Our little ones bring so much joy to our lives and the world around them, that it’s easy to forget the damage that raising a child can do to the planet that we’re leaving to them. Did you know that you’ll change 6000 nappies in the first few years? Multiply that by 10 million babies aged 0-2 at any time in the US alone, with only an estimated 10% of those cute lil’ bottoms wearing cloth nappies and that’s about 20 billion disposable nappies going into landfill every year. Yikes.
The good news is, there’s plenty of ways that green mamas can tread lightly on this earth. You’ve probably already heard of the 3 Rs of sustainability: reduce, reuse and recycle. But now there’s two more principles you can follow. You’ll be setting a great example for the older children in your family too: by modeling environmentally friendly behavior and showing your kids how important eco-consciousness is to you, you can inspire them to think about how they can apply the 5 Rs to their lives, too!
- Ditch the disposables! This is probably the most important thing you can do to reduce your impact. It will also save you a lot of money in the long run (about $1000 a year!), but it can also be on the time-consuming side (and babies are already pretty time-consuming!), so you could consider using a cloth nappy service. Choice Magazine has a rundown about the pros and cons of cloth nappies, but when you think about what 6000 nappies will do to the environment, that really is a pretty big pro!
- Sign up for a toy library. That way, you don’t have to buy so many new toys, and another child can enjoy your child’s toys when they’ve (often all-too-quickly) lost interest! It’s tempting to buy them every cute toy you see, especially if this is your first child, but too many toys can actually be a bad thing, and you’d be surprised how much more fun they’ll often have with the box it came in.
- Breastfeed, if you can. You’ll use a whole lot less electricity, and dispense with so many tins of formula. Also, you’re reducing the waste that’s involved in producing and shipping those tins: after all, breastmilk is literally as locally-sourced as you can get – it’s fresh from the mama!
- Consider a vegetarian or pescetarian diet, both for yourself and your baby if they’re over 2 years old. The perennially favorite pediatrician, Dr. Spock, recommend a vegetarian diet for children aged 2 or over, but you need to make sure that your children are still getting plenty of iron! Still, as long as you’re careful, then it’s far healthier for the planet, as well as you and your littleone. But there are also some benefits to keeping fish as part of your diet: either way, you’re doing the environment a serious favor!
- Make your own baby purees. It’s actually pretty easy, you’ll be using so much less packaging, and you’ll know exactly what’s going in your baby’s mouth.
- Buy used clothes. Your local goodwill store is a great place to find adorable finds that may have been 10x that price when they were new! Babies and toddlers grow out of their clothes so fast that if you’re buying new, you’ll find you’re spending a fortune that you really don’t need to. Of course, the occasional brand-new party dress or fairy-princess costume really is irresistible; but once bubs has grown out of it, make sure you’re recycling it yourself by either giving it to goodwill, a friend with children or someone who needs it, like a local woman’s refuge.
- Don’t forget to donate/recycle the big stuff. Don’t send your high chair, cot or nappy table to landfill – again, there’s plenty of mothers that need these and are happy to use them second-hand, or organizations that are happy to take them. It’s not recommended to use car-seats secondhand, as they have a useful life expectancy, but there are places where these can be recycled too – contact your local council for more information. If you live in the States or Canada, you can find information on car seat recycling here.
- Express your inner artist with baby food jars. If you buy baby food, you’ll soon find yourself with an impressive array of baby jars (around 600 jars a year!). The good news is, there’s plenty of fun ways you can reuse them: you can use them to store small edible gifts for friends, or upcycle them into terrariums, or much more – you’re really only limited by your imagination! Make Life Lovely has 12 particularly adorable ideas to turn your baby food jars into works of art (not to mention cake!)
- Think creatively before you bin it or recycle it – that egg-carton can keep bubs entertained for quite a while! And for mamas of the toddler set, here’s 50 great ideas for crafts made out of materials you’d be recycling or throwing out otherwise.
- If you’re a bit crafty yourself, there are some amazing things that you can make from baby items once bubs has outgrown them – how about a desk made from a cot, or wipes containers into storage tubs? Less waste and a tidier home – win-win!
- Go eco-friendly with your veggie scraps. With a family to feed, you probably throw out a lot of veggie scraps (especially if you’ve followed that vegetarian diet tip ;)) When these go to landfill, they turn into sludge – but if you compost them and put them in your garden, then you’re fertilizing your soil and doing Mother Earth a favor! There are a few different options for rotting your food scraps – a compost bin, a worm farm, or the Bokashi method – they’re all great fun for the kids to watch. There’s also the trench compost method, which is even easier: just dig a deep trench into your garden, bury your garden scraps and let your friendly local earthworms do all the hard work.
- Don’t buy/use things that you don’t really need. Pretty straightforward really. But it’s a real mindset change, and it can be challenging – shopping sprees are a hard habit to break! But you’d be surprised how much of what you buy, you’re no longer using even 6 months later. A minimalist lifestyle, for you and your little one alike, is better for the planet and surprisingly psychologically freeing: you’ll find you enjoy living in a less cluttered space.Check out the Story of Stuff video for some shocking statistics on the waste that’s produced by excess consumerism, and the damage it’s doing to the planet; it’s a real eye-opener, and will make you think about whether that impulse purchase is a want or a need!
- No circulars, please! Sign up for e-mail newsletters over postal, and put a “no circulars please” sticker on your letterbox. You’d be amazed how quickly all that direct mail adds up.
- Reject unsustainable fashion. That $10 blouse that you buy because it’s cheap and never actually wear actually has a high price: according to EcoWatch, fast fashion is the second dirtiest industry in the world. Think cotton pesticides and factory pollution (not to mention unsafe conditions, and cruel working practices!). There’s also a very complex supply chain involved in the fashion industry: the fabric, the dye, the buttons, and the manufacturing process of that blouse likely span several countries, which means a whole lot of environmental damage. If you’re buying new, for you or your baby, then sustainable fashion and an ethical supply chain is the way to go!
Do you have any other tips to share with baby-mamas about eco-friendly parenting? I’d love to hear your thoughts!