Having children is (mostly) amazing. But it’s no secret that it is a pricey business. According to the research I’ve done, the cost of raising a child to his or her 18th birthday is anywhere from £75,000 to £200,000, depending on whether you’re including childcare costs and the fact you need a larger property to accommodate a child or children. Pretty hefty sum eh?
But what about the effect having children has on the planet? I have to admit that until recently it’s not something that I’d really considered. I mean, I barely manage to get through the day without chucking one of them out the window some days let alone make sure they’re green. (*Disclaimer* I would NEVER throw one of them out the window. The other one however….). But in the spirit of trying to live a more sustainable life all round, I decided it was time to step up and start looking at what we can do to reduce our kids’ impact on the environment. So here is my age-by-age guide to having more sustainable children.
This is the age when it’s so easy to fall into the simple convenience of our throwaway culture. Babies are tiring, so it’s difficult not to just reach for the many disposable items on the market. So what switches can we make?
This is the obvious one to bring up first. The average child will use over 5,000 nappies in the first two years of life (that’s a cost of almost £800 by the way). It takes 200-500 years for a disposable nappy to decompose, meaning that your baby’s grandchildren will be left with a particularly unpleasant and ever-growing legacy. Yuck.
So how can you save diverting 10 tonnes of waste (that’s 40 black bin liners per child per year) to landfill during the first two years of your child’s life?
Fortunately, there are SO many brilliant washable nappy products on the market these days and the variety and quality is improving all the time. If you’re interested in making the switch to reusable nappies, I’d suggest joining a Facebook group such as Cloth Nappies UK, where there are thousands of parents who can offer advice and recommendations.
Disposable wipes are pretty shocking too. We use 14,000 wet wipes per SECOND. And where do they all go? One of two places – in the bin (bad) or in the toilet (worse). 93% of sewer blockages are caused by wipes that have been flushed (yes, even the “flushable” ones), and in landfill they leave a cocktail of chemicals and take years to break down.
It’s so easy, particularly at home, to just ditch baby wipes altogether. A load of cheap, washable cloths that you can stick in the washing machine when you’re done (with your cloth nappies) is all you need. And it doesn’t have to stop at home; a few of these cloths, pre-dampened and stored in an airtight container in your changing bag could make a huge difference. Yes, it’s a bit more of a faff, but once you’re out of the convenience habit it’s easy to keep up, too.
Less than 1 in 20,000 food pouches that are sold in the UK is actually recycled so the convenience of feeding your baby ready-made food from a pouch is massively overshadowed by the environmental impact. Some manufacturers do have recycling schemes but people either don’t know about them or barely use them so this is another area a lot of us can look to make a change.
Glass is actually one of the most environmentally-friendly materials because it can be recycled almost endlessly without its quality deteriorating. The same can’t be said for plastic, which is actually “downcycled” each time it’s made into a new product. The quality gets worse and worse every time it’s recycled and it’ll eventually end up in landfill.
If you quite like making your own food because then you know exactly what you’re putting into your child, these reusable pouches could be the answer. They’re easy to fill, easy to clean and will last for your child’s entire pouch-sucking career. At which point why not pass them on to a friend whose baby is just about to wean?
As the nappy, wipe and pouch era is gradually tapering off your child starts learning about the world around them. Alongside making some changes of your own, now’s the time to start educating your child to help them live a greener life.
I have definitely been guilty of just “quickly” sticking the kids in the car to pop to the shops. Especially on dark, dank winter afternoons. The prospect of a excruciatingly slow walk to just pick up some bread can be offputting. But if you’ve got your eco-head on, what should you really be doing?
Let’s face it, it’s hard shoehorning an unwilling, planking toddler into a car seat anyway so why not walk? The fresh air will probably put everyone in a much better mood and even if it’s raining there’s nothing a small child loves more than donning their wellies and going for a good splash.
Another habit of mine now I have children is walking out of a room/house and forgetting to turn the lights off. We also indulge in a fair amount of screen time at times and I definitely have the heating on more now than before we had kids.
I’m not saying you have to sit in a dark, TV-less room wearing 15 jumpers and still shivering in the cold. However, just getting yourself (and your children) into the habit of switching off the TV when nobody’s watching helps. Oh and don’t leave it on standby because that eats up energy too. Also, when you go out (for a walk) flick off the lights and turn down the heating a couple of degrees. Even a morning a week of everything being set to off or low will help. Oh, and kids love switching stuff off and on, so maybe make it their “job”.
Yep, here I am ruining all your fun and routines again (remember when I told you fireworks are awful? I’m sorry.) But the fact is, baths use a LOT of water, so if your nightly routine includes bathtime, it might be time for a change.
As kids get older and can stand steadily, they actually LOVE having showers. Our daughter definitely still sees it as a treat. As long as they’re not standing in there for ages (wait for the teenage years for that), then showers are usually more planet-friendly than baths. You can even get a water-saving shower head to help even more.
Oh and while we’re on the subject of showering, trying to make a switch from plastic bottles of body wash and shampoo to solid bars. Ethical kids’ store Babipur stocks some that are worth a try.
As our children are influenced by friends and advertising and are generally lavished with gifts by well-meaning family, it’s easy to let the pile of garish plastic tat get out of control. Plastic toys are going to be another thing that will eventually end up in landfill so they’re best avoided if possible. But what are the alternatives and what to do with what you already have?
There are so many really lovely sustainable and eco-friendly toys out there these days. Chunky wooden toys are a reminder of my own childhood years and are generally so much more pleasing to look at than plastic, and there are plenty of other choices too. A good starting point is Ethical Superstore, who have a fab range of lovely sustainable and recycled toys for babies and young children.
Phase 2 is to encourage your kids to sort through stuff they no longer want to play with, and to donate it to friends, a charity shop or even a local children’s hospital or nursery. This is a good way of teaching generosity and kindness to others as well as giving some of that pile of plastic to someone who will treasure it for a little longer. Another great resource I’ve come across but not tried is Toy Box Club, an online toy borrowing subscription service that switches up your children’s toy selection whenever they need a refresh.
You knew I was going to say it eventually. Cutting down or removing your family’s consumption of meat and other animal-derived products is the single most effective way to reduce our environmental impact. Even if you’re not worried about animal cruelty, we all need to be worried about the planet we’re leaving behind for our kids, and the eco lessons we’re passing on to them. Tiny little lecture over…just something to think about.