Consuming Less Plastic as a Family

Part of caring for the planet and setting a good example for the little ones in my life is noticing how much our daily choices impact the greater good. This does not mean living under a microscope analyzing your every move, but taking a moment to assess whether your lifestyle choices are contributing to environmental degradation or living in harmony with the planet.  One of the main ways I have figured out to live in connection with the earth is to value my time outdoors and seek a meaningful relationship with the place I live in. I also do this by limiting the amount of plastic my family and I consume. 

Recycled bag bowl

Before I became a parent, I was highly aware of what I needed to do to live a sustainable life. I lived in the Pacific Northwest where citywide composting was the norm and in restaurants you could find a recycling bin and compostable flatware. When I started my parenting journey and left that part of the country, I had to start from scratch in my new home of Tulsa. There is a city-wide recycling center and environmental/sustainable-focused organizations here but not much else in terms of large-scale public engagement around environmental issues.

By virtue of being a parent I had to sacrifice some of my beliefs around living sustainably. For instance, I set out to use cloth diapers but soon found that our daughter could easily get diaper rash if left in a cloth diaper too long. We kept her in cloth diapers during the day but had to compromise with disposables at night to keep her from flaring up in a rash every day. I also used to be a bus and bike commuter, which I could still do with children, but would be much harder for me with our spread-out and busy family lifestyle, so I made the sacrifice of driving a car each day.

Though I have had to sacrifice some of my eco-lifestyle choices in becoming a parent, I realized there is still a lot I can do for the planet and live in a balanced way with my family's and my needs. This is where planning ahead will save you. 

My Parent tool kit for reducing your carbon footprint when buying food at the store or restaurant:

By keeping a few items handy in your car or in your backpack, it will become a habit to always have them available whenever it is time to get groceries or order take out. These steps require you to spend a little money upfront but will ultimately save you a ton of money in the long run and help the planet, a win, win. 

Empty Tupperware, a few sizes:

Every time you go out to a restaurant or order take out, nine times out of ten it will come in a Styrofoam container. This Styrofoam will live on in our landfills for the next 500 years or more. To avoid using Styrofoam, use your empty Tupperware instead. Ask that your leftovers are put into the container and/or your meal is made in the container. If it is clean, most places will use your container. If you are dining in and they give you a Styrofoam plate, tell management you would rather they didn’t use this material anymore. Use your power as a concerned citizen to spread the word that there are much better options for plates than Styrofoam.

A water bottle, thermos and re-usable straws:

I recommend a thermos because these can hold both hot and cold liquid and keep your drink at the temp you want year-round. As a person that is often working outside in the heat and cold, I cannot live without a thermos! A lot of water bottle companies these days have thermos options in sleek designs.

A set of at least three, sturdy, cloth shopping bags:

These bags can eliminate the use of tons of plastic. I take my bags in every store I go to; some clerks don’t know how to pack them, so I get to show them. It’s a way for us all to learn how to use less plastic. 

A set of re-usable produce-sized bags and or bags from products you already bought and twist ties:

The reusable produce bags can be found in health food stores for purchase or buying them online. You can also just save the bags and twist ties from the bread you buy and re-use them to purchase grains, nuts, cereal etc. from bulk bins or put produce in them. Seeing each bag you purchase as a precise object makes you really aware of how much plastic you are consuming and take note of your impact on our planet as a consumer.

These are some of the easiest steps we can take to change our habits as consumers and live a personal green lifestyle. The bigger picture is changing the way our systems are in place now that creates these harmful materials. In other cities I have lived there has been a ban on the plastic bag. Starting a campaign like this is another way to help make our city greener; eliminating the problem in the first place will make the biggest impact.

If you are interested in helping start an environmental campaign around banning the plastic bag contact me at info@underthecanopy.org  


Margaritte Arthrell-Knezek is a naturalist, writer and community educator committed to teaching the skills of sustainability and instructing children and adults on how to connect with the natural world that surrounds them daily. Arthrell-Knezek hails from New Haven, Connecticut where she began her work in the arts and environmental activism in 1997. She graduated from The Evergreen State College In Olympia WA, 2010, with a bachelor’s degree in multi-media art and sustainability studies. She has traveled the world and landed in Tulsa, OK where she is the Executive Director and Lead Educator of Under The Canopy LLC. She is a parent to two awesome children and wife to Mykey Arthrell-Knezek. You can learn more about the programs she teaches at www.underthecanopy.org She also keeps a personal blog about parenting in all its real and messy forms www.adventuresofmulletmom@blogspot.com  


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