The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

June 26, 2009

Kids Less Plastic: A Guest Post from Deborah Hladecek

Deborah Hladecek is newly committed to reducing plastic in her family’s life. And living in Northern California, she’s practically my neighbor. So I was thrilled when she offered to write a guest post about what she’s been doing about the plastic in her child’s world. Deborah writes the truly awesome Pure Mothers blog. She also participated in the Show Your (Plastic) Trash Challenge this month. It was an eye-opening experience for her. Check out her stash.

When Beth at Fake Plastic Fish asked for more bloggers to write about plastic, I thought, what could I possibly have to say that she hasn’t said already? She’s the plastic-free goddess! Then my toddler clamored and clawed his way on to my lap to see what I was doing on the computer and I realized that I have another perspective – the mommy view. Beth has her cats, and I have another human being using more resources and contributing to my plastic consumption. I’m a green mom trying to balance what’s good for us with what’s good for the planet, and I am learning that they don’t always co-exist.

Plastic tends to fall into five categories when it comes to babies and children; feeding supplies, food packaging, personal care products, toys, and gear.

Let’s start with feeding. Breastfeeding is the obvious green choice. My son got great nutrition and the planet didn’t suffer one bit. There was absolutely no packaging or energy used (other than my body burning up those extra calories to make milk). No bottles to sterilize and no formula bottles or cans to purchase and throw away. Once my baby started eating solid foods, I was able to make most of it from organic, local fruits and vegetables and I froze servings in reusable plastic baby cubes. Not much waste there either. I can continue to use the cubes for fruit ices and then pass them on to another mom. I did purchase a delicious, fresh, organic baby food called Homemade Baby, and it was packaged in recyclable plastic. I chose a couple of flavors from them that were more difficult or too expensive to make at home. If you buy pre-made baby food, fresh tastes better than jarred, but glass jars are more eco-friendly. The lids on glass jars are still a problem though because they are lined with BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical. Homemade is still the greenest choice.

The biggest problem I see out there is the use of “Toss and Go” cups, straws, and plates. What a terrible concept- use it, toss it and off you go, while the plastic doesn’t ever “go”. The more we can make at home and package ourselves in reusable containers, the less will go to the landfill or end up in our oceans. We use stainless steel bottles, stainless steel baby utensils, To-Go Ware containers and reusable snack sacks that we found on Etsy. This helped us do away with Ziploc bags – a staple in most homes with children. And why do I want my child to eat with plastic utensils when Mom and Dad use stainless steel? Oneida makes a beautiful baby and toddler collection.

Once my son reached toddlerhood he got picky- like most toddlers, and it’s easy for me to grab a box of cereal bars, juice boxes and prepared, organic frozen meals – all laden in plastic. As busy as my son is, I do whatever it takes to get him to eat. And, today, who has time to make everything from scratch? I’m a SAHM and I still can’t find time to make everything from scratch. This is where the dichotomy comes in. There are plenty of organic, choices available that my son will eat, but there is always some plastic involved in the packaging. I can’t always make it to the farmer’s market or health food store to get fresh fruits and veggies. A child can throw a wrench into the best-laid plans and I have to account for illnesses when I can’t get out to the store. If you have a child, you’re probably like me and keep some frozen foods on hand. It’s a necessity because they ARE convenient. But here are some ways I’ve cut back on plastic associated with my organic foods:

– I always bring my own bags everywhere – including cotton produce and grain bags for fruits, veggies and bulk bin items. Why bring your own grocery bag and then proceed to put all of your produce in those clear plastic bags?

– I also don’t purchase pre-packaged chicken anymore, because it comes on Styrofoam and is wrapped in plastic. I ask them to just wrap it in the paper and leave out any plastic. Unfortunately, I can’t purchase hot dogs and sausages directly from the deli because they use pork casings. We only eat fish and fowl, so, I have to purchase the pre-packaged organic sausages – they’re the only choice with no casing.

– When in season, I purchase fresh fruits and berries from my farmer’s market and freeze some for later. I still purchase frozen blueberries, because my son devours them!

– I am reducing the amount of juice boxes and filling up a stainless steel kid’s thermos with juice from glass bottles to take with us when we are out.

– I make homemade muffins more often and sneak veggies in there, like carrots or zucchini, to bring with us when we are out. This cuts back on cereal bars.

– I’ve started making my own yogurt. I have to work on my recipe a bit. It was a little too tart for my son’s taste, but my husband and I ate them. So, that cuts back on our store bought yogurt, which comes in plastic tubs, and are not accepted for recycling, where I live.

My biggest frustration has been with personal care products for my baby and me. There are actually quite a few organic choices available today, but almost all of them are contained in some form of plastic. And, if they’re packaged in glass, they usually have a plastic lid. Those lids bother me. They always have, because they cannot be recycled. How many little lids exist in the world? I would bury my head in the sand on that one, but would probably choke on a plastic lid. So, what have I done in this department? For myself, I have switched to solid shampoo bars and as soon as I run out of my pump hand soap, I am using good old-fashioned bars. I learned how to felt soap to make them look prettier and they don’t leave the soap dish a scummy mess. I also signed up to take a class to make my own soap and body butter/lotion. I will make some for my child too because I simply cannot find baby stuff in glass. There is only one company, who I love, by the way, called BabyBearShop. They make an organic shea butter balm for babies in glass (with a pesky plastic lid), body oil in glass with a metal lid and my favorite organic lip balm in a little tin. I am never buying lip balm in a plastic tube again!

The biggest personal care item has got to be diapers and wipes. Cloth diapering has made a comeback — good news for the environment. I hate to say it, but we mostly use your run-of-the-mill disposable with a splattering of all-in-ones and organic training underpants. My son is so skinny; he always tried pulling the cloth diapers off and had difficulty walking in them. Sorry Beth. Sorry Earth. I tried. I really did. My saving grace is that we use 100% biodegradable, earth-friendly wipes packaged in a biodegradable compostable chalk-based package called Nature Babycare. No plastic involved!

Toys and gear are different from the other baby categories, in that these are longer-lived items. I have some solace knowing that a fish hasn’t swallowed a stroller or a baby car seat, but I still think about the amount of plastic when making these purchasing decisions. Legally, we have to use a car seat. But other than that, we really don’t need all the “stuff” that “they” say we need. I opted for eco-friendly slings over using the stroller, but I do have a stroller; I own two, actually. First time moms will probably empathize with me. We just don’t know what will work- and I fell for the “stuff” at first. Some babies like bouncers, some like swings. They all contain plastic. From crib mobiles to teething rings, plastic abounds. We limit our plastic by purchasing used toys made of plastic and new toys made of wood, fabric or metal. Learning more about Waldorf education and their toys has helped tremendously. Some of my son’s favorite toys are his carved wooden figures of people and animals from Germany.

There are a lot more ways I can cut down on our plastic and I am finding alternatives every day. Changes like this don’t happen overnight, but they can happen and life with less plastic is not as hard as it sounds. Just take it one item at a time. So, that’s my challenge to all you moms out there. Just look at where you could find an alternative that would eliminate some plastic. Day by day it gets easier and your kids will thank you for trying to make the world we are leaving to them, a better place.

And if you know if ways you can share with me, I’m listening.

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Anarres Natural Health
14 years ago

Regarding pesky plastic lids…

I make body and baby products, and I struggle with packaging.
My manufacturer/distributor doesn't seem to have other customers who care – I am always positioning my self as an eco freak for complaining about waste and asking pesky questions. Since Free Trade and the economic down turn have killed off all four glass manufacturers in southern Ontario, I am left with my distributor's Chinese outsourced packaging and powerlessness over how much plastic sneaks in.

Glass jars and bottles come only with plastic lids. Most of the time, I am able to select bakelite for jars instead of composite and metal trimmed mystery plastic. Bakelite is a fairly simple resin without plasticizers (endocrine disruptors). It's basically kinda like a rock when thrown out. It has a foam liner that is obviously planet-hostile. Sometimes I luck out and my shipment comes only in a divided carboard box. Sometimes, every lid is in its own plastic baggie. I reuse the boxes and bags, but it pisses me off. It comes from the factory that way to preserve the sterilization. Nothing I can do about it, it seems.

Bottles are a bigger quandry. There are only a few sizes that come with bakelite caps. Most caps are HDPE type mystery caps. I avoid composite caps. Pump bottles are all mystery plastic. The best I can do is reuse these, refill them and take them back from customers, who get a $2-$3 discount.

I always list the cost of the packaging on my receipts so clients understand, and see the benefit of reusing and returning bottles.

Many of my bottles are donated to me, so I can pass them on to clients with tighter budgets after I clean them with soap water and sterilize with high proof grain alcohol – never isolpropyl alcohol!

Metal containers carry their own grief for manufacturers like me.

I ordered 2 corrugated cardboard cases of stainless steel canisters and to my horror, they arrived individually stapled shut in plastic bags! With the high cost, high embodied energy, and use limited to ointments, salves and relatively solid food storage, I am not able to package most of my stuff in these.

My guiltiest bottle is also simultaneously my greatest anti-plastic triumph. Alice bottles are 99%+ recycled aluminum, so they're lightweight, opaque, unbreakable, preserve essential oils and keep products cool. While you never want to cook with aluminum, essential oils and other botanicals are safest and best kept in aluminum. Even stainless steel degrades with some essential oils.

But my darling Alice bottles come in the promising double walled corrugated cardboard boxes ALSO INDIVIDUALLY WRAPPED IN PLASTIC! And their pumps, the only ones that work for lotions and thicker things, are of mystery plastic with metal springs! I do reuse the bags to package my 100g DIY supplies, but ARRRGH it's frustrating.

So my advice to keep your family out of the plastic loop is to:
1. Make your own as much as possible.
2. Find local stores and makers who will refill, reuse or sell to you in bulk.
3. Choose glass and metal over plastic, and bakelite or metal where possible.

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

14 years ago

We're struggling to reduce the plastic in our lives, but it is tough – I have two preschoolers, one of whom has special needs (autism).

First there's the nappy thing. I used cloth with my first for a while, but the sleeplessness got to me. Switched to disposables, and wish I never had.

Because now I realise disposables are a sucker's game – I'm STILL paying for them for two kids each week, nearly 5 years on from having my son! Yowch! Work that out in dollars and you're probably in the tens of thousands – they never tell you the truth about how much you'll spend on disposables on the cute Huggies ads.

Nor do they tell you that ids in disposables usually train later, often as much as a year and a half later, on average. True.

Apart from that, though, we're pretty good. No plastic wrap in the house – did you know that most families use more plastic in wrap than in bags each year? Actually, you probably did!

My son's lunches are in a re-usable lunchbox (plastic, I'm afraid), but we buy his snackies in bulk (things like nuts, dried fruit etc.) and put them into little tubs each day. Saves hugely on costs and packaging.

For a family of four, through conscious choices we've got our rubbish down by half, and I hope, once the kids are finally out of nappies, to get it down to practically nothing (boy I really regret going to disposables! I'm going to do a post on it!).

But toys? Yep, most of them are plastic. That's just life. Until Fisher Price etc start making toys from wood and metal again, like they did a few decades ago, there's not a whole bunch I can do about it. You can find wood toys for really young kids, but wood Lightining McQueens and My Little Ponies? I'm still looking!

Pure Mothers
14 years ago

Wow. Thanks for all of the comments ladies (and Rob). I was out of town and just checked back. I want to address a couple of questions.

Maureen, I was a vegetarian for 2 years 17 years ago, when I gave up meat after eating too many hotdogs & hamburgers on 4th of July and felt gross and started thinking about factory farming and researching how my meat was "made". I was 23. I got really skinny, felt weak and looked ill. I didn't know how to eat a balanced vegetarian diet back then. But, philosophically I could not go back to eating mammals. So I added poultry and fish back into my diet and felt much better. For the last 12 years I have only eaten organic poultry and some fish. I only choose fish from the Seafood Watch list so I am sure not to endanger the kind that are being over-fished. I eat only organic chicken and choose veggie or fish dishes when I go out to eat – which isn't that often with a 2 year old. When we buy a house I want to raise some chickens for eggs. My family had them when we were kids.

I worked in the nutrition industry for several years and know that it is difficult to get B12 from a strict vegetarian diet. I am not contributing to factory farming and feel good about my choices. My son eats as I do until he is old enough to decide for himself how he would like to eat. I am not a fan of soy – the food of choice of vegetarians. It is not processed well by the body. The high phytates inhibit iron absorption and it is a phyto-estrogen! Only fermented soy should be consumed – IMO. Not to mention that soy is the #1 GMO food in the country! If you want to talk being good to the environment let's talk about supporting GMO soy!

My very 1st post on my blog is about breast feeding and cow's milk.
I never introduced my son to cow's milk for calcium. I am still nursing at 2 (almost weaned) to rice milk and hemp milk. He gets calcium from broccoli and yogurt and some cheese. Organic, of course. I grew up on these. I see nothing wrong with this when from small organic dairy farms where cow's are treated well. I agree we can get calcium from other sources though. But a 2 year old won't eat enough sesame seeds to make 800mg's each day. If you see my post you'll read how much it takes to make up that amount.

Again, we all do the best we can to make the changes that work for each family. I have cut way down on disposable diapers and I use cotton training pants throughout the day. My child wears about 2 disposable each day now (for naps and night). gdiapers just came out with a cloth insert! I wish they had that earlier. I loved the covers but the inserts were so scratchy!

Like, Rob, I struggle with pet items too. I am spending more $ on the box of pine litter instead of getting the cost efficient larger plastic bag. But, 1 of my cats is very ill (possible intestinal cancer) and will only eat a hypoallergenic food that comes in a plastic bag. His life is important to me, so I buy it.

I never professed to be perfect. None of us are. We all do the best we can and hopefully inspire each other to make a new change we didn't know we could before by sharing our stories with each other.

Thanks Beth for an awesome blog!

14 years ago

I am a SAHM with a 4 and 1 year old. Like all of you, we are trying to do our part.
Sometimes it seems frustrating for one step forward, is another three backward.
I recently tried to make my own lotions, soap, etc. but the ingredients I ordered all came double wrapped in plastic. (I even requested wax paper or other).
Anyone know where to get such bulk ingredients (shea butter, soap base, etc.) without all of the plastic?
Great info.
And Kudos to all of the hardworking mamas!!

Mary Kay
14 years ago

Thanks Lara S. for the info on sesame seeds! My daughter can't drink cow's milk so I'm looking for alternative calcium sources. She doesn't really like veggies too much although I do manage to get some into her. I've been giving her rice milk, but I'd like to learn how to make my own to avoid the packaging. Does anyone have any recipes? Can I get powdered vitamins to fortify it myself?

14 years ago

Yeah, Emily – i don't want to sound anti-cloth diaper at all. We were really happy with cloth for more than a year.

I do think some re-engineering on the cloth diapers we used (poo pockets pattern, sewn by my baby's grandma) would have helped the walking thing – but I wasn't the seamstress and her son wasn't willing to make requests when she was giving us gifts, so.

Lara S.
14 years ago

Oh and one more thing: about the Calcium intake, publicity makes us all think that dairies are the only way to get it! But that's not true, there are other alternatives such as sesame seeds, which have a big amount of Calcium in them. So instead of stuffing kids with yoghurt, milk and plastic ladden puddings (which need to be preserved in cold and that takes a lot of energy) we could all do a little research about sesame seeds and other sources. :-)

Lara S.
14 years ago

Justwanted to comment on the meat subject: I am a vegetarian (though not vegan, I eat dairies and eggs) and I respect everyone's opinion. But I do believe that all animal products are really bad for the environment.
As with everything, we shouldn't ban them from our lives, but learn to limit our consumption. We should use only what we need.
For children's growth, about one egg per day pretty much covers their animal protein needs, of course you should check that, but that's what my doctor told me.

I use eggs and cheese mostly to be able to eat vegetables in a tastier way and in a wider variety of recipes, and to replace meat. I think it's better for the environment, for my health, for my karma and for my feelings too, since I'd feel guilty if I ate meat again. I do feel guilty about dairies and eggs too, but I do the best I can. Maybe in a few years I'll have the time and the willpower to learn to live without them or limit my consumption of them even more.

The point of this is: do the best you can, and keep in mind the environmental problems caused by the meat and dairy industries (as explained in

14 years ago

Hello – I just wanted to put in a good word for cloth diapers – just incase there are new moms out there considering them. (o:
Both my kids are skinny minny's – 20% percentile height/weight chart. I have used cloth with both and love it. Both of them walked early too (we had small bodies a-walkin') and they never had any problems. We use a popular pocket-type diaper.
We take many measures to reduce water usage in our home in order to couterbalance the 1-2 resultant extra loads per week (the diapers only take up 1/3 of a load).

Anyways, I posted a lot of cloth diapering info and links if anyone is interested.

14 years ago

Oh, the gifts, the gifts…it is really frustrating. It's rude to tell people what to buy, they ignore you if you ask them just not to buy, and then even if you *can* afford the sustainable wooden free-play educational whatnot…your kid has all this stuff received as gifts and doesn't need anything.

We had the exact same problem with cloth diapers, btw- my kid is really skinny and as soon as he was walking he HATED the cloth diaper between his legs. So we did cloth for about a year and a half and then started potty training and used disposable pullups. Plus the diapers were a gift from a sewing grandma and half of them were …plastic. That synthetic fuzzy fabric is just another plastic. Of course we used them about 5,000 times, but still.

Mary Kay
14 years ago

I disagree with Maureen's comment that eating meat is the most un-green thing that you can do. While I haven't done a computational analysis (although I'm an engineer and that sounds like fun to me!), I'm guessing that there are a lot of things that you could do that are a lot worse for the environment. The one that comes to mind is owning a car and driving. Driving is really, really bad for the planet due to many, many impacts (mining to make the materials to build the cars, producing all of the plastics and petroleum products to run the cars, building the roads, etc.). I have a hard time believing that eating meat is worse than driving. While an all-veg diet is certainly better for the planet, there are a lot of things that we can all do to lighten our impact on the planet. A diet involving some meat is not going to be the "straw that broke the camel's back."

Some people think that eating meat is wrong. I'm not one of them. I enjoy a diet that includes some meat. There are better choices available these days (free-range chicken, grass-fed beef). I respect the feelings of others and I appreciate it when others respect my beliefs. To me, animals eating other animals is a totally natural thing. It happens all of the time, all over the world. I am not morally opposed to raising animals and then killing them to eat them. It doesn't bother me. My husband is from Mexico and eating meat is important to him. I don't like the way that we raise and slaughter animals in this country because I think that the conditions are unsanitary and unsafe for the workers. The best that I can do is to buy meat from companies that have better practices.

As for cooking like my family did 60 years ago, my grandfather was born in 1910 and grew up on a farm in eastern Washington state. They grew and raised all of the food they ate except for what they caught fishing and what they shot while hunting. Their diet involved plenty of meat. They ate a lot of ducks and geese. My grandfather would not have understood vegetarianism!

I am very careful not to judge others and I respect the feelings of other people. I appreciate it when other people respect my beliefs (even when we don't agree). I grew up in a church that was not at all accepting of people who had belief systems that were different from our own. Tolerance is a wonderful thing. I truly believe that we are more effective if we are supportive of the efforts of others rather then judging their flaws (believe me, I've got a lot of them but I'm working on it…).

I'm not defending my choice to eat meat, just explaining it.

14 years ago

Great post Deborah,
It's funny – having children seemed to be the turning point for me to get that a'ha moment and make better decisions for the environment. I stumbled upon Beth's page once in a search for info about plastic recycling I think and realized I had a lot to learn.
I have been teaching my kids about composting – my four year old likes to helps recycle things. I explain that some things can be used again and again and shouldn't be thrown away. At the grocery store I let her know my choices – lets get this one in the glass jar so we can recycle it. My hope is it will all come naturally for her some day.
Anyways, I'll have to check out the wooden toys. Thanks, Em

Green Bean
14 years ago

Okay, I had to come back and comment again.

I really disagree with Undersharing's comment. I don't think that it is greenwashing to reduce but not totally eliminate one's use of plastic. Yes, she could cook everything from scratch though even that would involve some packaging. No one I know can get everything from bulk or the farmers' market. I think it is important to be realistic. Using less goes a long way toward being green.

14 years ago

Meat is the MOST un-green decision that you can make, and with a child you are making that decsion x2. Please comment on why you have not decided to go vegetarian for the earth, for the animals, and most importantly for your baby!


14 years ago

You (almost) make want to go out and make a baby (almost). Looks like as much fun as a puppy or kitty!
I know you shouldnt equate raising a baby with taking care of a pet, but I can relate on no alternatives when doing so. My pup, Romeo and my kitty Sammy cause a lot of plastic usage. I used to buy Romi's dog food at a natural pet food pantry- it smelled so good, but stopped because she packed his dogg food into ziplock bags, and if she ran out , plastic clamshells. I really have a negative thing about clamshells- they can't be re-used easily, are hard to clean. And she reacted so negatively to the suggestion that I bring in my own containers- So I went back to buying food by the can for Romi. At least you can wash and re-use ziplocks. I know canned food has BPA, but at least it is recyclable. Kitty likes his canned food, which comes packed ina cardboard box. His litter of course comes in a blastic bag, but I choose an "organic kitty litter" I recently found cat litter in a paper bag (at the dollar store of all places)but chose not to use it as it was bad cat litter, full of silica and stuff. Oh Well. I think Ma Earth will forgive you for the diapers and me for the kitty litter bags- at least they get reused!)

Green Bean
14 years ago

Oh I love the job you've done with your toys. Truly lovely.

My kids are older and I used disposable diapers for them – mostly because I didn't really and truly "go green" until my youngest was nearly out of diapers. We do the reusable container thing but they are all plastic. I've yet to find stainless ones I like for the kids (other than water bottles). Thanks for the post. Reducing plastic with kids is a true challenge.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Deborah wrote this post over a month ago, but I had such a great response to my request for guest bloggers that I didn't get it posted until today. Glad the post has sparked some conversation! I'll butt out now and let you all keep talking.

Pure Mothers
14 years ago

Hi Erin,
I wrote this post before I found out about Aveda and actually have a post on my site about Aveda's recycling program since then! Thanks!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper
14 years ago

Deborah – Great article….I thought you might want to know that Aveda has a program where they'll take caps for recycling. ) I think it's best to reduce the amount of packaging, such as using bar soap as you said, but for those times when you can't, now you know what to do with the lids.

14 years ago

Nice post. I found it very interesting and helpful– and I don't even have a kid :)
Knowing that you can do this much with little people running around the house, it just motivates me to try that much harder. Thanks!

14 years ago

As I was reading this article the term 'greenwashing' kept popping into my head. Organic, natural, biodegradable, blah, blah, blah. To be honest I've never read something like this from someone who WANTS to believe so much. I don't really think it's Deborah's fault but somewhere all these products with a feel-good message have found just the right way to assuage her guilt.

It happens to all of us (thanks, marketing!), but this really was an eye-opener. I'll never look at the thick plastic bags around my hippy pine kitty litter or fancy cat food the same way again after reading this.

One thing I'll suggest is to just cut down on the justifications. Either use the plastic and say it's because you damn well feel like it or pull out your grandmother's recipe book and cook like people did 60 years ago. If you're going to use the stuff you might as well get all the enjoyment out of it you can.

Mary Kay
14 years ago

I have a 2 year old so this really hit home! We had the same problem with cloth diapers coming off. I ripped all of the velcro off of the covers and put on snaps. Pretty much all of our baby gear was purchased second-hand. I did use a lot of plastic while pumping for her. I would like to buy non-plastic toys, but they are really expensive and I can't afford them right now. One of the biggest problems that we have in avoiding plastic is all of the gifts! We receive gifts from family and they are often plastic items. For example, I intentionally avoided buying baby plates, bowls, and utensils (she does just fine eating with our existing stuff). And then a family member bought her a whole set of baby items in plastic. I guess I could say something, but I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings…

14 years ago

I'm right there with you. With a 4-year-old and a baby I'm working hard to reduce the plastic in our lives. We have a lot of the same toys that you do. We buy second-hand where we can. I cloth diaper and have cut way back on packaged foods.

I try to tell myself that every little bit helps. We're not perfect, but we're trying, and I just really hope it's making a difference.