Previous generations managed to get by without many of the gadgets we’ve been told we absolutely need in order to properly care for our babies. Unfortunately, these inventions of convenience are often inordinately wasteful, meaning the things we buy to make our lives easier end up clogging the landfills and creating problems for our children to solve.
simple living = waste reduction = cost savings
When we decided to have children, we sincerely felt we had a duty to avoid being wasteful. While we certainly haven’t perfected the art of minimizing the volume of baby by-products that we send to the landfill, we have done a few things right simply by living a more simple life. And a spin-off benefit of our waste reduction efforts is that we’ve saved a lot of money over the long run, a very important consideration in our one-income household.
reduce – reuse – recycle
When making buying decisions, it is wise – and ecologically imperative – to bear in mind the waste minimization mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle. The 3 R’s are meant to be a hierarchy, with reduction being the most important goal. In keeping with the “reduce, reuse, recycle” theme, here are a few eco-friendly child-rearing choices that you can make, even on a tight budget.
REDUCE: reduction is all about buying less and using less. There are many things we can all do on a daily basis to reduce our non-essential consumption, such as turning off lights, taking shorter showers, turning off the faucet while brushing teeth, fixing leaky faucets, using programmable thermostats, wearing warmer clothes and using blankets indoors, carpooling, and composting.
- Plan Meals: before each grocery shop, I sit down and decide what our family will need for the week, including breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks. Then I prepare a grocery list based upon the items required to prepare each meal. So if a recipe calls for one red pepper, we buy one red pepper, not more. This exercise takes approximately 15-20 minutes, but it ensures that we never buy more than we need, we rarely end up throwing anything away (particularly produce and perishables), and we have enough food for the entire week. Because the menu is set, the guesswork is taken out of daily meal preparation – no more standing next to an open fridge trying to decide what to make based upon what’s left!
- Take Fewer Baths: to minimize water consumption, try to develop a bedtime routine that doesn’t revolve around bathing. Perhaps turn off the television a few hours before bed, dim the lights, read stories, and do other things that calm and comfort your child, reserving baths for times when they’re absolutely necessary.
- Breastfeed: not only is breastmilk free, but research shows that breastfed babies develop into healthier, more intelligent children who are less prone to allergies and obesity. And since there’s no manufacturing process involved, no shipping, no tins, no plastic bottles, and no waste, breastfeeding is best for baby, best for mom, and best for the earth.
REUSE: as the name would imply, reusing is simply making use of a thing (or part of a thing) that might otherwise be discarded.
- Hand-Me-Downs: if you intend to have more than one child, then keep everything – clothing, bedding, toys, highchair, cloth diapers, stroller, carseat – and reuse it all for subsequent children. Because babies grow out of everything so quickly, don’t be surprised if you find yourself pulling out clothes for the 2nd child that the 1st child never even wore!
- Repurpose: sometimes you’ll buy an item for one purpose, but later find a way to repurpose it, meaning you find a way to use it in an entirely different way. For instance, baby food jars can be repurposed into storage containers for paper clips and buttons, tattered baby blankets can be cut up and repurposed into spit cloths and quilts, or fashioned into capes with some ribbons or Velcro, and newborn baby clothes can be repurposed into doll clothes.
- Cloth Diapers: there are many advantages to be derived from choosing cloth over disposable diapers, including health benefits, cost savings, and ecological advantages:
- Health Benefits: cotton diapers are breathable, allowing free air flow and less bacterial growth, which lowers the incidence of diaper rash. Moreover, dioxins used in the manufacture of disposable diapers have been linked to cancer, birth defects, liver damage, and skin diseases. And because plastic-lined diapers produce significantly higher scrotal skin temperatures, researchers in Germany have found that disposable diapers may be linked to male infertility: C-J. Partsch et al., “Scrotal temperature is increased in disposable plastic lined nappies” (Arch Dis Child 2000;83:364-368).
- Cost Savings: a baby goes through approximately 8-12 diapers per day, or 6-7,000 diapers over a two-and-a-half year period; if you add the cost of disposable wipes, you’ll spend approximately $2,500-$3,000 per child on disposables. By contrast, the cost of purchasing 48 to 72 cloth diapers, plus two-and-a-half-years of additional laundry expense, is approximately $1,063, yielding significant long-term savings.
- Ecological Advantages: disposable diapers are used once then thrown away, and take much longer to decompose than cloth diapers, which are used many times by one or more children.
Because cloth diapers are not “carbon neutral”, be aware that there are many things you can do to minimize your carbon footprint if you choose cloth:
- Cotton is a pesticide, herbicide, synthetic fertilizer, and water-intensive crop, so look for organic cotton diapers, or cotton/hemp blends.
- Have a good supply of diapers available (36 is good; 72 is better) to minimize the number of laundry loads you’ll need to do.
- Only wash when you have a full load, pre-soak diapers with baking soda or Borax to neutralize odours, and clean the diaper pail with isopropyl alcohol. Unless your washer has a built-in heater, the water in your washing machine will not get hot enough to sanitize diapers (most water heaters are set to 120 degrees, and sanitizing would require a temperature of 212) so opt for environmentally-friendly detergents that are effective in cold water.
- Hang diapers to dry on an outdoor line or on indoor racks, and don’t iron them!
- If possible, reroute washing machine water runoff into your garden, or install a greywater recycling system.
- Most cloth diapers are very durable, so reuse them as often as possible on as many children as possible.
The latest generation of cloth diapers are form-fitted, and feature durable snaps or Velcro – no pins or folding required! And if you use biodegradable liners, you won’t have to scrub soiled diapers in the toilet; just flush or toss the soiled liners, and put the diapers in a pail.
RECYCLE: the technical process of recycling involves separating discards, then using energy to change the physical properties of the materials, and incorporating the altered materials into new products. For present purposes, recycling will simply mean making items available for use by someone else.
- Craigslist: tons of useful baby gear is available online, particularly at Craigslist – check out the “baby+kids” section for great deals on new and used strollers, bassinettes, clothes, toys, furniture, jolly jumpers – anything and everything for baby!
- Get Thrifty: there are many great places to find new and nearly-new items for you and your family, such as consignment shops, second-hand clothing stores, garage sales, and swap meets. It is particularly worthwhile to buy maternity, baby, and toddler clothes second-hand, because they are used for a short period of time and get relatively little wear.
- Freecycling: when members of a community set up an email group and post offers or requests for household items, it’s called freecycling. This is a great way to accumulate baby clothes, toys and other practical items like strollers, all for free. Because there’s no manufacturing waste involved, reusing baby gear is always greener than buying new, even if the new items are organic. So freecycling saves you money and it’s good for the environment. To find a freecycle group near you, check out freecycle.org.
When you’re finished with your baby items, don’t throw them away – give them to family or friends, donate them to charity, freecycle them to neighbours, or sell them on Craigslist, at a swap meet, or in a consignment store. Not only will you prevent useful items from ending up in a landfill, but you may also generate some money for groceries or perhaps for your child’s education fund.