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"I've found 4 easy ways to get my 3 kids to be more environmentally friendly."

Return and Earn
Thanks to our brand partner, Return and Earn

My eight-and-a-half-year-old son: "Mum, I'd like to build a natural frog pond to encourage rare species of frogs into the garden. I also want to get chickens so we can eat their eggs. And maybe a goat for milk."

Me, looking around our relatively modest garden: "Well we could probably do the pond…"

As a family, we have a great enthusiasm for all things sustainable and environmentally friendly.

My son, a young environmentalist in the making, usually has a number of recycling projects on the go at any one time. He has some amazing ideas about how wind power should replace coal mining and why solar is the way of the future. 

My daughters are right into the veggie patch and help me with all things composting. I personally have never met a beeswax wrap I didn’t like and am incapable of popping into town without visiting our local co-op.

We are also a busy family of five, and while we are keen on integrating sustainable practices in our home, it’s not always easy (or time friendly).

Finding simple ways that our family can work towards a happier, healthier planet - without it giving me a nervous breakdown - has become our jam. These are four of our favourites.

1. Have a daily recycling system.

The bigger your family gets, the harder it becomes to stay on top of recycling. While we eat a lot of food made from scratch, and buy ingredients in bulk where we can, we still end up with a bunch of stuff destined for the recycling bin. 

Now that my kids are old enough to understand how recycling works, they have become involved in the process. My son is responsible for all bottles and cans as he is right into Return and Earn, and has a special tub for everything he collects (more on that in point number 2).

My daughters are in charge of plastics that can be put into the recycling bin while I collect all soft plastics to be returned to our local supermarket. We also have a small compost bin under the sink in the kitchen which the kids can easily access to dump their fruit and veggie scraps each day. They then take it in turn each week to collect the compost ‘juice’ which is then diluted and used on our veggie patch and other plants.

2. Find programs that make it fun (and financially rewarding).

While I feel that this generation of kids is more tuned into the environment and the wider world than many before them, they are still kids with waxing and waning interests and busy brains going a million miles an hour. Finding programs that help them to learn about sustainability and the environment in a fun and engaging way can be hugely helpful in building long-term understanding. 

We have been taking part in Return and Earn for the last year and it’s been a fantastic way for the kids (my son in particular) to learn about the impact that recycling can have on the wider community, while also earning some pocket money. My son collects bottles and cans from us, our neighbours and his grandparents, then takes them to our local collection point every month. You get 10 cents for each drink container that you deposit at one of their return points (they even have local maps so you can easily locate one of the 600+ collection points around NSW).

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Collecting like a true boss. Image: Naomi Cotterill.

The money he earns is transferred via the MyTOMRA app which my husband and I have on our iPhones and then moved into my son’s bank account where he is saving up for various things. There's also an option to donate your refund to charity - Return and Earn's Bottles Can Change Lives recycling appeal distributes these funds to either OzHarvest, Beyond Blue or The Salvation Army. That's another plus for a program that already promotes sustainable practices and financial literacy for kids - as well as actually being fun.

3. Get kids involved in gardening, or even just collecting their food.

I have always had big dreams of the kind of veggie garden usually seen in movies like Peter Rabbit. More realistically, we have a modest veggie garden where we grow lots of different herbs and greens and a few more exciting things like cauliflower and tomatoes.

Clearly, we won’t be feeding the family exclusively with our produce anytime soon, but we all take great joy in making things like pesto from our herbs and adding our greens to salad. The kids love the whole process; from researching and selecting seeds to planting then tending to the seedlings and eventually harvesting. And it opens up the opportunity for wider discussions around where our food comes from, how it gets to us and why we try and eat seasonally and locally when and where we can.

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We are also lucky to have an amazing Co-Op in our community which sources produce and products from local farms and other providers. The kids have been coming with me to the Co-Op since they were born and have absorbed, almost by osmosis, an understanding about sustainable farming and how buying in bulk and in season reduces our impact on the planet, if only in a small way.

We make do with what we've got. Image: Supplied.

4. Commit to the smallest things first - you don't have to leap ahead.

Whether you want to eliminate plastics from your kitchen, start a worm farm, cut back on car usage or eat in a more sustainable way, it can all be a bit overwhelming. We have found that taking small steps and committing to breaking down the bigger goals is the best way to keep moving forward without becoming totally overwhelmed. 

For example, one of the first things we committed to was ALWAYS remembering our reusable bags for shopping and our KeepCups when we went out for coffee (pre-COVID when Keep Cups were allowed). We then moved to always taking our own KeepCups AND reusable straws. 

Slowly replacing our plastic storage with glass came next, along with minimising things like plastic wrap and baking paper by using beeswax wraps and silicone baking sheets. Our small Bokashi composting unit came next as did committing to walking to and from school at least three days a week.

None of these are 'big' things but each little step helps us to change our habits and behaviours and add up over time towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

What are your easiest tips for living a more sustainable lifestyle? Share below.

Return and Earn
The Return and Earn container deposit scheme has been an over-whelming success with more than 4 billion containers returned by the NSW public through the scheme’s network of over 600 return points since launching in December 2017. The NSW Government initiative encourages consumers to recycle their eligible drink containers and receive 10c per container returned. NSW residents have enthusiastically embraced Return and Earn with 3 out of 4 NSW adults having participated and more than $10.4 million raised through the scheme for charities and not-for-profits via donations and revenue. Find out more at returnandearn.org.au.
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