10 Things To Reduce Your Child's Carbon Footprint

Baby_inGrass_2_300As my wife and I were already consciously evolving our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint, it is only natural that such efforts would be carried over to raising our daughter, Anjali. Taking steps to change our habits and routines was, and is, never easy. Changing such things always involves contemplation, research, motivation and implementation. For us, the contemplation and motivation is generally there already. Implementation is usually easy once the research is done. The research, however, can be time consuming.

I want to list here 10 things that we have done to reduce our baby’s carbon footprint and give a brief summary of each item’s affects on the environment. Having these brief ideas should serve as a great launching pad for you to research deeper into each one:

  1. Using Organic Cloth Diapers / Cloth Wipes: Of course, I have read that the environmental impact it takes to manufacture and wash cloth diapers is equal to the impact of disposable diapers. But my biggest concern is where disposable diapers and wipes end up: landfills. And trapped inside those plastic diapers is human waste (mind you, it is illegal in most states to dump human waste in landfills). Cloth diapers and wipes, on the other hand, can be re-used, recycled, donated or sold. Also, as far as I can tell, new parents are constantly doing laundry anyway, regardless of their diapering choices, so is it really adding that much more to wash diapers? It is important to note that I write “organic” cloth diapers because cotton one of the most synthetically fertilized crops and uses about 25% of the world’s insecticides. This is appalling to me, and it was a real eye-opener for my wife and I. It made us think about our own clothing and cloth purchases.
  2. Practicing Elimination Communication (EC): You can read my “EC For Dummies” post, as well as my post on The Benefits Of EC. In a nutshell EC is using cues, timing and intuition to deal with an infant’s need to poop and pee. It is sometimes referred to as “diaper-free” or “early potty training,” though the focus on communication and fostering a strong parent-infant bond makes EC a more suitable name. Practicing EC, mainly in conjunction with cloth diapering, will reduce the amount of energy and water consumed as a result of doing laundry. It also reduces diaper rash, thus reducing your use of diaper creams and ointments.
  3. Buying Wooden and/or Natural Fiber Toys: Sustainable toys made of wood or natural fabrics are made with much fewer toxins than plastic ones. PVC toys, for example, have been linked to asthma, kidney and liver damage and cancer. Clearly, the off-gassing of these toys is harmful to anyone around them. But of direct concern is that infants are constantly putting things in their mouth and teething them. The “life” of a toy is another concern. Anything petroleum-based product is a non-renewable resource, and one that wars are being fought over, mind you. Also, the mass production of plastic toys gives them a sort of planned obsolescence and an overabundance that will simply add to more landfills. This leads to my next item…
  4. Buying Less Toys: We decided to keep the number of toys in our house to a minimum because we have limited space. But we started to realize the benefits this might have on our environment. Less toys means less resources used, and less resources to discard when our daughter outgrows the toys.
  5. Breast Feeding: I cannot says this any better than Wendy Correa in her “Ecomall article, Breastfeeding And The Environment“: “Breastmilk is a valuable renewable natural resource that is the most ecologically sound food source available.” Other than the food that a mother eats, breastmilk is delivered without the use of other resources. There is also no resultant pollution. Artificial human milk, also known as formula, pollutes land, water and air, and does use up natural resources. Artificial human milk necessitates packaging (material resource), heating (energy resource), using and contaminating water in association with dairy cows and/or soy farming and transportation (energy resource). I cannot says this any better than Wendy Correa in her “Ecomall article, Breastfeeding And The Environment“: “Breastmilk is a valuable renewable natural resource that is the most ecologically sound food source available.” Read that article for much more eye-opening detail!
  6. Using Environmentally Gentle Cleaning Products: The use of non-toxic detergents (such as Charlie’s Soap), oils, creams and lotions (like California Baby Calendula Cream) is much healthier and safer for your child and is much friendlier to our environment. Charlie’s Soap, for example, even reduces the number of washes you will need to do, so you are reducing energy and water use.
  7. Buying Less Clothing: Our daughter Anjali grew out of the swim shirt we bought her before even one use! Our kids grow out of clothing in the middle of the night, so save your money and reduce the natural resources–especially cotton–you are using. Of course, clothing is often recycled by resale, re-gifting or donating. But reducing your consumption (of anything) is beneficial when it comes to environmental impact.
  8. Buying Organic Clothing: As I stated in 1., cotton manufacturing uses a huge portion of the world’s insecticides and pesticides. These chemical impact our environment greatly. 98% of sprayed insecticides reach a destination other than their target, including air, water and food. Buying organic clothing circumvents these impacts. Of course, organic clothing is expensive. But, this leads back to number 7. The idea here is to buy quality over quantity. This sort of practice also circumvents planned obsolescence. Organic cotton usually lasts for 100 washes before it begins to breakdown, compared to conventional cotton which begins to breakdown after 10-20 washes. Furthermore, you are protecting your baby. An infant’s skin is more porous and thinner than adults, hence greater sensitivity to chemicals and greater risk to pesticide-related health problems.
  9. Buying and Eating Local, Organic and Whole Foods:This impacts of our eating habits are far too many to list here in total. Buying local food reduces pollution resulting from transport, not to mention that sustainable local farming practices have much less impact when it comes to the use of petroleum fertilizers, pesticides and quite simply the quantity of scale. Eating local often means eating “beyond organic,” meaning beyond a governmental definition of organic. It means, for example, cows are grazing rather than being confined and unnaturally fed corn, thus eliminating the need for hormones and antibiotics. Buying whole foods rather than processed food is just plain healthier. But it almost goes without saying that processing food uses more energy and resources than delivering local, whole foods.
  10. Stay Local, Use A Carrier and Walk: Of course, there are no doubt times when we need to drive. But I find myself more inclined to wear my daughter in a wrap or carrier and go for a walk, or patronize local shops and stores; one, because she can absorb much more from her surroundings; two, because I get my exercise; three, less driving means less carbon footprint as well as more money in my pocket. Plus, our daughter is not a big fan of being in the car yet!

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  1. I totally agree, I’d emphasize second-hand products more. For example, we use non-organic cloth diapers and clothes, but that’s because that is what is available used and from hand-me-downs. I really think it’s better to re-use conventionally grown cotton clothing than to support the manufacture of new organic products. For a friend to bring over a bag of her daughter’s outgrown clothes when she was going to drive over to our house to visit anyway takes literally NO additional resources, and buying used cloth diapers helps reduce the problem with environmental costs of production by getting more use from them.

  2. Errine,

    That’s a great point, and one I overlooked in my post. Second hand is one of the best ways to reduce unnecessary production of new items. In fact, my wife has put that into action on both ends. We have both received and sold/donated clothing. We try to take care of our daughters clothing, diapers and diaper covers (those things can be really pricey, especially organic) so others would want to re-use them. Most of the second hand stuff we have bought for our daughter is for age 2 and up, b/c we are sticking most often to organic for the early months and years.

    Our neighborhood, in fact, has a big clothing swap twice a year. It’s excellent.

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. I agree with you in every point as well. We also have the “no batterie operated toy rule” in our house and all of our friends and family members finally accepted it. I have brother who is a lot younger than me and I made wooden building blocks for him when he was around 2 years (painted with eco friendly-paint of course) and now my son is playing with them. Wooden toys are not only healther for your child but they last so much longer than they will make kids happy for many gernerations. I doubt you can say that about some cheap plastic toy. And less toys are not just good for you and your limited space they also make you child use her/his imagination more often or wanting to go outside more. My son’s building blocks have been everything you can think of (food, people, cars, trains, etc.) and people are always amazed by his huge imagination. An older lady once said to me that our son is how little boys used to be back when she was younger and I took it as a really nice (unintentional) compliment. :)

  4. Gerti,

    Thanks for your comments. On that note, I have a friend who told me his mom always does the pot and wooden spoon trick. She would bring out a pot and spoon and drum with them, and regardless of how many electronic, light-up and “soundy” toys were there all the kids would want to play with the pot and spoon. Simple. At certain ages everything is a toy…Just be creative.

    We don’t have a hard and fast rule as far as electronic toys, but we don’t have any of those toys, nor do we have plastic toys. The hard part is all of the other plastic objects around the house that our daughter can get her hands (and mouth) on.

  5. I think it’s better to re-use conventionally grown cotton clothing than to support the manufacture of new organic products.

  6. Susan, I agree!

  7. We also practice what you preach, great points, and agree that the research is the most time consuming factor which can sometimes slow our good practices down. One thing we find difficult is the huge amount of plastic gifts that our daughters keep getting given, despite our friends and family being aware of our stance on plastic vs wooden toys for our girls. I just can’t understand how people can make the choice to give or buy plastic over wooden, when the facts about both, are these days common knowledge. We think so long and hard about bringing up our girls in a way that is better for them and better for our environment, that it makes us feel sad that there are people, even with their own children, who by ignoring such facts seem like they are telling us they don’t care. We love using our recycled cardboard boxes to create all sorts of toys with the girls- beds for dolls, puppet theaters, cars, planes, boats,cameras,shoes,hats…the list is endless, and we just recycle them again once they’ve had good mileage. These type of toys are so brilliant and loved so much more than any bought gift. The kids get to do the creating, they do it with you by their side which they love, it stimulates rich imaginative play as their are no buttons or noises and it teaches them at an early age about recycling. Am proud to call our home a plastic free zone.

  8. Susan and Gerti: I agree about re-using conventionally manufactured cotton products, especially in terms of its how it impacts the environment. We chose organic cotton products for the early months–probably up to a year–for certain items that would be close or snug on our daughter’s skin. It was important to us to have little to no contact with toxins or artificial fibers. It was worth the extra dollars to us to have that peace of mind.

    We have swapped, bought and have received second hand clothing, mainly for future use. We store them for later. We also have donated, gifted and sold many items already, to recirculate what we have used. Re-using conventional (or organic for that matter) clothing, etc. is indeed important and something we practice. I should have included that in my post. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Charlotte: I checked out your site and you have some great wooden toy houses there. Fantastic!

    It is so frustrating to be ignored, especially by parents and family. I am not sure why people ignore our requests not to get polyester or plastic toys or lots of toys, etc. It may be a way of saying, “well, we had these things for you and you turned out okay.” How this kind of attitude irks me…

  9. Also having children be conscious of the waste they produce. Instead of brown bagging it, use reusables, do not buy prepackaged snacks, juiceboxes and disposable napkins.

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  10. Indeed Sharon. I agree. Try to re-use as much as possible, and avoid disposable anything if possible.

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