One of the issues closest to my heart is living an eco-friendly lifestyle. It can be challenging with kids, but it is possible! Here are some of my favorite tips for being earth-conscious with baby.
Far and away the greatest impact a baby has on the environment is in diaper use. The average baby will go through over 5,500 diaper changes before he is toilet trained. Every day about 44 million soiled diapers are discarded into American garbage cans. They are a long-term emitter of methane and constant contributor to the greenhouse gas effect. Reusable cloth diapers can impact the environment just as much as disposables, but in different ways. The amount of water needed to launder the diapers, the energy needed to run the washing and drying equipment, as well as the water pollution from increased detergent and bleach use all add up to a substantial carbon footprint.
Whether you use cloth or disposable is a personal decision. Either way, flushing as much waste down the toilet as you can really goes a long way to reducing your child’s environmental impact. Human waste in landfills pose a serious threat to the cleanliness of future water supplies and can contribute to the spread of virus and disease. Also consider potty training your child as early as she shows readiness. The quicker she’s out of diapers, the better, but don’t push a child to train if she isn’t ready.
You can also use washable baby wipes – either bought or homemade from old material – rather than disposable.
Water and Power Usage
Caring for a new baby can also mean increases in your utilities usage. Add up the extra water used for your baby: frequent baths, laundry, food preparation and increased dish-washing and cleaning. According to several studies, an infant to toddler-aged child will increase your water usage by 60-100 gallons per day! Plus a baby’s added power usage can increase your household’s power consumption by over 60%, thanks to increased laundry, heating and cooling.
For the lowest impact possible, bathe your baby in the kitchen sink or a large basin to use less water. A sponge bath is also a good water-saving option, and for the first few months, a much easier proposition. You can also take your older baby or toddler with you when you shower and clean two bodies at once. It’s difficult to get around the inevitable increase in laundry, so use a gentle, eco-friendly cleaner and do full loads instead of partial loads. Keep a bucket of cold water available to soak messy clothes, rags or diapers until you have a full load for the machine. Line dry whenever possible.
Avoid buying foods packaged in single-serving packets. As much as possible, make your own baby food using organic (or home-grown) fruit and vegetables. A batch of pureed fruit and veggies can be frozen in small containers and lasts a long time. It will be fresher, cheaper and tastier than store-bought versions, and is quick and easy to make. In those early days, we’ve all heard that breast is best, not to mention cheaper and waste-free. Breast milk also doesn’t require refrigeration and is portable. If formula is needed, look for organic options and recycle those canisters. When using powdered formula, heating is not a necessity – both of my boys did just fine with their formula mixed with cool or room-temperature filtered water, and it made feedings out and about much easier!
Trash and “Stuff”
It is really hard to believe how something so small can create so much trash! Not just diapers, but everything from wipes and food containers to broken toys and all the boxes, plastic wrap and Styrofoam they came packaged in. An average household’s gross garbage weight can increase 30-70% with a new baby.
When you have a baby, there can be a lot of gear: car seats, high chairs, cribs, etc. These items generally arrive in a large box, and the item is protected inside by foam blocks and encased in plastic bags. Lend, borrow and swap baby equipment to save money and resources. Babies grow out of clothes and other equipment at an alarming rate, usually well before they’re worn out. Keep the new gear to a minimum whenever possible – a safe crib, a baby sling or stroller, and a good car seat (if you use a car) are the real necessities (though our baby swing was a sanity-saver for many months!)
Keep the battery-operated toys to a minimum. Buy toys with eco-friendly packaging, less plastic and ones that will last a long time and will interest your baby for more than a couple of months. Look for used toys at thrift stores or garage sales or trade with friends, and get rid of your unused toys the same way. Most toys are durable enough to be played with by many children, not just one, and recycling them back into play is good for kids and the environment! And speaking from experience, “more” toys does not equal happier children – it just makes more work for Mommy!
And finally, many mothers have a heightened desire to protect those precious little cherubs from unclean surfaces. Those same little angels also make more messes, and nastier messes, than you ever imagined. Opt for eco-friendly cleaning products and laundry detergents, or make your own. Have a supply of washable cloths or rags around for cleaning up inevitable spills, spit-up and other messes.
The most important thing to remember, by far, is to keep it simple. Look for quality items made in the U.S.A., like PLT, and choose durable items you love. Some clothes, a safe bed, sustenance and a few simple toys are all you really need, along with lots of love and patience!