Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Reduce reliance on single-use plastics by preparing kids' meals and snacks and packing in reusable containers. (iStock photo)

Going plastic free: Small steps and useful tips

July is plastic-free month, but here's how to make a commitment year-round

Every July, the Plastic Free Foundation encourages people to go without single-use plastics for the month. But you don’t have to wait until the summer to start. Your family’s journey to going plastic-free can start today!

Wow, you might think, what a great idea!

And then you look around your house and realize that single-use plastics are everywhere: in drawers, the garbage, your cupboards, your medicine cabinet.

So you:

A. Decide that a month free of single-use plastic sounds just too hard, so you decide not to bother.

Or …

B. Realize that you may not be ready to go 100% plastic-free, but you can use Earth Day or the Plastic Free July campaign to take steps to reduce your plastic consumption.

If you choose B (and I hope you do!), check out how our family has reduced our plastic consumption.

We have a long way to go in our journey to tread more lightly on the earth, but incremental change is change, and now is always the right time to begin the journey to reduce your plastic use.

Every time you use a cloth diaper instead of disposable, you’ve avoiding using some plastic.

Plastic-free: diapers

We’ve had many different phases of our diaper journey.

From using a diaper service to using only disposables to using a home cloth-diapering system to a very frustrating failed attempt at potty training, we’ve done it all.

I wish I could say that we completely avoided disposable diapers, but we certainly have used lots of them throughout our diapering journey. We’ve used them overnight when we’re out and about for more than a few hours, and when we’ve run out of cloth diapers for the day.

But, I remind myself that with each cloth diaper we’ve used, a disposable diaper was saved from the landfill. Even if your cloth diapering is occasional or sporadic, it reduces your waste.

If you’re a diapering family, are there any places in your schedule where you can add cloth diapering? Perhaps one day a week? On the weekends? When two caregivers are home? Cloth diapering can be intimidating, but with a little research and investment, it can help you lower your single-use plastic consumption.


Unfortunately, as our children grow, their clothes do not grow with them. Fortunately, there are so many strategies for reducing one’s overall consumption of children’s clothing.

Regarding reducing single-use plastics, consider purchasing consigned or secondhand clothing: These items are usually not wrapped in single-use plastic. (Seattle has some amazing consignment shops with a variety of items!).

Borrowing and lending are other plastic-free methods of updating your children’s wardrobes.

Plastic-free: bulk foods

If you’re feeding a growing family, you likely go through groceries at a rapid pace. I’ve always loved shopping in bulk, and now, as a parent, I have an even better reason to do it.

Think about items your family goes through quickly. Our family quickly goes through foods such as coffee, oats, raisins, walnuts, beans, rice and pasta. These items have a long shelf life, so it makes sense for us to buy them in bulk.

Consider the packaging when shopping in bulk to reduce your plastic consumption. You can buy in bulk by purchasing a 24-pack of plastic pasta bags, but this doesn’t reduce your overall plastic use. Instead, think about using a bulk food company (that packages all of the product together rather than in individual packages) or bringing your own reusable bags to the bulk bins at your grocery store.

DIY almond milk!

Homemade vs. store-bought

Again, look at what your family eats frequently: Are there any store-bought items you could swap out for homemade?

n our family, we regularly make homemade almond milk, granola, vegetable broth and hummus. These items don’t take too much time or effort, and the end result is less packaging (and they often cost less than buying them at the store).

Remember: Reducing plastic use is a journey. You need to figure out what works for your family, and perhaps there will be different seasons for making homemade items.

For example, we eat a lot of yogurt around our house, which means stacks and stacks of plastic yogurt containers. I’ve had a few attempts of making yogurt at home, but during my last one, I realized that the time and effort it takes just doesn’t work for us right now. I’m hopeful that one day I’ll find a method that works for our family, but for now, we do buy yogurt in plastic containers.

Instead of individually packaged, store-bought snacks, prepare your own snacks (and serve in a reusable container).

Plastic-free: snacks

Our go-to snack is sliced apples and cheese. It takes only a few minutes to prepare, and always tastes delicious at the park.

There are endless individually wrapped snack options for kids these days. Pouches, bags of crackers, bars — just to name a few! They are incredibly convenient, yes, but also wasteful.

If you regularly use individually wrapped snacks for your kids, and want to reduce your plastic use, consider these possible shifts in thinking:

  • What could I buy in a larger quantity and portion into reusable snack bags?
  • What could I make in bulk (like snack balls or muffins), freeze, and use as needed?
  • What simple things could we quickly prepare (like apples and cheese, crackers and hummus, muffins)?
  • What if we used individually wrapped snacks only on specific occasions, like when traveling?

With a shift in thinking and a little extra effort, lower-waste snacks might easily fit into your family’s schedule. (And you’ll get the additional benefits of money saved and healthier snacks for your little ones.)

As summer approaches, we can all consider areas in our lives where we can cut back on single-use plastic consumption.Plastic is everywhere —at the pool, at the beach, in the backyard, while camping—but the good news is that we can reduce how much we use by shifting our thinking and changing our actions.

The Plastic Free Foundation has many more tips, ideas and even quizzes.


More on this subject:

How to reduce your family’s purchase and consumption of baby clothes

Tips for scoring great bargains on gently used items


About the Author

Ellie White

Ellie had the privilege of growing up in our beautiful Pacific Northwest. She currently lives in the Green Lake neighborhood with her husband and twin toddlers.