Earth Day Reflections: 3 Ways to Go Green as a Family

Earth Day is a wonderful opportunity for parents and their children to talk about how we can care for our planet. What it really boils down to is recognizing connections. In our disposable, consumable culture, it can be easy to forget where things come from and what we might do differently to lighten our step on the planet. Here are three choices that your family can incorporate into your lives that will have a positive impact on the Earth.

1. Say Goodbye to Paper Towels

Every day, over 3,000 tons of paper towel waste is produced in the US alone. 17 trees are cut down and 20,000 gallons of water are consumed to make one ton of paper towels. If you do the math, it’s staggering how many trees and how much water is represented in one day’s worth (3,000 tons) of paper towel waste! Your family can help remedy that.  

Removing paper towels from our lives can make a significant impact on the environment and it’s easier than it might seem. Paper towels and napkins have been used in American households for generations, but opting for more permanent replacements is simple. Instead of tearing off a new sheet, using and it once, and throwing it away, consider some other options.

Cloth napkins are not only more earth-friendly, but they feel nicer to use. It may seem like a small thing, but selecting and using cloth napkins for meals is a way to infuse everyday life with something a little more special.

Are you crafty? Making your own napkins is one of the simplest sewing projects out there. Find some DIY directions here.

Pressed for time? You can buy cloth napkins almost anywhere. Stores like Marshalls or Homegoods often have designer options for $5 for a package of 4. Online shoppers will love the selection on Etsy or even Amazon.

To involve your kids, bring them to the fabric store to help pick patterns or have them pick out pre-made options that appeal to them, too. If you do decide to sew your own, older children can pitch in (and would likely love the opportunity!)

As for paper towels’ other main use of cleanup duty? Old cotton t-shirts and cloth diapers make the best rags. When you’re getting ready to donate old clothing, pull out items that are stained or torn. Cut the items into large rectangles and store them in a small bucket under your kitchen sink.

2. Start a Garden
The ultimate way to connect kids to their food is to have them grow their own. If you have the space and time, building a raised bed is fairly simple. Even if you have a tiny apartment in a city, container gardening can work on even the smallest fire escape. Students at Sunstone Montessori study botany starting in the Children’s House, so parents will often delight in seeing their child’s excitement while they make connections.

Planning is half the fun. Sit together as a family and look through a seed catalog or pile in the car and visit a local nursery. Figure out what everyone wants to grow and then give it a try. As a bonus, gardening gets everyone outside enjoying the fresh air and sunshine together.

Growing your own food means eating your own food. Not only is freshly picked produce higher in vitamins, but it tends to taste so much better that what we normally find at the grocery store. There may be a natural migration from the garden to the kitchen, as toddlers and teenagers alike will want to participate in making something yummy with the fruits of their labor.

The possibilities with gardening are endless. It’s definitely a learning experience in the beginning, but in no time you’ll be thinking about composting, companion planting, saving seeds, and planning for next year.

3. Speaking of Composting…
If you’re ready to jump even deeper into going green, composting is a fun next step. There are many ways to compost, but one of the most fun to do with children is vermicomposting. Special bins are used to house worms that can eat and transform your produce scraps and shredded paper.

Sound too complicated? Smelly? Slimy? Expensive?

It’s pretty simple to set up, even easier to maintain, and really not gross at all. An added perk: the resulting compost will make those plants in your garden grow like crazy! While there certainly are really nice (and expensive) worms bins out there, there are definitely more cost effective ways to try it out.

Some options include the popular Can O Worms or the slightly sturdier Worm Factory.

You can even make your own worm bin for as little as $20. Click here for how-to directions. Red wigglers are the best worms to use for vermicomposting. You may be able to source some locally, but if not Carolina Biological is a great option for mail-order worms.

Helpful tips to vermicomposting:

  • Keep a spray bottle of water handy (to keep worms and bedding moist) and some old newspapers on hand.
  • Prevent unpleasant odors by balancing what goes into the worm bin, including a mix of kitchen scraps and shredded paper. It’s also a good idea to avoid feeding worms animal by products, so keep meat and dairy out. For the most part, redworms don’t care for onions, although some do so it doesn’t hurt to try. Follow these simple steps and you will be surprised at the complete lack of odor coming from your bin.
  • Worm bins can even be kept indoors, with basements being an ideal location for many families (although they stay just about anywhere room-temperature).
  • On rare occasions, you may notice some fruit flies in or around your bin. To make a simple fruit fly trap, use a disposable plastic cup, such as a yogurt cup. Fill ⅛ way full with water and add a drop or two of dish soap. Some people like to add a little apple cider vinegar as well. Cover the top of the cup with a small piece of plastic wrap, secure with a rubber band, and poke a few holes. Leave the trap sitting inside the top layer of your bin and the fruit fly problem is solved.

Vermicomposting is a special learning experience for children and adults alike. Worms teach us about decomposition and ecosystems. Watching the worms work will give kids a new appreciation for these small creatures, and instill a sense of the interconnectedness of everything on Earth.

Happy Earth Day!

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