If your family has been into green living for a while now and you've mastered at-home recycling, turning off the lights when you leave the room, shorter showers and waste-free lunches then you're ready for a bigger green family challenge. The eco-friendly New Year's goals below are somewhat harder than simple green goals, but not TOO hard. With a little work your family can master one or more of them in 2016. Keep reading to find your perfect green challenge for the New Year.
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Ditch Bottled Water
Buying plastic bottled water for your family is a terrible habit, and a great one to break. Not only is most bottled water simply tap water re-bottled at exorbitant prices, but all those plastic bottles that get tossed out create massive problems in landfills, releasing harmful chemicals. Even if you recycle your bottles there’s still a huge ongoing cost and recycling uses energy, water and produces pollution. Not to mention all that BPA found in disposable plastic water bottles. Going plastic-free is easier than ever thanks to a huge selection of awesome reusable water bottles and you’ll save an insane amount of money too. In fact, the average family of four can save about $1,200 a year, simply by ditching plastic water bottles. Below are some helpful tips that can help you ditch plastic water bottles forever.
- Buy everyone in the house a couple of reusable stainless steel or glass water bottles. See 15 excellent BPA-free water bottles for kids.
- If you don’t trust tap water (most tap water is very safe) then buy an inexpensive water filter.
- Keep a reusable bottle everywhere; one at work, one in your diaper bag, one or two in the car, and so on so you never forget to use them.
- If you like ice and easy cleaning, purchase wide-mouth reusable water bottles.
- If water in a reusable bottle tastes weird to you, buy a stainless steel or glass water bottle vs. aluminum or plastic because stainless steel and glass won’t impart flavor into beverages.
- If stainless steel water bottles get too cold or hot for your hands, buy a reusable water bottle carrier, or make one.
- If your water bottle drives you nuts because it leaks, don’t give up. I’ve tried many brands and most don’t leak – once in a while you just get a dud water bottle.
- If your tap water has a slight chlorine taste, you can leave your water sitting in a container on the counter or in the fridge for a couple of days, and the chlorine taste will be eliminated.
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Quit Using Paper Towels
If the thought of a paper towel free home sounds a little overwhelming, you’re not alone. The paper towel industry is booming in the United States, so lots and lots of people aren’t ready to give up paper towels. RISI, who reports trends related to the global forest products industry, states that the USA is by far the leading consumer country of paper products with paper towels making up 36% of paper industry sales. OECD Environmental Outlook reports that global production in the pulp, paper and publishing sector is expected to increase by 77% by 2020. Cutting out paper towels is hard, but it’s not impossible and it makes a huge eco-impact. By ditching paper towels, you’ll save trees, water, energy, and cut back on harmful pollution and chemicals in the world.
Because this is a very big challenge, we’ve created a helpful guide that can help you achieve this goal. Read our guide on how to stop using paper towels forever.
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Use Cloth Grocery Bags
Plastic and paper bags are a huge drain on resources and a threat to wildlife and the environment. A better green goal is to 100% always use a reusable bag for all your shopping needs. This challenge makes a gigantic impact. Consider that over 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide and that each of those bags may take up to 1,000 years to degrade. Plastic bags are also the second-most common type of ocean refuse and ongoing research shows that just 3% to 5% of them get recycled. Paper bags aren’t much better. Paper bags are made with whole forests worth of trees and although you may think differently, paper bags don’t break down so great in the landfill. This goal can be difficult, mainly because when you first start out, it’s hard to remember to carry your bags. After some seven odd years of using reusable bags, my family is pro, but at first we faced a lot of issues. We’d forget our bags, we tried some horrid bags that broke apart and it was stressful to deal with store clerks who hate your bags. If you’re just getting started, below are some tips that can help you avoid mistakes and achieve this goal.
- Skip lame little store-brand bags that don’t last and invest in a high quality set of cloth not plastic (polyester) reusable bags. It’s more expensive at first, but lower-cost in the long run because you won’t have to replace your bags so often, cloth bags pop into your washing machine with ease and cloth bags, once ripped can be easily sewn up or cut into cleaning cloths. Visit Reuseit to see a huge selection of great reusable grocery bags.
- Buy dark colored bags if possible because they hide dirt, stains and just look better overall.
- Look for bags with strong handles and make sure they’re long enough to swing over your shoulder. I have bags with dual handles (short and long) and I love them.
- Buy more bags than you think you need. At first I bought eight bags, but that really wasn’t enough because I use them for everything, some bags are usually in the wash, some go in the car at all times and we’ve lost a few. For a family of four, I’d suggest you get at least 15 reusable bags.
- If you find yourself forgetting your bags, put a note on your door, leave a note on the dash of your car and leave some bags in your car at all times. Honestly, when I was transitioning to reusable bags, the smartest thing I did was put my five-year-old son (at the time) in charge of them. I told him it was his job to remember the bags, and boy did he. Kids like a challenge and this one is perfect for kids.
- Don’t forget – use your reusable bags at the mall, the pet store, the bookstore and everywhere else too. Don’t just use them for groceries.
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Eat Fewer Animal Products
Even if you’re not on board with saving animals from being eaten, there are plenty of other reasons to eat fewer animal products. Switching to a more plant-based diet in the new year is an awesome goal that will lower your carbon footprint, plus help cut way back on water pollution and air pollution and preserve land. In fact, some research shows that about 20 vegans can live off the same amount of land required by one meat eater alone. A plant-based diet is also healthy for your family. You’ll be less exposed to pesticides, hormones, chemicals and antibiotics found in many animal products such as dairy and meat. Plus research shows that plant-based diets are more healthful than the average American diet, can aid a healthy pregnancy and are particularly useful when it comes to preventing, treating or reversing heart disease and reducing the risk of cancer, food illnesses and obesity. Lastly, raising your kids on a plant-based, less animal based diet can really help set them up for healthy eating for life. My son was raised vegetarian and although he is picky, he’s also very veggie obsessed. Most people can’t believe he’s so into eating veggies and fruits. If you’d like to take on this challenge in the upcoming year, here’s a slew of resources that can help.
- Meatless meals for meat lovers
- Try Meatless Monday
- Plant-based holiday recipes
- How to go vegan with your kids
- Great sources of protein for vegetarian kiddos
- Slow cooker vegan recipes
- Plant-based meals the whole family will love
- Veggie power foods for breastfeeding mamas
- Join a vegetarian forum for free advice
- 5 vegan cookbooks for busy families
- Vegetarian starter kit (free)
- Vegan starter kit (free)
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Cut Back on Technology
Technology and screens are useful, no doubt. However, more and more people are using screens and tech to such an excess that it’s becoming a major problem. From lackadaisical kids who can’t entertain themselves to screen distractions causing injuries and death, to cyber bullies to some crazy screen addictions that start when we’re young, there’s tons of reasons to cut back on tech and screen time. Excessive technology is also hyper harmful to the planet and your wallet. This goal is very hard in today’s world as screens are literally everywhere, but even cutting back for small amounts of time can have a big impact. Your family can cut back on screen time, but it’s going to take some determination and foresight. Below are some resources and tips to help your family achieve this hard, but worth-it green goal; and you won’t even need an Internet fasting camp.
- Find out why limiting screen time will benefit your child
- Play more unplugged games
- Keep kids busy on-the-go without screens
- Learn more about the effects of cyber bullies
- Try some screen-free activity bags for kids
- Out of ideas? Try some activity books
- How to reduce TV time with less of a fight
- Tips for unplugging the whole family
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“Get outside” would never have made a list of green challenges back in the 70s or 80s. Maybe not even in the 90s. Kids of yesterday used to have to be told to come inside. However, kids today almost never get outside and that’s a huge problem. Cases of childhood obesity and ADHD have skyrocketed as kids spend less time outside playing. Other research shows that kids exposed to trees and nature reap huge benefits like lower risks of hyper activity and asthma, better concentration, healthier bodies, and most importantly, kids who get playtime outside are happier and will appreciate nature, thus later in life will want to preserve it. Make this the year you get the whole family outside and active more often. You can do it, even if you feel like you’re short on time. Below are some tips.
- Start small. Even taking a nightly walk after dinner or making your kids walk to school is a great way to incorporate more outside time.
- Always dress for the weather so no complains about being uncomfortable.
- Take along outside toys and gear that makes excursions more fun like a scooter, a bag for collecting rocks and leaves, or a frisbee.
- Don’t always hit the same old park. Try visiting the beach, the woods, a marshland, a farm and more so your kids are exposed to different environments.
- Send your kids outside ALONE. They’ll be fine and have fun. Kids do not always need parents tagging along.
- Try a community event like working at a community garden, or doing a beach clean-up or tree-planting event. Being outside with new people can make the day fun and memorable.
- Get your kids involved in scouting (NOT the Boy Scouts – try something more inclusive).
- Have a family hike at least twice a month. There are local hiking guides available for just about every location. For example, my son and I have 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland ed. and it’s awesomely helpful.
- Get your neighborhood to shut down the street for a while so kids can safely play.
- When you can choose, pick an activity that takes place outside. For example, if you have the choice between a movie or the trails or zoo, pick the outside option more often.
- Babies and toddlers need outside time too, not just older kids.
- Try geocaching! Super fun.
- Send your child to a school that incorporates nature and outside time.
- Plan outside activities with other families. This way your kid has a kid along and you get to talk to another parent.