Low-waste Family Beach Days

Beach days are in full swing here for our family – every day that I am not working, we are lake-bound and swimming. I know COVID is really making it tough to want to get out of the house, and it really depends on where you live; but we are able to get to some smaller beaches here, family cottages and use our Ontario Parks pass through the week to get out and about a little bit.

It doesn't take much to create a lot of garbage at the beach. I got to see just how much gets left behind at a provincial park beach working the maintenance crew as a teen for our local park, Bon Echo. Ontario Parks also just posted a pretty significant image on their social media about how excessive the waste is getting. I know a big reason that these parks exist is to provide access to nature for many, and there is a big hope that there is a life-long appreciation and respect fostered when visiting these spaces. We really need to make the effort to demonstrate that respect and appreciation. It can be really tough when you're cadging kids around and trying to keep everyone happy as a parent, but even one little swap or extra amount of effort is worth it. I think this is especially true when I think about how my children are remembering all of this - if this is just the norm for them, it will just be normal for them to keep going with this. But it takes someone to stop the cycle that started around the 70's and 80's to just switching to the most convenient, cheap thing... for every little thing. So I'm trying to do that and I hope you'll join me on that rocky road! 

I tried to take a few pictures while I was packing up one morning and thought I would share what our “beach bag” looks like for two little boys, Tom and Harv, aged three and one and a half. I am a bit of a nut when it comes to planning and organizing and researching what we are going to do to try and make things as low-impact as we can, so please keep that in mind and that this has taken a lot of failed attempts and slow switches to get to where we are at! Just try things one at a time, or have your kids help!

Food on the Go

I was gifted this really beautiful cooler by Smart’s Marina last summer and I have committed to try and keep all the food we need to bring in just it to keep things simpler. I’ve tried a few different options, but by far, the Onyx Containers air tight round containers are my absolute favourite. We have 5 of the round divided dishes and two of the 14” guys. For us, that’s really all we need for our ‘tupperware’ storage at home and on the go, outside of using mason jars, a set of Abeego wraps and Litsie baggies. These tins are great for the beach, because the lid makes a pretty solid plate for an adult, and the dividers are removable. I can throw one or two dividers in and bring meats and cheeses or cut veggies, or a full tin of watermelon or chip dip. They are very durable for the beach and outdoors, can be thrown in sideways, and retain the cold in the metal while sitting out on a picnic table or towel. They also stack well and are going to last for at least a decade, no matter how many rounds through the dishwasher they go.

The other thing I love to bring for toddlers is a Litsie snack baggie (the smaller size we have in our shop) and sometimes each kid might have two, depending on what we are eating. I find the baggies are perfect for sitting a kid down after a swim in their towel and handing it to them and not worrying about how much sand they each accidentally put into the main dishes. I can either throw empty baggies in the cooler and distribute the food when we get there, or prepack them and then they can eat very relaxed and there is no garbage with all the little pre-packed snacks from the grocery store. The boys love granola balls, cheese crackers, shelled pistachios and dried fruit, and the other baggie may have kobasa and cheese with some peppers. The baggies are also great for stuffing any garbage we find on the beach inside as well when they are done eating so that we can put it where it actually belongs when we head home.

Finally, I usually throw a Litsie baggie in with a few cloth wipes from Cheeks Ahoy to serve as our napkins. The Litsie baggies have wet bag material inside, so even if your cooler gets gross with whatever wet toy or bathing suit thrown in, you’ll have some clean wipes to use as well. Before eating, each boy gets a few sprays of hand sanitizer (another reason why I love the Oneka spray over a traditional gel) and a wipe off with these cloths, too. These guys really help remove the need to bring wet wipes with us and then we are bringing home none of the garbage and leaving nothing behind.

Sunscreen

I’ve been really loving the Birch Babe sun protection in a little Onyx container, and I have also tried to make my own zinc based sunscreen. I find it far less runny when it gets really hot versus the conventional tube of stuff. Full disclosure though, I use a different sunscreen for my little boys – not because of ingredients, but a very definite high rating on the sunscreen and the surety that it is waterproof for a few hours.

Bathing Suit Set Up

A couple years ago, I placed a special order for a Litsie wet bag for the boy’s wet stuff (at that time it was used for day trips for a handful of cloth diapers). Susan made me this gorgeous bag and it is amazing for packing and organizing at the beach. On the way to the beach, anything that I really want to stay dry goes inside. This includes my phone, Harv’s diapers, and any underwear and little kid’s clothing that needs to stay dry. At the end of the beach day, the bathing suits end up in there when I take out the dry stuff to put on the boys and it is simple to deal with when we get home - that bag and its contents all get hung out on the line. This helps us avoid plastic bags and it works far better than a plastic bag, anyway. It has been far worth the investment for us!

Finally, my favourite kids bathing suits that are Canadian-made and ethically produced come from Mini Cycle, an awesome new website find. This company will rebuy their clothing back to sell on their preloved section of their website. I haven’t made it to that part of the cycle yet, but we will be sending our sun hats (cotton ones from Fini) and bathing suits and rashies back through there. The thickest, toughest bathing suit that I have found outside of Mini Cycle comes from Imagine Perry. This suit is made out of recycled plastic bottles (an awesome innovation to help deal with the plastic waste because only 9% of it is truly recycled) and I will definitely be investing in this brand more to support a small Canadian company with a very solid product. And remember - buying or using something second-hand is always best, no matter where it is made (at that point, you're just alleviating the waste cycle, so that's better than buying new anyway!). Luckily I have two little guys going through the suits, and we like to keep things very minimal, so both kids have two rashies and two suits only.

Finally, a swim diaper can make a huge difference in your environmental impact at the beach. Every time a swim diaper is used, it alleviates the waste of however many you were going to buy that summer. We have two diapers for one boy still in diaps. Harv is a little on the husky side, so the gals at Go Green Baby in Kingston were amazing to work with to find something that would work for him as he had outgrown the Amp and Bummis swim diapers we’d had from last summer. I learned that I could simply use a cloth diaper cover (that makes things even simpler for anyone doing this with cloth diapers as long as you aren’t using all-in-ones), and that’s what we have for him now. The pee always ends up in the water, with whichever diaper (cloth or disposable) you’re using, it is just the poop you’re trying to ‘catch.’ I know it isn’t for everyone, but parents are pretty used to poop catastrophes no matter the kind of diaper they use (and with the Motherease cloth diaps we used, explosions just didn’t happen like they did with disposable diapers, truly). And really, all you need to do is dump a turd in the toilet when you get home (or for a smaller baby, rinse it or swirl it in the toilet to wash it off)… in order to save the earth a thousand years of degrading the plastic in that other diaper. It’s not awesome in the moment, but we can do it!

Beach Toys + Stuff

We also invested in this awesome beach toy set from Go Green Baby by Ezri after quickly ruining a couple of plastic sets at the beach. It was an investment, but I was already around $40 spent on two plastic sets and the kids are still pretty young so I know it will add up eventually to be much more than that, price-wise and impact-wise. A net baggie has been great for tying onto our cooler or beach bag for these guys.

I have spent quite a long time this year trying to find some floaties that make sense sustainably and really haven’t found anything. I would love to get a beach ball and some little floats for the kids, but everything is just so cheap, likely to ruin quickly, and not even recyclable at that. Plus, in trying to do research to figure out if there is a recycled plastic option or something a little better quality, or even just recyclable, I found out about PVC coatings and the health and environmental dangers they pose. Not awesome. So, we are sticking with ol’ fashioned noodles (at least pretty durable, cost effective and PVC-free) and some crocheted water balloons I found on Etsy (these guys sink so they have been awesome for throwing and retrieving and then water balloon ‘fights’ on the lawn with our sprinkler) and some Green Toys recycled plastic boats.

So, there it is! Let me know if there’s anything I’m missing in my roundup that you’re interested in reading about.

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