Your kids and reusables

“I threw the reusable lunch bags away again!”

My son’s tone wasn’t apologetic, it was borderline triumphant, like it was a good thing to throw away these bags. In today’s throw away society, it’s understandable why he might think that. It’s possible he was even asked by a teacher to do so–after all, in a single use society, why would he have something reusable?

I was pretty angry that he’d thrown away 2 sandwich bags and 4 snack bags (one at a time, at least two a week) over the course of the school year, but I also wanted to make sure he didn’t hate me for trying to transition our family to a more reusable lifestyle. I wanted to help him remember to bring home his reusables without yelling at him.

A quick google search made me realize no one has written about how to help your kids stop throwing away their reusable items. I learned more than I ever wanted to learn about “throw away kids,” but not about how to keep kids from throwing away. (And if you’re a throw away kid, I’m sorry, you definitely deserve more than that. Keep your chin up.)

I haven’t posted on Rinexii in a while due to personal issues, but I resolved at that point to both figure out how to help my son remember not to throw away the items, and to make a detailed post so other people could get the help they needed.

Step one: Talk with your kid
You probably already had a talk with your children explaining that their new lunch box items were reusable, and that they needed to be brought back. If you didn’t have this conversation, their throwing it away isn’t really their fault. Lots of single use items look like something that ought to be kept (think those cool juice bottles with the character lids) but are in fact thrown away.

If you haven’t actually explained to your kid that reusable items are reusable, and what that means, start there. If you have, your next step is to ask them why they threw the reusables away.

Asking my son directly why he threw them away made him think he was in trouble, which lead to defensive “I dunno’s” rather than an actual answer. Figuring out why is really important though. Questions I didn’t think of, but others in my quest to make this post did, include:

  • Are kids bullying him for it?
    Anything different is subject to attack from mean kids. Finding out if he’s being rediculed for it is concerning. If he is, character themed sandwich bags might turn it from a bullying point to a ‘cool kid’ point, so you might consider making that swap.
  • Did a teacher ask him to throw it away?
    Teachers probably don’t have time to discern reusable bag from fancy ziplock. If they saw his sandwich bags littering a table and asked him to toss them out, he might have just been obeying authority.
  • Is he just forgetting?
    He has had an entire lifetime of the throw away lifestyle to teach him to toss practically everything in the trash. You’re not going to unlearn it in one day. Is it muscle memory causing him to toss it?

Step two: Incentives, incentives, incentives!
If your kid is being bullied or pressured by teachers, fixing these problems will probably resolve the throwing away issue. If not however, it’s most likely the fact that your child is forgetting that these things aren’t disposable.

Once I confirmed that my child did not in fact have a bullying issue, I got a super cool game on my phone that I knew my son would love. I played with it openly where he could see.

My son isn’t allowed very much screen time, and so when he saw me playing a game instead of typing away (!) he immediately pounced on the opportunity to watch over my shoulder.

I stopped playing after a few minutes and let him know that if he brought me the bags back he could have 10 minutes playing the game–every time.

I chose a game for two reasons. The major one is that the game is reusable itself, and I wouldn’t have the discomfort of weighing the plastic trash from a piece of well liked candy for the bags. The second reason is that my son highly values screen time of any kind, and I knew for sure he’d remember those bags if screen time was on the line.

So far it has worked, but if your kid won’t be motivated unless he gets a disposable such as a wrapped candy or a dollar store toy, I think it’s worth it to consider the big picture. A life time of respecting reusable items, and getting used to using them, versus a short term increase in disposables.

Please don’t threaten or punish your kids if they forget
I was pretty mad when my son tossed out a fairly expensive set of lunch box items. Replacing the items actually wasn’t that big of a deal, but when I’m already feeling the pressure of climate anxiety and angsting over the climate impact of cloth diapers versus disposables, the environmental impact of throwing away a heavier product made me very upset.

The problem is however, yelling at your kids isn’t going to help them remember, and it may teach them to have a dislike for helping the planet and using reusables at all–definitely something you want to avoid.

Big picture, a kid that grows up to be a conscientious adult will have an overall much lighter carbon footprint even with replacement sandwich bags here and there, compared to an adult who grows up hating the whole concept and refusing to comply.

Your kid can learn to be responsible about using reusables, and it could be a stepping stone to a bright and reusable future for them. All you need is a little patience and a lot of rewards.

Don’t have any resusables for your kid yet? Here are our top picks!

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