by Ivory King
Having kids is resource-intensive business. We don’t have to tell you parents that - it’s clear by how many supply runs you need to get diapers, wipes and all the sundry items to make your bigger household run. Nothing makes that clearer than a study released last year that placed personal choices in a hierarchy showing what impacts your carbon footprint. While upgrading light bulbs is the lowest impact action on the list, hanging clothes, recycling and washing clothes in cold water rate a moderate impact. Highest of all - after “avoid one roundtrip transatlantic flight” and “live car free” - was “have one fewer child.” Certainly this infographic oversimplifies the choices that we make in an insensitive way, but it makes a valid point: raising a baby takes a toll on the planet, especially in the US, where we use a lot of disposable products.
The skewing of responsibility is gone into at great length in a fascinating Vox article, connecting the study claims to context about developed countries and the distribution of wealth. These factors aside, there are many things you can do to keep baby’s cute little carbon footprint from stretching so wide. A full approach can be found in Keya Chatterjee’s book The Zero Footprint Baby: How to Save the Planet While Raising a Healthy Baby, where she lays out choices for feeding, childcare, and diapering. But here are a few ideas to help you get started.
Eco-friendly baby raising doesn’t have to be as time-consuming and impractical as some people believe. We don’t expect you to make your own baby food from scratch every day, though that would be awesome! Actually let’s rewind, since green choices start before the baby even arrives. Chatterjee shares in a CBC interview that she made the decision to use midwives at a birth center, “because a lot of people don't think of the carbon footprint of health care, but it's enormous.” She requested only used items at her baby shower, and “tried to really get people not to give us so many things, but offer us their time and their services instead.” Chatterjee’s interview is pretty hilarious, since she shares mistakes and foibles from choices an experiments from the first 2 years.
A lot of infant-related environmental impact is centered around plastic consumption and cleaning. While convenience is critical when it comes to everyday needs, you can switch out some products and not have more work to do. Fabric diapers are a big one, and not only are they better designed than they used to be, there are services that pick up soiled diapers, efficiently clean them and drop off fresh ones. You don’t have to worry about cleaning up all those nappies, and you aren’t one of those families that will be dumping around 4,000 plastic and chemical-containing disposables into a landfill that first year alone. Moving away from disposable diapers seems a dramatic choice here in the US, but according to Mother Jones only 6 percent of Chinese babies use disposables, and 2 percent of babies in India.
Besides cloth diapers, a real game changer is elimination communication. Starting very young, children are encouraged to respond to specific cues their parents give them - adults have to pay a lot of attention to baby body language and body rhythms, but they time it so that they make a whistle or clicking sound when they are holding their baby over a toilet or another appropriate area. This can drastically reduce the amount of diapers you need to use, whatever they’re made of.
As for baby wipes, an actual recommendation from one site suggests making your own from muslin and keeping them in a bottle that has chamomile tea. While that sounds delightful, you can just switch to organic, biodegradable, non-toxic wipes from Seventh Generation (highest rated on GoodGuide), or go the extra mile and buy reusable organic cotton wipes. If you’re changing a newborn 10 to 12 times a day as average, this will dramatically decrease the exposure your baby will have to the dreaded “fragrance” ingredient umbrella in common wipes like Huggies brand. While there are no indications on Huggies as to what their ingredients or fabric composition are on the site, many conventional brands are made from polyester, according to the FDA.
There are plenty of other green choices you can make when raising your child, and a lot of the impact will come from being an example. Choosing to walk or ride your bike instead of hopping in the car makes an impression on a forming mind, breastfeeding and pumping is lower cost and decreases packaging waste. Buying organic, natural fiber bedding, breast pads and clothes are of course important to lower environmental impact - a subject near and dear to our hearts! By cutting down on disposables, energy usage and chemical ingredients, you may end up saving money, and you’ll certainly be leaving the planet a bit cleaner - the one that your little one will be inhabiting.