the happiness that having a child brings. Just as our babies and toddlers inevitably have an impact on family finances, they can also impact our environment. The arrival of our little bundles of joy can increase environmental pressures both in terms of resource use and disposal as well as carbon emissions.
But there are some simple steps any parent can take to help minimise impacts to our environment. Here are some easy to implement recommendations that can take off the pressure for both the environment and your purse.
Opt for reusable diapers and avoid other single use items
It is estimated that in one year alone 27.4 billion disposable diapers are consumed in the U.S with 92% of those going to landfills[sc:1]. In addition, it is estimated that it will take disposable diapers about 250-500 years to decompose[sc:1].
Compared to cloth alternatives, the manufacture and use of disposable diapers amounts to 2.3 times more water wasted than cloth[sc:1]. What is more, cloth diapers have come a long way since the old-school big and bulky square pieces of cotton held by several pins. Today’s cloth diapers have modern and varied designs, have snaps or Velcro closures, waterproof banding and can be easily washed. What is more, cloth diapers would cost a family about half as much as disposables over a three year period[sc:2].
The issue of disposable diapers highlights the need to address a wider issue: that of single use items. It is understandable that in a time of big change, like when having a child, new parents wish to simplify aspects of baby care when they can. Disposable baby wipes are one way to help speed up cleaning up babies but their use also comes at a cost. This is not only because many of the baby wipes are made of a combination of materials, including plastic, but also because they use a variety of chemicals including triclosan or parabens, suspected endocrine disruptors which regulatory authorities in Europe and the US are trying to restrict[sc:3]. A further reason is that disposable baby wipes, along with generic ones used by the wider population, are a key contributor to marine litter. Marine Conservation Society, an environmental NGO, estimates that there are approximately 35 wipes per kilometer of beach in Britain – a 50% increase from 2013[sc:4]. Disposable wipes have also created issues with sewage systems in big metropolitan cities such as New York City where $18 million were spent on “wipe-related equipment problems”[sc:5]. An easy alternative that can substitute disposable wipes on many occasions is home-made ones with some cloth and milk soap.
Reuse old toys and baby items
Another way to help mitigate environmental impacts of a new baby is to implement some circular economy thinking to your purchases. New parents have to buy a whole array of things for their baby: from setting up the baby’s room with a crib and all other items to buying toys and baby bottles and baby baths. It is estimated that the average middle-income family in the US will spend roughly $12,000 on child-related expenses in their baby’s first year of life. By age two, parents are up to more than $12,500 per year. What is more all this investment goes primarily on items that will only be used by your baby for a few months or even weeks[sc:6]. This means that there is a lot to be saved by purchasing good quality second hand items that will help you meet your needs. Buying second hand means that you are able to spend less and that you are not contributing to the resource depletion and carbon emissions generated to produce a new item.
Go plastic – free
It is always good to minimise the use of plastic items. When it comes to babies, a key item is plastic baby bottles. These indispensable items have come under tremendous pressure as it has been discovered that they contain BPA, a hazardous chemical that is linked to reproductive diseases, endocrine disruption as well as other developmental effects. It is now widely recommended not to use plastic bottles containing BPA but many BPA-free plastic bottles are made using chemicals from the wider “bisphenol” family of substances – BPA is also known as Bispenol A. It is therefore recommended that new parents opt for glass baby bottles which do not leach chemicals and can be easily sterilized.
Buy eco-friendly and organic baby products
As a new parent, you will be inevitably called to buy new items for your baby. When you do so, it is important to look into organic and eco-friendly or sustainable alternatives. For example, there are many benefits to opting for organic food or clothes as they are made from sustainably sourced primary resources, produced in a way that respects our environment without nasty chemicals or pesticides. What is even better is that there is now a variety of such products available that will not break the bank!
By opting for the recommendations above, you are not only saving money and the environment but your responsible behaviour will educate your child early on about the importance of protecting our environment and making the right consumer choices.
So remember: green families are not born, they are created.