From baby wipes and disposable nappies, to the emissions caused by driving your child to various activities, you may be forgiven for thinking that parenting was the least environmentally-friendly choice you could have made.
But as with anything, there are options that you can choose that are more environmentally-friendly, and there are ways to make your parenting greener.
This page explains some of the choices.
A Wide Variety of Issues
Environmental issues around parenting a baby tend to centre on nappies and baby wipes. Food, cleaning products, clothes, equipment and toys are also relevant for older children. This page also discusses transport options.
Disposable nappies (or diapers) go into landfill. That’s probably not a great option, because it takes up space and we already throw away a lot of rubbish.
It is also hard to evaluate the environmental cost of manufacturing. Biodegradable nappies can also go into landfill, but will at least decompose fairly quickly.
Cloth nappies clearly do not go into landfill. Instead they require washing, which needs electricity and water for your washing machine, and also detergent, which has its own environmental impact.
Again, there is the environmental impact of manufacturing, although at least this is only a one-off cost for multiple uses.
It is, therefore, quite hard to calculate the exact overall environmental cost of each type of nappy.
There is, however, very little doubt that the cheapest option over the long-term is cloth nappies but disposable are usually more convenient.
Some sources suggest that the best option environmentally is to use cloth nappies, but opt for a bulk laundering service, because this uses less water and detergent than washing them yourself. Always look for nappies that are unbleached if possible.
Most baby wipes DO NOT decompose naturally.
This means that they should NEVER be put down the toilet. Like disposable nappies, they are a ‘landfill-only’ option.
Other options include:
- Toilet paper, which you might need to dampen, and which can be quite harsh on a baby’s delicate skin;
- Cloth or reusable wipes, which will need laundering after each use; and
- Cotton wool and water, which is gentle on skin.
Making your own baby food, especially simple purées, is very definitely the cheaper option.
It can also be the most environmentally friendly, particularly if you grow your own vegetables, or you can buy fruit and veg that is produced relatively locally to reduce food miles.
‘Food miles’ describes the distance that your food has to travel from ‘field to fork’. In other words, how far away from you is it grown?
The ideal option is food that is produced locally, as this requires very little transporting. Food that has not been transported far is also more likely to be fresher, and to have been refrigerated less, again reducing the environmental impact of its production.
In practice, reducing food miles means trying to become more aware of what food is in season, and also finding local sources of produce, such as markets, or encouraging your favoured supermarket to buy local wherever possible.
Buying organic food, either pre-packaged baby food or organically produced fruit and vegetables, is environmentally friendly.
However, look carefully because you may find that the food has travelled quite a long way and it will also contain more packaging than non-organic food, which is obviously less environmentally-friendly. It is also likely to be considerably more expensive.
Just as with your own clothes, there are baby and children’s clothing lines that are more environmentally-friendly and ethical than others. The downside is that they almost invariably cost more.
You can, of course, look for second-hand ethically-made clothing, from particular companies. Websites like eBay are useful sources of such clothes, which are often in very good condition because babies and small children do not really wear clothes out.
You may also be offered second-hand clothes from friends and family and it is beneficial to give away clothes to others when they become too small.
Toys and Equipment
The first option with toys and equipment is to buy things in environmentally-friendly materials, such as wood or hemp.
With wood, you should look for items labelled with the FSC mark, as this is a guarantee that it has been grown and harvested sustainably. Hemp is a good environmentally-friendly option as it apparently enriches the soil and reduces run-off. Natural fibres and materials are good because they will degrade naturally, and not hang around for hundreds of years like plastics.
The second issue is slightly different.
One of the key issues when your baby is small is that each phase seems to be over so soon. You need some essential pieces of kit, but only for a few months. But while you need it, you really need it. On the plus side, however, other parents are in the same situation, which means that there is a simple answer to this problem:
Many parents are happy to pass equipment, clothes and toys on, either for a price via websites such as eBay, or at ‘nearly-new’ sales, or for free as ‘hand-me-downs’.
The deal here is that you also do the same when you have finished with them. If you do not know anyone with smaller children, then charity shops are usually happy to take clothes and toys in good condition. Hospitals will also generally welcome plastic toys.
Many cleaning products are quite toxic, both to skin and to the environment more generally, so quite a number of non-toxic alternatives have been developed. The trouble is that many of them are not as effective.
Companies that focus on environmentally-friendly cleaning products include Method, Wikaniko, and Eco-Ver, but many other more mainstream companies also produce eco-friendly products.
As an alternative, you can dilute your cleaning products, either in the bottle or by using a bit less. You should also make sure that you wash off all the cleaning product with plenty of water afterwards.
Cars are the least eco-friendly means of transport available, but they are extremely convenient. It is, however, possible to manage with small children without a car, if you want to do so.
Trains are often difficult with pushchairs and prams, because many stations have steps down or up to the platforms. But buses are usually pushchair-friendly, and many have options to be lowered for easy access as well as standing space for buggies (strollers).
It is probably best not to try to travel on public transport with small children at rush hour, however.
Most children’s activities, especially for babies and pre-schoolers, are very local and, given enough time, you can probably walk to most of them. You may need to invest in a buggy board for an older child, or encourage them to develop proficiency on a scooter or balance bike, especially if your pushchair is being used for a new baby.
Self-Transport for Small Children
Once past the age of about two years old, children should not really need to ride in a buggy or pushchair unless you wish them to do so. You can encourage them to develop their own ability to get around by investing in a scooter or balance bike.
Scooters allow children to stand on a wheeled base plate, holding a handlebar, and push themselves along using one foot. Scooters for toddlers and young children tend to have three wheels because they are easier to balance. Micro-scooters have become very popular in recent years, partly because of their sturdiness and longevity, but there are a number of alternatives available too.
Balance bikes are also known as ‘running bikes’. They are bicycles without pedals that children propel using their feet. They are a very good introduction to cycling because they enable children to learn to balance, which means that they can usually move straight to a pedal bike without having to use stabilisers. Most balance bikes will fit children from about age two, but check the measurements before you buy.
Cycling is good exercise for you as well as being eco-friendly.
There are a number of alternatives to help you to transport small children, depending on the age of your child(ren). These include trailers, which fasten to your bike wheel or to a rack on your bike, child seats, and trailer bikes.
The advantage of trailers is that you can transport more than one child, and the children can be up to the age of about five. You can also buy tricycles with transport boxes, although this can be quite an expensive option.
Once your children get a bit older, they can use their own bikes and ride with you.
For more about cycling with children in the UK, it is probably worth looking at the website of the Cycle Touring Club.
This page is a necessarily brief introduction to some ideas around eco-friendly parenting.
It should, however, hopefully provide useful information to help you make the right choices for you and your family without it costing the earth.