For older children and adults, there are washable underwear that offer some level of waterproofing and absorption.
TOYS AND GAMES
New toys and games call to all of us when we walk through Target. But there is no reason to opt for shiny and new.
HACK TOYS AND GAMES
Many therapists urge families to look at second hand shops and yard sales for these items. It’s cheaper, it’s reusing something that is perfectly good. And when your kids inevitably destroy and/or ignore it, it won’t bother you nearly as much.
Green hacking the medical supply conundrum is not easy. It is not sanitary to reuse many items. Hospitals will not take back unused supplies, they even send you home with whatever is in your room during your stay.
HACK THE MEDICAL SUPPLIES
So what can you do? Recycle whatever is recyclable. Reach out to other families who might be able to use whatever unopened, unused supplies you outgrow or don’t need. Reach out to nursing agencies or local support groups to see if anyone needs anything. They might be able to help you connect with others who need what you don’t.
We can go through a lot of paper working on handwriting, cutting, painting, tearing, etc.
HACK THE PAPER
So save your scraps! Use the front and back. Is there a document you were going to recycle? Use the blank side first. Left over wrapping paper is great for cutting and tearing and gluing. Tissue paper can be reused for all sorts of crafts. Designate a box for scrap paper and be sure to recycle it when it’s all used up.
How quickly do your markers get dried out? How many broken crayons have you tossed?
HACK THE WRITING TOOLS
Turn those crayon scraps into a fun craft project – melt them down and make them into multi-color shapes that can be used once again for coloring.
The markers – put them tip down in mason jar and within a day you’ll have a bold water color to paint with. When you are done, pull the felt out and recycle the plastic.
Sandwich bags and juice boxes. Can you picture the amount of waste created by EVERY kid in this country using them EVERY day? Sure, it’s convenient. But it’s not sustainable for our plant or our pocketbooks.
HACK EATING TOOLS
This is a relatively easy but bulkier switch. Bento boxes, reusable sandwich bags, kids water bottles. Granted, this is a bit of an investment up front, but you’ll save in the end because you can use these things for years. If your child chews up the straws of those water bottles, call the company to order replacement straws. It’s usually cheaper than Amazon, as sellers on there mark up prices.
Water bottles are a disaster for planet Earth. According to a report in The Guardian, one million plastic bottles are bought around the world EVERY MINUTE. While these items are recyclable, that sort of high use makes it impossible to keep up. Also, we often forget the amount of waste created when making and recycling these bottles. It takes 3 times the amount of water in bottle of water to make it as it does to fill it. The amount of oil used to make a year’s worth of water bottles, 17 million barrels of oil, could fill one millions cars for a year.
HACK THE WATER
Invest in some of your own water bottles. A stainless steel bottle or thermos might seem expensive but it will pay for itself in no time. A large insulated thermos will keep the water cool in a hot or freezing car. You can use the big thermos to refill your individual containers.
Coffee is life, but much like those bottles, we use far too many of the disposable cups. And those single use pods – detrimental to the environment!
HACK THE COFFEE
Invest in a travel mug or two. Make your own coffee. Or take that mug to your favorite café, many of them offer a discount if you bring your own container.
The pods that we’ve come to adore so much – you don’t have to give them up – you can get a reusable pod and fill it with your favorite beans, it ends up being cheaper and better coffee.
Let’s not forget the grounds – they are great for your garden. Just toss them right onto the soil!
Kids drink a lot of milk. Think about how many cartons or plastic jugs you go through a week, then think of all the other families doing the same.
HACK THE MILK
There are tons of other uses out there for milk jugs. Check if any schools or crafts groups need them. Better yet – go glass! Many stores are selling glass bottles of milk again and will give you money back on the deposit when you return them.
As wonderful as green cleaners are, they don’t always get those truly nasty jobs done. Families with medically fragile loved ones might need to stronger solutions to get the job done.
HACK THE CLEANING
So keep the green cleaners around, and use the strong stuff when necessary. We can also limit cleaning waste. An old-fashioned broom and dustpan are a great alternative to Swiffers and other disposable brooms. Concentrated cleaning solutions are a great option as well, one bottle can lasts months while you keep refilling the sprayer with the solution diluted in water.
Most of us have a big pile of reusable store bags in our car by now, taking up a lot of space, and we end up forgetting them half the time anyway.
HACK THE SHOPPING BAGS
But there are better bags out there. Envirosax are a personal favorite (we get no endorsements whatsoever on this blog). The bags are stylish, durable, carry a heavy load, and last forever. You can fit several into your purse or wherever. They are useful for trips to the drugstore, or Target, or whatever you need a bag for – dirty clothes, paperwork, random items. They cost a bit more than those $1 bags at the store, but they are worth every penny.
ALL THE THINGS
No matter how hard we try, we create massive amounts of waste every day. Gas, food, trash, water. It is hard to keep up.
HACK ALL THE THINGS
When driving, try to fit errands in on the same route – can you do the grocery store, pharmacy, and post office in one outing? If you see doctors in the same area, can you see more than one on the same day?
When putting away leftovers think about how you might use them so they don’t go bad and end up in the trash, then follow through.
Turn off the water when you don’t need it, when brushing teeth or doing dishes. Rain barrels are a great way to water plants in the summer.
And for all those random items you feel terrible about putting in a landfill? Ask around. Freecycle is a great way to connect with others in your neighborhood who might want what you don’t.
UPCYCLE is a “Creative Reuse Center” in Northern Virginia that takes donations of everything from paper towel rolls to beer bottle caps. They use those items for crafts and donate some to local schools for art projects. If you don’t have something like that near you, you could always check with the art teachers at the local schools or your local recreation center to see if they are in need of unique items.
Just getting through the day to day can be hard sometimes. These life hacks are not meant to trigger even more green guilt.
Over the last few decades our society has turned into a disposable one. We’ve ditched water fountains in favor of bottles. We have items shipped to our doorsteps within two days, creating packaging waste and pollution from the delivery trucks.
We opt for convenience everywhere we turn. Life has gotten more complicated and marketers are cashing in on making things easier for us. Of course, disability makes our lives even more complicated. We need short cuts anywhere we can find them. These tips are in no way meant to add another thing to our never-ending lists.
HACK BEING KIND
So be kind to yourself and to mother Earth. Do the things that are doable and find peace with that. If circumstances change and you can do more, then do it. Something is better than nothing. If everyone on the planet did what they could, imagine the difference it would make.