Plastic-free parenting: 5 ways to remove single-use plastic from your family life

Child-rearing tips for the eco-conscious age.

From bags-for-life to coffee cups and straws, 2019 has been the year the world finally switched on the damage caused by single-use plastic.

Going plastic-free takes effort at the best of times, and when the nappies are full, the children are screaming, and there’s baby food smeared all over your work clothes, there’s no more tempting a time to think, ‘Oh, sod it’.

But don’t be disheartened. There are several simple ways to cut single-use plastic from your parenting, and, in the long term, your kids (and grand-kids) will thank you for it…

1. Packed lunches

Cling film packed lunch

Food is perhaps society’s greatest offender for single use plastic – mostly thanks to the disposable bags and storage items crammed into every packed lunch. Cling film should be a huge no-no – about as single use as plastic gets – so consider reusable, eco-friendly food wraps, made of cotton or beeswax.

While we’re on about it, you don’t need any kind of product to safely secure last night’s leftovers. Leave it on the plate, put another plate over the top, and bung it in the fridge.

2. Bottles and straws

Just behind food in the waste league tables, comes drink.

Props to parents shunning fizzy drinks for spring water, but single-use water bottles are far and away the easiest pieces of plastic to cut from your lifestyle. Buy a water filter, and a reusable bottle made from plastic or stainless steel. Job done.

If your kids really can’t live without their bendy straws – to be fair, they’re super fun – pick up a steel, bamboo, or glass alternative, that should last through lunchtime after lunchtime.

3. Ditch the wet wipes

Wet wipes(iStock/PA)

They don’t look like plastic waste, but BBC One’s War On Plastic found plastic in 90% of the 11 billion wet wipes consumed by UK homes each year.

Responsible for an estimated 93% of blockages in UK sewers, flushed wet wipes have started combining with fat, grease and other sanitary products to form ‘fatbergs’ – probably the most viscerally disgusting things we’ve ever seen in the news cycle.

Either seek out a brand of genuinely eco-friendly wet wipes, or use other materials, like paper and cloth.

4. Eco-friendly toothbrushes

We accept that toothbrushes aren’t technically single-use, but according to the NHS, you should be replacing them every three months or so, and they’re exactly the sort of trinket that ends up in the ocean.

Consider starting your young one on a wooden or bamboo brush, with replaceable bristles, a natural, outdoorsy aesthetic, and a gratifyingly low chance of harming sea life. Instilling good habits early on will save you and the planet down the line.

5. Shun the plastic tat


You know what we’re talking about – the last-minute stocking fillers, the toys that come in or with food, the trinkets they put by the checkout tills because they’re shiny and make kids go, ‘I want one’. Your little one will probably have lost interest by the time you get home, and too much plastic bric-a-brac ensures at least some will end up single-use.

It’s estimated that 8.5 million brand new toys get thrown away every year, while studies suggest the average child has around four toys they’ve never even played with.