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Limiting the Environmental Impact of Having Kids

With the discovery that I’m pregnant again, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to just how you limit the environmental impact your family has on this planet. At the very least while you’re raising them, and hopefully providing them with the skills they need to continue with a green lifestyle.

It’s certainly not easy. With all the pressures kids have to conform and to want pretty much everything they see on television or their friends tell them about, the environment is only so much on their minds.

My main thoughts are currently centered on how to start this baby off right. Since my husband has finally agreed to go for cloth diapers, that’s going to be one good start. We haven’t gotten rid of the older children’s baby toys yet, still have the stroller, pack ‘n play, cradle, crib and so forth, so that’s going to help. They were about to head off to the thrift store. I told him trying to get rid of such things was dangerous!

Have to get a new infant car seat, though. Ours is older than the recommended age and I would hate to guess wrong on whether or not that recommendation is too conservative. Too much at risk in an accident.

And yes, we have tons of old baby clothes, either here if it’s a boy, or with my sisters if it’s a girl. There’s plenty of time for those to wander back into my custody if needed during visits that would happen anyhow.

Yes, I will be breastfeeding, and I’m thinking I’m going to use my reliable old baby food mill a little more heavily this time. Both of those have always worked well for me.

Helping Older Kids Reduce Waste

So really I should probably be thinking more on what to do to continue teaching my older kids. The more habits I can build into them, the better.

The challenge here is of course that older children don’t always understand why you’re telling them something, and will do things completely without thinking. That’s why my daughter had to fetch a spoon out of the trash the other day. That also explains why so much of my silverware is missing, because I’m sure I haven’t caught that happening every time. Very frustrating but a good example of how kids can do things unthinking when they know they shouldn’t.

That is one of the things I like about the school the kids are at now. The school started a garden area for the kids last year. They’re big on having the kids run and the play area is more challenging than most I’ve seen recently. They have a new recycling program in the lunch area, and I believe in the classrooms.

My daughter brings lunch to school just about every day when school in in session, and always in reusable containers. She’s as near to zero waste for lunch as I can manage… not counting whatever she refuses to eat.

There are some great reusable lunch bags and boxes out there. I love the Laptop Lunches Kit, since that’s pretty flexible. ReusableBags.com has a lot more lunch bags available, so if the Laptop Lunches Kit is too small you can find something more to your size preference.

Amazon also carries plenty of lunch bags; just do some research to avoid lead and BPA.

Reducing Waste at Home

Beyond just keeping kids from accidentally throwing things out that they shouldn’t, there are many things you can have them do at home.

Keep that wardrobe under control, for example. I find this one surprisingly difficult, not because I buy many clothes at all for my kids, but because relatives do! I am constantly amazed at how many clothes my kids end up with despite the fact that I almost never buy them anything, new or used.

We teach them the difference between play and nice clothes, so that nice clothes get ruined less quickly. Of course play clothes are at first defined as any clothes that will wash up well, and later as the clothes they’ve ruined for other purposes. Playing in torn jeans means nothing to my kids so far, other than that they can get as messy as they like.

I’ve posted in the past about using trash as craft supplies. If your kids are creative, it’s a great outlet.

Toys, Toys Everywhere!

I consider toys a weakness around here, even though, once again, we don’t buy that many! It’s the challenge of generous relatives.

I do tell people that anything that encourages active play or creativity is more welcome than any toy that limits the kids by how it’s supposed to be used. It doesn’t always help, but it’s worth the try.

When you’re stuck with tons of plastic toy clutter it’s time to teach the kids about generosity. Take some time regularly and go through the toys and figure out what can go to charity. Or you can go entrepreneurial and have a garage sale to teach them about earning money. Either way the toys are getting out of your house and being reused by someone else.

Magic Cabin is a really great place to find natural toys for children. Any time I visit their online store I go nuts wanting too much stuff. Not everything there is natural, but as a whole they tend to offer many more creative toys than most shops.

Cleaning Up Your Hike

My kids love to go hiking. A very simple bit of responsibility to teach them is that if you see trash, you pick it up. And of course, if you bring it in, use it up or take it out. Simple rules kids understand.

If you haven’t encouraged this before, you may be amazed at how much younger children in particular enjoy doing this. Keep in mind that the same kid who will absently throw a wrapper on the floor at home will be completely absorbed by the notion that they can help clean up natural areas. It’s just not the same to them.

Garden Organically

Kids love gardens. Mine are just about obsessive about planting seeds. Given that they know nothing about it, most of what they plant never grows, but at least they try.

Our pumpkins really took off this year. They came from seeds from ones we bought last fall, and it looks like we will have a pretty nice supply for Halloween.

They really go for the tomatoes too. Those were just about the only other thing that did well in our garden this year for some reason.

But trust me, young kids don’t mind too much that the garden isn’t producing well. Being in the garden means they can dig in some dirt (set aside an area for that) and look for bugs. Oh, and you can’t forget how much fun they have nibbling on anything you’ve approved. Mine love basil and mint.

We compost, so food waste goes to making each year’s garden a little healthier without fertilizers. It works pretty well most years.

No matter what you do, of course, people have an impact on the planet. You can still take steps to limit your own and that of your family.

11 Responses to Limiting the Environmental Impact of Having Kids

  1. I loved the concept of this post. Green pregnancies and reducing the carbon impact of having children. I wonder though, especially for parents having their first baby, if they would be willing to use second-hand or greener cots, toys, etc..

    Many parents love to dote on their children. I think this could be a tricky group to convince going green.

    What do you expect?

  2. Awesome post! We are expecting our second child in January and are already doing many of the things you listed. One thing I didn’t see mentioned and we use is cloth wipes. They work great and I wash them right only with the diapers.

  3. Richard, I know a lot of people find that difficult. With my first, my inlaws were horrified at the concept of their first grandchild having anything not new. My mother-in-law did quickly come to understand why I shopped the resale shops for baby clothes, though. She couldn’t believe how new some items were. Couldn’t convince her of anything before that, though.

    And that’s much of the problem. It goes beyond parents wanting to dote on their infants and older children. Relatives can do a lot too. It really requires a shift in how we think. There’s the excess purchasing that comes pretty natural to a lot of parents to welcome the first baby, and then the feeling that you have to welcome the second, third, or whatever with the same amount of loot. Never mind that babies don’t care about new or used.

    People also don’t think about how wonderfully sentimental some handmedowns can be. My mother has the crib that she was in as a baby. My kids slept in it at her house when they came for a visit, and she told me if we had gotten rid of ours, we could use that one. We don’t need it, but it’s pretty neat that she thought of that. Telling kids as they get older that they slept in something handed down through generations is more special than talking about the store it came from.

    Some of it takes experience too. My oldest sister declined the stock of handmedown clothes my younger sister and I had generated for our daughters when my oldest sister had her daughter. Within a few months of the birth she was asking about it. She thought that because she made a really good income it wouldn’t matter that she’d need to buy a lot of clothes. Now she cheerfully takes handmedowns because it’s just so practical.

    Wish I knew how to get that point across to more moms-to-be.

    Diana, I had completely forgotten about the cloth wipes. My mother told me some years back about using them, but aside from that I rarely hear anything about them. Of course, she also noted that for emergency use even a plain washcloth will do the job. The thought grossed my husband out at the time, but now that he’s amenable to cloth diapers I don’t think cloth wipes are that big a leap.

  4. It’s funny (but sad) how people are so class-conscious in America. Used cars, used furniture, and God forbid a clothesline = low class. It’s too bad waste is associated with positive attributes instead of negative ones! Anyway, Stephanie, I just discovered your blog and wanted to say hi for the first time in the comments. 🙂

  5. I’m new here too – via Twitter – and I so agree. I love handmedown clothes, and we regularly move clothes around our circle of friends. I smile to see younger children in the clothes that mine wore, and that their bigger cousins wore – it brings back good memories, never mind the added bonus of being green!

    I think it is a class thing here in the UK too. After my third child (I know, not sustainable) I tried to hand on the baby things to others via the Health Visitor, but she said most people wouldn’t accept them – even cots & baby chairs, which are expensive. So I’ve discovered Freecycle, which is fab.

  6. That’s a great story. I think it’s just the reputation of handmedowns and parents not wanting to be perceived as poor.

    Maybe we do need to stress the sentimental value of these things as a means of all recycling. It certainly seems to work brilliant in some situations.

    If cots, cribs and clothes can become sentimental, even precious, items it would encourage both that they are looked after well, and gratefully received by the family.

  7. Iagree. My daughter is very big on picking things up and throwing them away when we take the dog for a walk. I have to remember to bring a bag with us.