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7 Ways Your Teens/Tweens Can Go Green and Still Be Cool

Eco-Friendly Kids and Parenting

Last Updated on January 23, 2024

It may seem like teens and tweens are only obsessed with SnapChat, VSCO, and Instagram.

When they finally look up from their shiny object, they see what’s happening to the world around them and they are concerned.

Specifically, they’re concerned about climate change, and in my experience, they want to take action!

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Today, we’ll focus on the simple things your teen and tween can do while still being relevant aka ‘cool’. (My son would be so proud of my lingo!)

Both of my sons, a teen and tween, use the swaps listed below, and even their FRIENDS have picked up on it too.

1. skip the straw:

Trying to be zero waste at eateries that only offer disposables can be challenging. 

But there are things we can do to reduce our waste even when only disposables are offered. 

Skip the straw and the lid when ordering a fountain drink!  Most times, these items really aren’t needed especially when dining in.

And while you’re at it, skip the bag too. 

Most places are getting into the habit of asking if you need one, but if they don’t, make sure you take one only if you really need it. 

Or better yet, bring your own!

To take it a step further, for the rare times we order food to-go, we bring our own glass containers to have the food put in instead of individual plastic containers for every individual order. 

If the establishment gives us a hard time, we ask them to plate it ‘for here’ and then we simply transfer it to our containers.

Also, consider skipping the fortune cookies wrapped in plastic too. 

2. vending machines:

I am convinced there is some sort of magnetic pull between vending machines and kids!  A bag of chips is amongst the usual suspects, along with its accomplice the soft drink.

Unfortunately, there’s not a great alternative for the bag of chips but there is for the soft drink!

Often, vending machines will offer soft drinks in plastic, aluminum or glass bottles. GO WITH ALUMINUM! It can be recycled indefinitely.

In contrast, only 9% of plastic is recycled, and even then, it’s downcycled.

RELATED: Which is Better for the environment? Glass or Plastic?

3. ditch the spoon:

Ice cream, especially in the summertime, is a staple for our family and we have found a few ways to ditch the waste while enjoying it.  

The ideal zero waste option would be an ice cream cone, thereby eliminating both the spoon and cup! 

But when my kids want a Blizzard, sundae, etc, we bring our metal spoons from home!

Or if we forget, my To-Go Ware bamboo utensil set is used as a backup!

Don’t be discouraged if you forget to bring your spoons from time to time. 

It took us a couple times to remember to pack them, but eventually we got into the habit.

Important tip – remind the server several times that you don’t want a spoon, straw or lid and understand that sometimes they will still forget!

4. get thrifty:

When my kids need an outfit for a school dance, graduation, bat mitzvah, costume etc., I first look to my friends for hand-me-downs, then venture on to secondhand stores. 

Between those two sources, I can usually scrape together an outfit while still affording my kids to look just as they would if we had gone to a retail store or shopped online.

In my experience, people love to hand-down clothes to people they know. 

Keeping this in mind, I looked at my friends to figure out who has kids slightly older than mine and the same gender and then I asked them if they could keep me in mind for clothes their kids grow out of. 

Since I have two boys, clothes are simply passed down from my teen to my tween!

This is not only easy on the environment, but also on the pocketbook!

5. meaningful birthday gifts:

I know I can speak for myself and many others when I say that our kids have more toys than they need. 

For birthdays, it got to the point where our kids would open each gift, get excited, play with the toy for a bit (some longer than others) and then move on to the next one.

It seemed disingenuous, unmeaningful and a waste of mostly…plastic. 

In lieu of a gift, you can ask your guests for a donation to a charity!  

My kids have asked for donations to Charity: Water, the Brain Cancer Society, Lurie’s Children’s hospital and more!

They haven’t missed the gifts (well, maybe a smidge), but this swap taught them an important lesson in giving back.

6. experience gifts:

Likewise, after so many birthday parties my kids had been to, I thought that there had to be a better way than continuously trying to find a toy that was in the budget (again, usually means something made of plastic) that may or may not actually get played with.

So, we ditched tangible gifts and give experiences instead. 

My teen and tween often give the following “gift certificates” to do with their friend receiving it:

  • A scoop of ice cream together

  • Lunch together

  • A movie together

  • Bowling together

  • The most recent “cool” gift we gave was, 20 one-dollar bills taped together end to end, rolled up and put into a reused box to create the endless roll of dollar bills!  It was a huge hit! 

As a bonus, this type of gift-giving also puts the emphasis on time together for meaningful friendships.

7. lunchtime:

My kids have been using reusable lunchboxes for several years.  I first bought the plastic-type, but they quickly deteriorated so I recently bought a stainless steel one.

My tween loves the shiny look, not to mention the compartments!

My teenager’s backpack is stuffed to the brim leaving little space, so he opts for our reusable Bees Wrap or the Stasher Bag to pack his sandwich. 

He just started high school and uses one or the other each day. Now, his friends have been asking him about them!  

Goodbye plastic Ziplock baggies!

As you can see, there are a variety of ways that teens can be green while still fitting in and being cool!

Some of these simple swaps are so subtle and can be done without even being noticed!

But at the same time, I hope they wear their sustainability proudly so that others will follow along too!

Guest Post: Nicole Boomgaarden, from Chicago, is the founder of She works part-time as a Sr. Business Analyst in the financial industry. Serves as the liaison with local school districts to help them adopt sustainable practices and environmental education. Enjoys playing softball, volleyball, dancing, reading and sharing her knowledge around how to live a greener life on her Instagram account @imperfect_zerowate.

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  1. Hey, fellow Chicagoan! My husband and I have been exclusively doing donation gifts for the past three years, and we love it. We even did this for our wedding instead of setting up a registry. It warms my heart to see that other people enjoy this, too.

  2. I love this article! Note for Kathryn—- can you not eat the top of the post (somewhere before we start reading) that it’s a guest post? I admit that I got really confused when reading this as I know you didn’t have teens! ?