Climate change, plastic usage, the environment, sustainability, ecological footprint – these are all hot-button topics that come up regularly in the news and in discussion. I care deeply about all these issues, but I also have a head filled with a billion other things and being an eco-friendly parent often falls way down the list. Most of them are incredibly mundane, like the appointment I need to get my son to tomorrow, the grocery list that I need this week, the laundry that needs sorting and phone calls I need to make. Others are bigger things, some positive, like planning for his second birthday and organizing our holiday next year, others negative, like thinking about our finances and the work things that stress me out on a daily basis. Sometimes I feel like I want to care more, but I just don’t have the time or the energy. There’s not enough me left at the end of the day. How can I save the planet when I can’t even get a tiny human out of the front door without a meltdown?
Then there’s the little bits of time that you do manage to grab for yourself at the end of the day, when you can browse the internet or read a book, enjoy a cup of tea, hot chocolate or a glass of wine, when you can relax in the bath with your favourite song on or sit with a cat in your lap and enjoy the silence – well, other than the loud purr anyway (my cat is like a freight train!). After those moments, when I’ve managed to flip that mental switch even just for a moment, I do like to think about the bigger picture and my place in it and the more I think about it, the more I realize that I’m making it this massive thing. Saving the planet is a really, ridiculously big thing that no single person can do, but there is a series of tiny little things that I can do and hope that if enough of us do them, then it’s enough – I can be an eco-friendly parent and care about the environment and yes, make a difference to the world by being conscious of the decisions my family makes.
Here are my 10 ways to be a more eco-friendly parent that every family can think about. Little things that you can do, small decisions that can be made and examples that can be set to the children because that’s the biggest difference we can make really – to teach our children how important this world is and hope that when we set them free, they continue with the things we’ve taught them.
10 Ways to be a more eco-friendly parent
Let’s talk about Eco-Friendly Nappies
Nappies (that’s diapers for my American readers) are a massively sensitive subject. I think that every mother out there will admit that disposable nappies aren’t good for the environment and cloth diapers are. A normal supermarket diaper can take 200 years to decompose. That’s absolutely crazy and really quite scary to me. Every single dirty nappy my son ever produced, sitting in landfill for longer than my grandchildren will be alive. But on the flip side, cloth nappies are a concept that quite frankly, sounds terrifying too. It feels like this massive gulf in convenience and time between the two, but there is actually a middle ground if you’re not ready to go all the way.
Eco friendly biodegradable diapers exist! You won’t find them on the shelf of every supermarket and they’re often from small, independent companies which means they don’t have the massive advertising budget of big nappy companies. There’s a lot of money in this industry, so expect to have to fight past the big business to get more information, but it’s definitely out there. I personally started using Mum and You‘s eco-friendly nappies. This is the only eco-friendly nappy I’ve found that performs as well as brand-name nappies but the downside is they are quite expensive – although if you sign up to Amazon’s subscribe and save then it does make them a bit more affordable. You get the convenience of disposable, but you’re paying a bit extra to save the world one nappy at a time. Worth it if your budget can accommodate.
And Biodegradable Wet Wipes
Wet wipes are the most useful thing in the universe. As a new parent I fell head over heels in love with these tiny little miracles. You can do ANYTHING with a wet wipe. Except flush it down the loo, or sleep at night if you’re worried about your impact on the environment, because unfortunately, standard wet-wipes are not biodegradable. Luckily there is an environmentally-friendly alternative, with biodegradable wet wipes (98% water, 0% plastic!) available online. Like nappies, you are paying a premium for them, but you’ll reduce your environmental impact massively.
The best replacement, like cloth nappies, is to ditch the one-use products all together and go for re-usable. That means wipe cloths that you wash rather than discard. Although I’m not quite ready to clean up the next poonami with a cloth I have to wash, I have tamed back my over zealous use of wet wipes for cleaning and other uses. Faces and hands can be washed after every meal, no matter how convenient it is to reach for a wet wipe. And you don’t have to get rid of them altogether, just cut down where you can.
The more you recycle the better it is for the environment, we all know that. The problem for me is not that concept, it’s that my local council only offers fairly limited recycling options. There’s a whole list of things that are recyclable, but they don’t recycle it, which is frustrating. It is getting a lot better with time and I know some areas are more progressive than others, but it’s worth checking what non-council recycling options are available. For example at my local supermarket there’s a bin specifically for batteries, and another for old broken technology which gets sorted through, reused and recycled. Another offers clothing recycling, which gets sent to countries in need where they’re repurposed.
All sorts of things can be recycled by making use of them in the community, whether it’s bikes or bric-a-brac, books, blankets or computers and household goods. You might think it’s rubbish, but odds are someone out there can use it, so why not see if a local charity shop or Facebook freecycle group can make use of it before ditching it?
Since my local council introduced food waste for composting, I’ve noticed that my rubbish bags are a lot less full and that feels fantastic.
Buy second hand
Buying second hand is a great way of reducing your ecological imprint – and it keeps items out of the landfill. It’s also incredibly good for those on a budget, which will free up some pennies for buying those expensive biodegradable nappies and wipes. You can buy from local groups such as Facebook, Gumtree or Craigslist, or check out your nearest charity / goodwill shop. When you’re done with your items rather than chuck anything away, if it’s still in working order, either sell it on or donate it and a charity you support can benefit too.
I do not have green fingers. I’d love to be an eco-friendly gardener, creating produce that my son eats. My grandmother was an amazing gardener and growing up I’d have fresh tomatoes and runner beans, we’d make strawberry and loganberry jam, and elder-flower cordial and wine – all from her small city garden. I kill all greenery with a single glance, but even if you’re totally useless like me, some things can still be grown and I’ve had some success with herbs on the kitchen windowsill. Garden not even required! Anything you can grow and consume yourself is taking some slight pressure off the commercial industry. You can also support local growers by shopping from farmers markets and farm shops – buying direct from the source.
Check your plastic usage
This is the hot topic of the moment and there’s tons of information out there. I’ve already written a fairly long piece on switches you can make as a family to help the environment – exchanging plastic products like milk bottles, toothbrushes and straws for more eco friendly biodegradable or re-usable products.
Woohoo, wooden toys are trending again! I love wooden toys so much. Toys were traditionally wooden, but plastic overtook the market and branded toys with all the bells and whistles are constantly advertised and our kids want them. But now wooden toys are once again rising in fashion and hopefully, this will increase in the future. Wooden toys are made with less environmental impact, last longer, can be handed down generations, bought second hand, repainted and repurposed and ultimately can be recycled when they come to the end of their lives.
Look into Organic Clothing and Food
Organic can make a big difference in some industries. The biggest of these is in the clothing department, where organic cotton is much better for the environment, for the workers and for you, as it produces a softer, higher quality garment. Organic farming methods cut down on chemicals, pesticides and preservatives, all of which can be bad for the environment, and although they often use more land, they farm in sustainable methods that are good for the land.
Defeat the mountain of laundry in an eco-friendly way
My mother is fond of saying “I don’t know where this all comes from!” and gesturing at my mountains of laundry. As someone who has lived alone for the last 20 years, she has completely forgotten what it’s like to have a child in the house. So on top of my clothes, my husbands clothes (including his dirty work stuff, he works with animals!) there are now piles and piles of clothes from my son. You’d think that children, being smaller, might require less clothing. In fact, my mother in law once suggested we could “pack light” to go on holiday with a baby as he was so small, hahaha. I cried. Not only do you have to pile on the layers, there’s an inevitable amount of dirt, food and bodily fluids that now gravitates to them and from them. And all over you too. My husband has been peed on twice this week.
So you might find yourself going through laundry detergent faster than you ever imagined and running the laundry machine uses massive amounts of water and potentially using lots of chemicals too.
- When buying a new washing machine make sure you check the energy efficiency ratings.
- Make sure the washing machine is absolutely full before running a load, as this will make the most efficient use of the water.
- Check the setting and see if your machine has any eco-friendly options, as new ones often do.
- Heating water takes energy which is worse for the environment, so running clothes on a cooler wash will be better.
- Don’t automatically chuck it in the laundry if it’s not that dirty. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, but now check to see whether something can be worn again or if it really really needs a wash.
- Hang clothes to dry rather than use a tumble dryer wherever possible.
In addition to those tips, you can buy eco friendly washing detergent such as those made by ecover, or you could give a wash ball a go. A laundry ecoegg can give you 200+ washes for £10 and completely replaces washing powder. You may still want to keep a little something handy for strong stains with kids around and I’m guilty of still using a bit of fabric softener on my sons clothes, but I was surprised at how well this worked. Often switching to more ecological alternatives ends up costing more money, but this one will actually save you a fair chunk over the year as well, so it’s a win win!
Support ethical companies
Finally, my last suggestion is one that requires a lot of research but is well worth doing in my opinion. Supporting ethical companies has a direct effect on things from workers rights, wages, gender equality, the environment and your ecological footprint. It can support local economies and goes back into supporting people like you and me. Mums, dads, workers, regular people – not the fat cats sitting at the top. Our economic model is pretty whack, with the rich getting richer and richer whilst the entire world gets poorer, but I’m not here to lecture anyone on capitalism. I’m just saying that you can have a profound effect by vetting the businesses you buy from and seeing if just maybe, you can buy that product from an alternative ethical company.
I hope that these tips have encouraged you to realize there are things that you can be doing in your daily family life to be a more eco-friendly parent and that you don’t have to turn your life upside down to make a difference and be more environmentally friendly. Let me know in the comments and please pin or share if you found it helpful!
If you enjoyed reading this you may like to read some of my other posts about the environment, being eco-friendly and sustainability in the modern world when you’re a busy parent!
- The Milk Man is Making a Comeback
- 5 Simple Switches to save the environment
- Organic vs Conventional Cotton
- Fairtrade parenting
- Why you should walk to school
- Let’s Stop The Block (wet wipes)
And it’s not just in parenting and family life we can be more ethical too, these 5 ways to get into green beauty will help you look after yourself, get a bit of pampering and be green.