This post comes courtesy of Lighter Footstep, a website dedicated to helping people live lighter, more sustainable lives…one step at a time.
A Family’s Weekly Guide to Reducing Your Impact on the Planet at Home
Written by Sonya K. Hess
Child-Raising: Three ways to lighten your impact on the planet AND economize
Children have become a fad: grocery store tabloids map celebrity-babies’ every move, note who is riding in which tricked-out stroller, and remind us where so-and-so got her baby’s $300 shoes. But fads mean money spent on a constantly changing environment of style, one that only encourages over-consumption and overuse of already precious resources. Want to bring child rearing back to earth, and save money in the process?
1. SHOP SECOND-HAND
For some parents thrift stores may be a budget necessity, but regardless of your wallet, shopping thrift stores for kids has endless benefits. First, remind yourself that your child, at least for the first two years of her life, could care less what she wears, as long as it’s weather-appropriate. Reminding yourself of this can help you to care less too. Second, children’s second-hand clothes are rarely worn out or even stained, thanks to kids’ rapid growth, so your bargains are going to look and wear like practically new clothes. Someone is out there paying full dollar for those clothes, and you stand only to benefit. Third, most small- to mid-sized cities, to say nothing of metropolitan areas, are exploding with consignment shops for children’s clothes. These stores range from mega-cheap to highly selective, so whatever your style and budget, you can find a deal. And finally, buying second hand will really add up: if the average new outfit for a child at a large chain store runs about $25 and you find it for $10, you’ve saved $15 per outfit which can easily mean close to $100 for a week’s worth of clothes. Plus, with the resale options many consignment stores offer, your kids’ outgrown clothes can go right out the door again and earn you credit or cash in the end.
2. — USE CLOTH DIAPERS
It’s funny how many people I’ve talked to say something like this: “I know I should try cloth diapers just like I should try to recycle and use less gas and minimize my waste, but it just sounds so hard.” Well, I’m about to show you that it isn’t—at least no harder than trudging out to the grocery store late at night for another package of disposables because you discover you’ve used the last one.
The Economics of Cloth Diapers
If no other reason convinces you, saving money should be a no-brainer. The average child will be in diapers for over two years, and a family’s monthly disposable diaper spending averages $35-55, depending on brands bought, as well as extra supplies (wipes, etc.). Sure, you make an initial investment with cloth diapers that can run anywhere from $150-$300, but even at the high end you’ve easily spent less in total than you would on even six or seven months of disposable diapers. And if you chose to have more than one child, remember that that investment will last you through all your kids, while a family adding a child adds another $35-50 spent, per month, on what is basically garbage.
**Want to learn more about the economics of cloth diapers, including detailed breakdowns of waste production and water use for disposables vs. cloth? Check out Punkin Butt’s wonderful article entitled The Diaper Dilemma: The Environmental Cost of Diapers.
Cloth diapering really can be easy
Think for a minute: wouldn’t you calmly explain to a friend that he/she was crazy for using paper plates and cups for every meal, and show them that using a sink or dishwasher is actually pretty handy? We use paper plates at company picnics because they make things easier, but at home it just makes sense to eat your pasta out of a bowl, wash the bowl, and use it for your cereal the next morning.
Now shift those thoughts over to diapers and clothing: we all do laundry already, right? Does it sound easy to you to do one more load, especially if you know you’re saving money and easing your burden on the earth? I hope so, because that’s what cloth diapering is: a little more laundry, and a lot less money.
Options for cloth diapers
The internet is full of options for those who choose cloth, and this article will give you the basics, as well as referring you to a host of websites that can teach you even more.
Sharp diaper pins and cracked plastic pants are a thing of the past. Cloth diapers come in two basic types: “prefold” diapers (your basic thick rectangle of cotton, folded into diaper shape) with a waterproof velcro- or snap-closure cover, and “all-in-one” diapers (AIOs in the diapering world) that are cover and soaker in one, held on with Velcro, snaps, or elastic. Beyond cotton innards and waterproof coverings, there are many fleece and wool choices as well, especially nice for babies with skin sensitivities.
The prefold route: probably the most savings—you buy 4-8 diaper covers in your baby’s size, as well as 2-4 dozen cloth “prefolds,” depending on how often you’d like to do laundry. The diaper covers can be used more than once, until they are overly wet or soiled, and then a quick hand wash and line dry has them ready to go again in several hours. The inner prefolds that handle the bulk of the urine and waste get rinsed and soaked or tossed in your diaper bin until laundry time.
AIO: you’ll spend more up front for these, because you need enough to get you through all the diaper changes for a couple days (unless you want to do laundry every night). Most folks choosing all-in-ones will buy 2-3 dozen in each size necessary, and wash all of them every third day or so.
Washing cloth diapers—getting down to business
Everyone will develop their own system for washing diapers, and many types of all-in-one diapers or diaper covers may come with their own set of washing instructions. The very basics are a bucket-soak or soak-cycle in your washer, either with vinegar or baking soda, followed by a hot wash/cold rinse, and then drying on the line or in a hot dryer. Since your washing machine will be doing most of the work, the only time you spend is getting diapers to and from the machine, and if you hire a diaper service to do the washing, even this task is cut out, although it really isn’t that much of a hassle.
**Still skeptical? Skim through another article from Punkin Butt’s wonderful website, this one entitled “Punkin Butt Easy Wash System: Simple and effective instructions for how to wash cloth diapers“.
Other concerns: daycare, reusable wipes, etc.
Concerned about how to integrate cloth diapers into your child’s daycare routine?
Heather Sanders’ article “Cloth Diapered Children and Day Care Providers” can be found at http://www.thediaperhyena.com/daycare_clothdiapering.htm. She covers a range of issues, from introducing cloth diapering to your daycare provider to the more complex legal and health-code issues associated with diapering and daycare centers.
Just like the washcloths we use in the shower, wipes for baby’s bottom can easily be made from cloth and used endlessly—my mother still has a pile in her
rag bag that get used in the garage, twenty-some years after the fact! Many cloth diapering websites sell their own special styles of flannel or terry reusable wipes; you can make your own or simply buy thin baby washcloths or second-hand washcloths to do the job. Count on getting about two dozen to make life easier.
Ready to get started?
The Internet will be your best friend as you collect your cloth diapering supplies. The websites listed below are only a guide to get started, as many others abound and a simple web search will turn up enough sites for you to compare prices and options. Ebay is also a great way to find new and used diaper covers and brand new prefold diapers for less money than many online stores. If you are lucky enough to live near a children’s supply store that stocks cloth diapering materials, visit them and support your local business. Many carry used diaper covers as well.
3. TOYS—Simplifying the Playroom
Nowhere is marketing to children more apparent than in the toy department. Aside from limiting your children’s exposure to television (most pediatricians recommend NO screen time for children under 2-3 years of age) you can exercise a certain amount of control over how many toys your child has, and what types of toys you allow into your home. Here are some things to think about:
Plastics vs. natural materials
Recent research has shown the potential risks plastics pose to our bodily health, and this risk is increased for children because their bodies are so much smaller and because they spend much more time as babies with things in their mouths. Why not eliminate the risk of toxic leachates from plastics and give your baby wooden or cloth toys? Plastics are also petroleum products of one sort or another, and so in addition to the fossil-fuel energy it took to produce the toy, the toy itself is using up precious resources, and won’t biodegrade quickly (as wood and natural-fiber cloths do) when finally thrown away.
“Characters” vs. open-ended toys
Marketing is a factor again here. I don’t assume that we can indefinitely shield our children from all toy marketing, movies, and the like. Most parents don’t even want to do this. But at an early age, you probably noticed that babies derive just as much pleasure from playing with your car keys or a wooden spoon as the action-figure they’re given to knaw on. Rather than toys that have just one use, provide your growing children with tools for creativity: blocks, puzzles, materials for forts and other creative play, and of course the great outdoors are your child’s best playthings. These toys will likely be durable as well, reducing what you end up spending and throwing away over the course of childhood. And just like clothes, many quality toys are available second-hand.