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Green your kid: Getting wise about waste

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By Lynda Fassa
From Green Goes Simple

Having kids means buying stuff, using stuff and, unfortunately, throwing stuff away --sometimes lots of stuff. It's easy to tie your garbage up, cart it to the curb and watch the nice men in the big truck tote it away, but what is "away," really?

Since there is no magic garbage barge carting our refuse off to Mars -- at least not yet! -- working to reduce our rubbish today is the best thing we can do for the generations to come. And as every mom knows, if you really want to commit to something, you need to get the kids on board. Try these tricks of the trade to get your whole family involved in waste reduction:

Visit the Plant
Take your kids on an adventure to your local recycling plant. Most municipalities have visiting hours and will welcome individuals or small groups. Even better, suggest that your school take the kids on a field trip to the plant!

When kids see the amount of resources that can be recycled and made into cool "new" stuff, they get excited about the possibilities. They may even end up nagging you to recycle that smelly can of cat food that you were planning to simply toss in the trash.

Shop and Cook -- Kid Style
Take your grocery budget and give each child the responsibility of one night's worth of food shopping. Have your child run the potential menu by you first so you don't end up with an entree of cheesy corn curls followed by M&Ms for dessert. Then, let her walk the store and fill up her basket with dinner, within your specified budget and with the understanding that you can veto anything you feel has no nutritional value. (Remember: Consuming food with no nutrients is wasteful, too!)

This is a great lesson in economics as well as in ecology. You will find that kids appreciate their dinner much more when they've purchased the ingredients and made the meal. And if your family likes a little healthy competition, have your kids bag and weigh the trash from packaging, food-preparation scraps, and uneaten food at the end of their meals, then keep score of who chose the meal that ended up with the least waste.

Get Composting
One of the most effective ways to reduce your waste is to compost the biodegradable items. You can install a worm composter under the sink if you're especially brave, but a covered bowl next to the sink works just as well. Collect fruit rinds, coffee grinds, egg shells and veggie peelings, then toss them in a pre-dug hole in a designated corner of the backyard. The bowl only needs to be dumped once a day. Within a few short weeks, you'll have great soil for your garden.

Swap It Out
No one really likes to go through drawers or closets, but if the end result is new things, sometimes that can be a powerful motivator. And if the stuff is not truly new, but new to you, it's good for your family and the planet.

Pick a spring weekend and enlist your kids -- plus your neighbors and friends with kids around the same age as yours -- then hold a freecycle swap meet. Set it up like a yard sale and concentrate on easy grab-n-go items, such as clothes, toys and shoes. Donate any remaining items to Goodwill or a local thrift shop.

Start a ‘Pretty Things' Box
There are some things that can always be used again. Special ribbons, interesting stamps, greeting cards, hangtags from clothing and colorful pieces of cellophane should be stashed and saved in preparation for your little Picasso's next playdate or the next time you need to wrap a gift.

Store them all in a sturdy box -- your "Pretty Things" box. Anyone who has ever glimpsed at the whimsical mobiles and sculptures of Alexander Calder knows that bendy straws, paper towel rolls, pliable wires and the tops from laundry detergent bottles can be transformed into magical creations that engage the imagination and delight doting grandparents everywhere.

Purchase Wisely
This one is for you, Mom: Making thoughtful purchases in the first place means less trash later. Highly concentrated laundry detergents, super-efficient anything, and fresh fruits and veggies are all healthy choices for Mama Earth.

Lynda Fassa is the founder of Green Babies, an organic-cotton baby clothing company, and the author of two books (Green Babies, Sage Moms and Green Kids, Sage Families). She is a frequent blogger for sites like Grist.org, ParentsConnect.com, Treehugger.com and PlanetGreen.com. Lynda has also appeared in People, The New York Times, Parents and Parenting, and on the "Today" show, "Planet Green," "Fox News Happy Hour," "CBS Sunday Morning," "ABC News" and more.

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