10 things to do to help children be more eco-friendly

What can you do with the kids to make your home more eco-friendly? Here are 10 suggestions.
10 things to do to help children be more eco-friendly

1. Switch away from fast fashion

Conscious Fashion Campaign (www.consciousfashioncampaign.com) founder Kerry Bannigan is mum to four-year-old Harry and leads by example. When repurposing, repairing or preparing clothes for donation, she explains what she’s doing — and why it’s important. 

“I show Harry how to repurpose clothes into a craft, puppet, toy or household cleaning item. We make repair fun, with colourful patches for clothes or matching his favourite toy.”

Harry is well used to donating and decides who should receive clothes that are too small for him — charity, younger family members or friends’ younger siblings.

“He enjoys seeing other kids in his clothes, for example his favourite Lightning McQueen T-shirt.”

Kerry Bannigan of Conscious Fashion Campaign
Kerry Bannigan of Conscious Fashion Campaign

World Vision Ireland communications/fundraising director Fiona O’Malley says the fast-fashion industry emits 1.2bn tons of CO2 equivalent every year. When buying children’s clothing, she urges people to avoid synthetic materials (nylon, polyester and plastics).

“Opt for sustainable fibres — wool, cotton, Pinatex, lotus, nettle or hemp.”

O’Malley recommends online platform Thriftify (www.thriftify.ie/), which supports charities, for pre-loved gems. “They use corn in their packaging. [It’s] fully biodegradable. It returns to nature after 90 days.”

Make a tote bag from an old t-shirt: https://exa.mn/totebag

2. Help kids use their voice for eco-friendly change

Remember Meghan Markle at 11 writing a letter to change a sexist ad — and the company listened. Encourage kids to write to a big toy retailer requesting that they stock more toys made of bio-plastic. Help your child outline the green benefit.

Sharon Keilthy, founder of Ireland’s biggest eco-specialist distributor of kids’ art supplies, crafts and toys, says all Jiminy.ie’s bio-plastic toys are made from green polyethylene.

Sharon Keilthy of Jiminy.ie.
Sharon Keilthy of Jiminy.ie.

“It’s made from what’s left over after the sugarcane harvest. It has a neutral or negative carbon footprint — none of the destruction associated with refining petroleum into plastic.”

Jiminy.ie used to stock a popular bio-plastic beach set, but they don’t anymore — not since Smyth’s Toys started stocking it.

“We think it’s fabulous they’re stocking this bio-plastic toy. It’s a big win for sustainability when large companies make even a single switch.”

For more on kids asking toy brands/retailers to get sustainable, visit https://exa.mn/sustainable-lego-packaging


Cathy Baxter Green Schools manager
Cathy Baxter Green Schools manager

It’s very beneficial, says An Taisce Green Schools manager Cathy Baxter. “Children say they really enjoy walking to school with family. Teachers report kids come to school much brighter, ready to get started on learning.”

Census 2016 found 24% of primary and 21% of secondary students walk to school. Yet in 2017, 89% of students said they’d prefer to travel sustainably.

With National Walk to School Week running next week and National WOW (Walk on Wednesday) Day on May 26, now is a good time to leave the car at home and start a healthy green habit.


4. Purify indoor air with plants

Plants clean the air through the process of photosynthesis, explains Elaine Nevin, national director at Eco-Unesco.

“Humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide — plants do the opposite. They absorb light, carbon dioxide and water to manufacture sugar, and oxygen is a vital element of clean, healthy air.”

If using air-purifying plants to reduce toxins in your home, a word of caution: some plants can be toxic to pets, so always check when buying. Go for spider plants, areca palm, Boston fern and rosemary (according to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, these are non-toxic to cats/dogs).

All work great in bedrooms too. Be sure to engage kids in their care.

5. Grow a herb garden

A herb or a kitchen garden can be grown in a planter or large container, removing much of the drudge and heavy work of gardening and making it ideal for those of us in smaller spaces.

It’s “very doable for people living in smaller, urban or suburban settings”, says gardening expert Brian Burke.

Start herbs from seed or get as pre-existing plants. “Give them a nice sunny spot and free-draining soil, and they’ll provide great bounty as summer goes on,” he says.

“Creating conditions for things to grow is an instinct we can nurture from an early age. Children’s interest amplifies if they can eat what they’re growing.”

Visit https://exa.mn/sunflowers for tips on sunflower/strawberry planting

Woodie’s Budding Gardeners initiative launches today. Get kids working on their garden patch (potted plants on balcony, flower bed in back garden); submit photos at www.woodies.ie for judging by Brian Burke

6. Attract pollinators

Gardening expert Brian Burke advises planting single flowers, such as a single dahlia, as double flowers have layers, making it difficult for bees to get to the centre.

Why not enlist the kids in planting bee-friendly flowers. They like tubular flowers — anything with a bell shape, such as honeysuckle, foxgloves or snap dragon — and go for the colour purple or mauve.

Brian Burke
Brian Burke

“The buddleia butterfly bush has really deep purple flowers later in the season. Bees love it. This time of year, perennial wallflower and salvia are great.”

With bees potentially active from February to November, Burke encourages providing them with more food and habitat to extend their season.

“You could have cherry trees and hawthorn out early, before summer’s vigorous flowering starts. Later in the season, go for coneflower and sedum.”


7. Make lunch sustainable

Say no to tin foil, cling film and plastic food bags. Say yes to long-lasting alternatives such as lunch boxes with compartments, silicone reusable storage bags and beeswax wraps. Go for reusable bottles and cutlery from home — no throwaway plastic. Involving kids in the food choice makes it less likely that food will be uneaten or wasted. In-season fruit and vegetables are more eco-friendly.

For great vegan recipes visit https://greenkitchenstories.com/

8. Conserve water

According to Green Schools Ireland, showers typically represent the third-largest water use in homes, after toilets and washing machines. Showers are more water-efficient than baths, once they’re short.An average bath uses 80 litres of water, while an average shower uses 10 litres a minute, so a 15-minute shower uses 150 litres.

Water-saving shower techniques include: only starting the shower when you’re in it; having a four- to five-minute shower when possible; and having a staggered shower (turn off the water while lathering).

Get kids doing a water-conservation challenge such as a shower time challenge, eco car wash challenge. For water-conservation tips, visit https://greenschoolsireland.org/green-schools-stay-home-conserve-water-week/

9. Build A bug hotel

This ticks two eco-friendly boxes — attracting biodiversity into the garden and using materials from your recycling bin. A bug hotel is a habitat for insects to live in and lay their eggs.Creating one teaches respect for nature and that everything plays a part in the eco-system, says Elaine Nevin of Eco-Unesco. “Bugs are important — ladybirds are a natural insecticide,” says Nevin, who suggests putting the bug hotel under bushes/in the corner of a tree.

To make an easy one, using a plastic water bottle or milk carton, visit https://exa.mn/bughotel

Young Environmentalist Eco-Week runs from May 24 to 28. Visit https://ecounesco.ie/

10. Talk about going green

Cathy Baxter recommends chatting to kids about why we’re taking eco-friendly action. “There’s a lot of anxiety about climate change that young people are tuned into. Find out what’s going on at local level – Clean Coasts, Tidy Towns.Learning about positive steps and feeling empowered to take action can counteract anxiety.”

For home-based eco-friendly steps, Baxter suggests looking, with your child, at all the rooms in your home for simple changes you can make. “We tend to use lots of plastic in the bathroom — can we use a shampoo/soap bar instead? In the kitchen/living room, what appliances are currently, unnecessarily, switched on?”

Visit https://greenschoolsireland.org/projects/

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