Environmental experts agree: Any small effort you can make to help Mother Earth matters. And, over time, small gestures can turn into big results. By adopting one -- or several -- earth-friendly family habits that best fit your lifestyle, you're helping the environment today -- and tomorrow. Here are nearly two dozen easy ways to support Mother Nature as a family.
[caption id="attachment_5799" align="alignleft" width="300"] The Original ChicoBag[/caption]
Reusable bags: Over the past 15 years, reusable bags have revolutionized the way we shop, and have led many Massachusetts communities to limit or ban plastic shopping bags altogether. The #1 key to reusable shopping bags: Don't leave them in the car. Want to take it one step further? Bring one wherever you go. Many companies make full-size shopping bags that stuff into themselves, becoming smaller than a cell phone (The Original Bag from ChicoBag is one example of a bag that has a small footprint but expands to carry a big load). Keep one in your glove box, purse, work or diaper bag, and you'll always have a way to carry purchases without extra plastic or paper.
Duct tape bags: You can recycle plastic shopping bags -- many grocery and big box stores offer bins for that purpose at their entrance. However, if you want to make them reusable, turn them into a tote with duct tape. This is a fun, easy, inexpensive craft parents and kids can do together in less than an hour, and the personalization options are endless thanks to the variety of duct tape available today. An easy tutorial, "DIY Duct Tape Tote Bag! - Do It, Gurl" can be found on YouTube.
[caption id="attachment_5809" align="alignright" width="107"] Hydro Flask's stainless steel water bottle[/caption]
Use one water bottle: Look in your cabinet: How many water bottles do you have? How many do you really need? Save a favorite for each person in your house and recycle the rest. If you don't already have a favorite, consider buying a quality stainless steel water bottle. Many families are moving away from plastic bottles to those made of stainless steel as they're engineered to keep liquids colder longer and won't leach chemicals.
Many stainless steel water bottle manufacturers, such as Klean Kanteen and EcoVessel, are making kids' lines, so everyone from toddlers on up can have their own. Hydro Flask offers an all-insulated bottle lineup covering everything from hydration and coffee to beer and food. Its bottles keep liquids cold or hot for hours without sweating, and come with a lifetime guarantee. Drinking more water is good for your family's health and reduces your soda, juice, or coffee consumption -- and expenses. Plus, if they're not drinking those juice boxes, you're not endlessly picking up those annoying straw wrappers.
Say sayonara to the straw: And speaking of straws: Plastic straws are terrible for Mother Earth. Yet here in the U.S., they've been culturally adopted to the point at which 500,000,000 are used each day in our country. They're used once and thrown out, pollution forever. "No Straw, Please" campaigns are urging people to say that when they're presented with the opportunity, either drinking without one or carrying a glass or stainless steel one of their own. You can make a difference by putting your family on the No Straw, Please path. More information and ideas can be found here.
[caption id="attachment_5801" align="alignleft" width="300"] Flip Mason jar lids from reCAP[/caption]
Use less plastic: Plastic is a convenience in the kitchen, but at what cost? Five years ago the FDA banned the chemical BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups, fearing it can seep into food or drinks and potentially harm infants. Since then, the label "BPA-free" has become a major addition to the packaging of plastic containers, water bottles, and anything that may touch food or drink. While some are content with BPA-free assurance, others are transitioning away from plastic altogether. The resurgence of Mason jars has attracted people to its many storage uses, and perennial glass favorite Pyrex is a popular choice for food storage. reCap makes pour, flip, and shaker lids that instantly turn Mason jars into storage containers in the kitchen, bathroom, craft rooms, and throughout the house. Moving to more glass also means fewer plastic containers (and their lids) cluttering up your cabinets. Check out these 100 easy ways to go plastic free.
Ditch sandwich bags: How many plastic snack and sandwich bags are in your kid's lunchbox each day? Multiply that by 5, then 4, then 10. That is a lot of plastic thrown away over just one school year. Reusable sandwich and snack bags will keep plastic out of your local landfill. Companies such as Bumkins make them for babies through big kids, or head to etsy.com and support small business crafters who offer dozens of options in either size.
[caption id="attachment_5803" align="alignright" width="300"] A Bento box set from Bentology[/caption]
Go Bento: Another way to avoid the use of plastic sandwich or snack bags is by using a Bento box -- a divided container with a latched lid that separates and stores food. In addition to reducing waste, Bento boxes also save kids time opening bags, containers, and lids, meaning they have more time to eat during that quick lunch period. Popular Bento companies include Bentology, PlanetBox, and ECOlunchbox.
Consignment stores: They've been around forever and are a parent's dream: good-quality gear and clothes with a lot of miles left for low prices. They are great for everyday clothes, but especially wonderful for those items that aren't worn as often, yet are expensive one-season wonders: snow boots, snow pants, ice skates, dance shoes, holiday dresses, and more. (Pro tip for snow pants: Unless you only have girls, resist pink or purple and buy black. That way you can hand them down to all siblings without argument.)
Thrift stores/Goodwill/Savers/Salvation Army: Thrift stores are hot. Kids through adults can find inexpensive clothes on the cheap. They're a perfect place to buy summer clothes that are going to get worn heavily, and a great place for tweens and up to shop 'till they drop and express themselves without breaking the bank. Brand-conscious kids will find more name brands than they'd think, along with funky shirts, jackets, shoes, and more. It's the one place you can tell kids, "Buy whatever you want" and not cry when you hit the register.
Your local library: Raising a reader can be expensive if you buy every book. Despite the rise in all-tech, all the time, local libraries are thriving. Many in Massachusetts belong to library networks, which means if your library doesn't have what you need, one of their sister locations will, and it will usually be in your hands within days. Kids can try out new authors, series, or genres without a penny leaving your pocket (or a new book cluttering your already full bookcase).
If your child loves an author or series, or wants to reread a title over and over, search for used book stores in your area. You can get what you're looking for for pennies on the dollar, and you're supporting a small business. Want to make a day of it? Head to one of Massachusetts' famous used bookstores, like the Montague Bookmill in Montague, The Shire Book Shop in Franklin, the 192-year-old Brattle Book Shop in Boston, or Federal Street Books in Greenfield.
Yard sales: The old Saturday morning staple is still going strong and can be a goldmine for purchases you've been meaning to make. However, be careful: It's very easy to buy more than you actually need (especially if you have the kids with you), so be as judicious as you can with what you actually take home.
[caption id="attachment_5802" align="alignleft" width="298"] Reusable snack and sandwich bags from Bumkins[/caption]
Facebook yard sale groups/Craigslist: Craigslist quickly became the go-to place for selling used items over the past 15 years, everything from clothes and electronics to motorhomes, vacation rentals, and even houses. You can find (or sell) pretty much anything, and if what you're looking for isn't being sold in your regional group, the site will search other area Craigslist groups for you. As always, be extremely careful when setting up a transaction -- insist on cash and meeting in a public place (a police station parking lot is always a safe spot).
While Craigslist is still doing brisk business, Facebook yard sale groups have become super hot for smaller items, especially kids' toys, clothes, and gear (many are created just for parents). This ensures money for a seller without paying a cut to a consignment store and good, used gear for a buyer. Most of these usually private groups require that you be approved by a moderator to join. Make sure you read and follow all of the rules of posting, buying, and selling.
Upcycle old stuff: Did your child out- grow her Disney Princess toy box? Instead of throwing it away, help her upcycle it into a theme she will love now. If it's wooden, show her how to paint it. Plastic or heavy cardboard? Grab some funky duct tape and let her go to town, turning it into a new storage space. Before you throw something out, try to remember to ask yourself: Can this serve another purpose?
Get outside: To appreciate Mother Earth, parents need to introduce their children to her. That is, get them outside. The more kids experience nature, the more sensitive they will be about litter, recycling, thoughtful consumption of goods, and more. The best part of getting outside is it is almost always free.
Walking trails & bikeways: Massachusetts is full of these hubs for cyclists and walkers -- 76 to be exact. This list breaks them down by city/town, length, surface, and much more. Hit one nearby or go on an adventure and discover a new favorite.
[caption id="attachment_5807" align="alignright" width="300"] National Park Service's Boston Harbor Islands[/caption]
National parks: Massachusetts is home to 15 different National Parks Service sites, ranging from the Cape Cod National Seashore to the state's western-most border with New York. Many of the parks offer special programming throughout the year; each has its own website and calendar of events.
Park Passport Program: Massachusetts' Department of Conservation and Recreation offers this cool scavenger hunt-like program in 76 state parks. Download a free passport, visit a participating park, find the passport box at the park, and stamp your passport with the stamp found in the box. Get a stamp from all the parks in one of the five regions (Greater Boston, Northeast, Southeast, Central, and Western) and get a free T-shirt from the DCR. Kids can earn a shirt from all five regions.
The Trustees of Reservations: The Trustees is a 126-year-old Massachusetts organization founded to bring indoor and outdoor experiences to area families through the preservation of woodlands, historic homes, working farms, and more. The private organization preserves and protects more than 100 cultural and natural spaces or properties (which it calls "reservations") spanning nearly 25,000 acres across the state. The Trustees offers special programming geared toward families and children in many locations monthly. Admission is charged for some events, though it may be waived or reduced through a family membership to the organization.
Mass Audubon: Mass Audubon's wildlife sanctuary network includes approximately 100 properties across the state. More than half are ready to be explored, with trails, maps, signage, and often nature centers or museums with trained naturalists leading programs. Many offer a bustling scheduling of youth education and family events, from summer camps and vacation programs to hikes and more.