From the moment they’re born, even the tiniest babies leave a large carbon footprint. Disposable diapers, baby wipes, car seats, swings, exersaucers, strollers and all sorts of other equipment eventually end up in a landfill. And kids continue to acquire stuff as they get older, from tricycles and wagons to computers and video games.
So how can parents lead by example and show their children the importance of treading lightly on the Earth? The good news is that even small changes can make a big difference. Try these tips to reduce waste:
Parents have long debated the impact of disposable diapers and cloth diapers on the environment. Although both options have benefits, there’s no doubt that a staggering number of disposable diapers end up in landfills every year.
If you aren’t ready to switch to cloth but still want to lessen your environmental impact, consider reducing your reliance on baby wipes, another major presence in landfills. You can either cut soft cotton fabric into squares for washable wipes or, at the very least, use just half a disposable wipe when you need only a quick swipe.
Even though having kids increases laundry loads exponentially, do your best to limit the washing. Budding fashion designers (or super heroes in training) may go through multiple outfits in a single day. Remind kids that they need not throw a shirt in the laundry hamper, if they’ve only worn it for 30 minutes.
Once the clothes are really dirty, wash only full loads for maximum efficiency. Use cold water and cold water detergent when possible. Also, be sure to clean the lint filter in your dryer before each load to cut back on drying time. Better yet, hang clothes on a line when the weather allows and let them dry in the fresh air.
Many new parents want to give their babies the best of everything, from beautiful cribs, to high-tech swings, to designer slings and off-road strollers. But as parents of older children can attest, babies grow out of these items very quickly.
Save money and the planet by borrowing or buying gently used items whenever possible. It’s always wise to check the Consumer Product Safety Commission web site to make sure a used item hasn’t been recalled for safety reasons, but you’ll find that the vast majority of baby gear still has lots of wear long after the original owners graduate to the next stage. Remember that recycling doesn’t just mean tossing newspapers and soda cans in a separate bin: reusing is an even more efficient form of recycling.
Invite friends with kids of varying ages over for a clothing swap. Favorite play clothes may be too tattered to pass on, but fancy outfits often get worn only once or twice before children outgrow them; help them find a new home. You’ll reap multiple rewards: socializing with other parents, cleaning out your closets and replenishing your child’s wardrobe.
Swaps can be especially effective if your child plays on a sports team. Last year’s soccer cleats or baseball pants probably have lots of life left in them, so encourage your coach to arrange a swap among different teams. League cooperation promotes good sportsmanship and inviting more teams will increase your chances of finding your child’s size.
As kids grow, they start trading baby gear for electronic equipment. Unplugging TVs, DVD players, computers, cell phone chargers, iPod docking stations and video game systems when they're not in use could keep thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air annually and save you money on your power bill. So-called “vampire appliances” suck power even when they’re off because of their standby mode.
Minivans have become ubiquitous symbols of suburban parenthood. Turn yours green by carpooling more often. Even if your van or SUV isn’t the most fuel efficient model, you can minimize its environmental impact by offering to drive a neighbor’s kids to swim practice or Girl Scouts. That will be one less vehicle on the road! Keeping your tires properly inflated can also make even large cars more fuel efficient.
Be sure to plan your route carefully; sneak in grocery shopping on the way home from a birthday party rather than making a separate trip. And remember that the greenest method of all is for kids to transport themselves on their own two feet, walking, bicycling or traveling via scooter, whenever possible.
Once of the best ways to teach kids to be responsible stewards of the planet is to expose them to all nature has to offer. Because of busy schedules, safety concerns, and changing demographics, most children can’t wander around forests and meadows the way they did a generation or two ago. It may require advance planning, but let kids get a chance to hike on a trail, skip stones in a creek, or hunt for bugs and worms. You don’t need to spend lots of money or travel far; enjoy adventures like a backyard campout or a scavenger hunt whenever the weather warrants.
Switching from traditional incandescent bulbs to fluorescent bubs is an easy and cost-efficient fix for saving energy. CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) cost more but will save you money and carbon dioxide emissions in the long term.
Another way to save big on your power bill is to adjust your thermostat, since heating and cooling accounts for a large percantage of household energy use.
Parents buy a lot of groceries. Make your supermarket trips greener by bringing reusable bags. Put your children in charge of decorating them, and they’ll be more likely to remind you to bring them into the store rather than forgetting them in the trunk of your car.
If your child expresses concern about an environmental issue like littering or preserving parkland, help him write a letter or email to your mayor, state representative or other official to show support. He’ll enjoy a lesson in civics, environmental activism and literacy all at once.
Remember that the best gifts we can give our children aren’t more plastic toys and fancy equipment. Helping preserve the Earth for the next generation is what matters most.
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