We have an actual writer in our midst, who has taken some time to create a superb post for us today. That being said, below please enjoy the words of the fabulously green Ellen Keane Graham. (Thank you Ellen).
When Charlotte asked me to do a guest post for her blog, I thought it best to try to tie in and combine the thoughts of my own blog with those I have when I read hers (which I do religiously, of course). My blog (http://momsmoments.tumblr.com/) is about my son, Knox, and how much I love him and his daddy (not nearly as upstanding as this blog), but I write about how thankful I am for the time I have with him and how much I have learned since becoming a mother. However, something that I haven’t yet written about is our lifestyle and the choices that we make in order to make sure that our son will be able to enjoy the beauty of this planet for the rest of his life.
Like most families, we do recycle, but we’ve tried our best to go beyond that and take some extra steps to do our part in protecting the environment from further damage. We try to compost as much as possible, reuse and reduce our waste when we can, but I thought it would be appropriate to address some of the specific ways that we address the environmental issues we face as parents and to offer some information that I’ve discovered in my journey to a greener, more eco-friendly home.
So many of us are so unaware that there are even other options available aside from the societal norms that are marketed so well. The parenting world is a disposable one. Most of the products made for children are disposable, plastic, filled with toxic chemicals and produced irresponsibly and without consideration of society, the economy or the environment. My husband and I have tried to do our best to avoid these things as much as possible, although I know we could (and should) do better. By no means do I think we are model “green” citizens, but I’d like to share a few changes and choices that we were able to easily make. These are things that anyone could (and should) do with a small amount of effort and consideration.
1. Cloth Diapers
When most parents or parents-to-be see these two words, they start to squirm with disgust. But, having changed a lot of diapers before I ever had my own child, I was never that grossed out by poop and figured I could handle cloth diapering easily because of that. My husband, on the other hand, was not so sure. When I showed him our first set of cloth diapers, he vowed he would never change one, EVER. He said it was a terrible idea and he would support me in it but would not participate in the actual act of diaper changing. I’m happy to report that our son just turned one and my husband is now a cloth diaper changing pro and possibly even an advocate, if you can believe that.
The first thing you should know if you’ve never looked into cloth diapers is that modern cloth diapering is much different than the old “thick cotton pads with safety pins and rubber pants method”. There are so many new options and you just have to try a few to figure out what works best for you. This website (www.cottonbabies.com) carries all different kinds of diapers – from prefolds and covers (which are similar to the old school method) to All-in-ones (also known as AIOs, which function exactly like, or even better than, disposables). If you do a little research, I think you’ll find that modern cloth diapering will not only help save the environment by keeping all of those diapers out of the landfills, but it will also save you tons of money (I’m talking thousands, people).
Next, you need to know that cleaning the diapers is NOT THAT BAD (yes, even the messy diapers). You just spray the residue into the toilet and throw the diapers in the washer. I would say I do one full load of diapers every other day in hot water with a free & clear detergent. You can dry them in the dryer or line dry (they do take a little longer to dry than regular clothes because of their absorbency, but not so much longer that you would notice it in your electric bill).
You can also go one step further with this and purchase used or locally-made cloth diapers. I have purchased used diapers before (I know it sounds gross, but just trust me, it’s not), however, I’m constantly finding things to make myself feel guilty about, and the “made in china” tag on Knox’s cloth diapers constantly begs me to make the change to buying diapers made here. A friend shared this website (www.hyenacart.com) with me recently and it is a great resource that sells cloth diapers made by work at home moms. This is a switch I WILL be making in the very near future.
This option IS available and completely doable. It WILL save you money. It IS better for the environment (people who say that the extra water usage for cleaning them is equally as bad for the environment do not know what they are talking about). It IS better for your baby (chlorine and other chemical-filled disposables are not good for babies’ skin – the less chemicals you can expose your child to, the better!). It IS better for the economy (by purchasing cloth you are supporting smaller businesses). With all of those positives, it’s hard to say no, right?! Unfortunately, the convenience factor weighs much more heavily with most parents than any of these factors do, but it is becoming an increasingly popular choice, which gives me hope.
2. Buy Organic/Free Trade
I often get the long silence or strange look whenever people find out that I buy organic. I’m not sure where the judgment comes from, but there does seem to be a stigma attached to the label “organic.” What I think that most people don’t understand about buying organic is that it is not just about preventing your child from consuming massive amount of pesticides and other chemicals and preservatives. It is also about considering the environment and the economy. By buying organic you are supporting smaller, more environmentally, socially and economically responsible businesses. Buying organic can be more expensive, I know, but that’s what “voting with your wallet” is all about.
When most people hear the term “organic,” they think of food, mainly produce, I believe. But, spending your money on organically made cosmetics, toiletries, clothes and other packaged goods is a great way to be environmentally responsible while also benefitting your body by choosing not to expose it to unnecessary chemicals.
Again, take it one step further and buy locally-made organic/free trade goods whenever possible.
3. Avoid Plastics
A few months ago, I went on a crazy streak and starting getting rid of all of our plastic containers – mainly the stuff we used for storage. I was trying to be responsible by reusing things like yogurt containers to store leftovers, but then it suddenly hit me that those containers are not BPA-free, so I freaked out and recycled all of them and decided we would only store things in glass from that point forward. Well, that didn’t work out so well because glass jars turned out not to be the best size/shape for most storage needs. So, I purchased a large set of BPA-free Tupperware and I try to re-use yogurt containers for other purposes whenever possible (i.e. storage for non-edible sundry items).
My point is, it is VERY hard to avoid plastics. Plastics are one of the biggest contributors to environmental pollution; yet, they’ve become so engrained into our everyday lives that they are like an addiction - especially where kids are involved. Try this if you are a parent: look around at all of your child’s belongings. I guarantee you that at least 90% of them are made of plastic and at least 10% are disposable. There are even plastic food and drink containers called “Take & Toss,” which are BPA-free and there is no reason they cannot be cleaned and reused, but they are marketed to encourage you to “toss” them…because it’s just easier, right? There are tons of products like this out there.
As parents (heck, as PEOPLE), it is impossible to avoid plastics altogether, so my suggestion here is to purchase as little plastic as possible (packaging, new toys/accessories, bags) and repurpose the plastics you do purchase. Consider whether you really NEED things before you buy them. Plastic is necessary for modern life, I am not suggesting that it is evil – it saves lives every day and makes modern life possible. I am simply suggesting that limiting your personal usage of plastics is the responsible thing to do.
Here is one switch I am hoping to make soon http://www.lunchskins.com/ so that I no longer contribute Ziploc baggies to the landfills. You should, too. The initial investment may seem high, but, in the long run you are sure to save lots of money AND the environmental damage.
Again, buying locally-made (in the USA) plastic products from small businesses in an extra step you can take to do your part.
4. Buy Used and/or Local
As parents, we are constantly seeking ways to save money and buying (or accepting!) used items is another thing we can do to save money and the environment at the same time. The majority of Knox’s clothes, toys and even furniture and baby gear are hand-me-downs from generous friends and family. I’m not going to lie and say I’ve never purchased anything new for him, but I do try my best to purchase used clothing and toys whenever I can. Consignment stores/sales, goodwill, craigslist, ebay, antique stores and garage/yard sales are all great places to find better prices than you would on the discount rack at the mall. If you think about all of the materials and work that goes into making just a single item and then consider how fast children outgrow not only clothes but toys and other gear, it makes sense that these items should have multiple owners and get as much use out of them as possible. By buying used goods, you are decreasing the demand for new ones which decreases the demand for the use (and abuse) of our natural resources (conventional cotton farming is terrible for the environment in many ways).
Another great reason to buy used clothing for your children is that it is better for their bodies to wear something that has already been washed multiple times (the more times, the better!). The toxic chemical dyes, inks and pesticides (from farming the cotton) that remain on clothing long after it’s made decreases with every wash, so your child’s skin is not absorbing the harmful toxins.
I mentioned that buying organic products was good for the environment, but buying local goods (whether organic or not) is another way to stay green and clean. And, no, I don’t mean shopping at your local Wal-Mart. I mean buying products that are made locally, and, by locally, I mean - the closer the better. I understand that you simply cannot purchase everything you need from vendors within 20 miles of your house, but purchasing American-made products from companies that are environmentally, socially and economically responsible is the best possible alternative when truly local products aren’t available. By choosing farmers markets over grocery stores (although some groceries offer local produce), and local boutiques and shops over chain distributors and department stores, by supporting local small businesses of all kinds whenever possible (after researching them first, because not all small local businesses are environmentally responsible and you don’t want to support a business that is irresponsible in any way, right?) we are being conscious and respectful of this planet from which we take so much.
5. Pass the Baton
The best way you can protect the environment as a parent is to make sure that future generations appreciate it and take care of it. Modeling all of the behaviors listed above are, in and of themselves, ways to show your children how to be respectful of the planet, but make sure you talk to them about it as they grow. Ensure that they understand that the choices we make are conscious ones and every action we take affects not only the people around us, but the world around us.
Get your children outdoors and show them how to enjoy their surroundings. Explain how the ecosystem works and why it is so important to be very careful as to what we introduce into that delicate system. Teach them (and show them) to be thankful, respectful and thoughtful when it comes to the Earth.
As I slowly step down from my soapbox, I’d like to share a couple of resources that I’ve found to be helpful in my journey to a greener lifestyle.
This website is one of my favorites. (http://www.greenyour.com/lifestyle/baby/tips) I have learned a lot from this site and if you’re interested in learning how you can make ANY aspect of your life greener, then I suggest you check it out. You simply type in ANYTHING on the search bar at the top of the page and it will produce not only a list of greener ways to live with that search item, but it will also give you tons of information about why the conventional ways of doing things harm the environment and how changing your habits in regards to that search item can have a positive impact on the planet. The research is fully backed by reliable sources and very, very thorough.
This book (http://www.betterworldshopper.com/) belongs on every bookshelf in every home across the country. It is a very well researched guide to shopping for pretty much anything and everything you ever need. From electronics to toiletries, this book ranks brands and companies based on their business practices. If you never buy another book again, buy this one. It will change the way you think about spending money forever.
I hope this post, although whiny, preachy and nagging, has been helpful to someone somewhere. I hope it makes you think, if nothing else. Charlotte is doing a great thing by dedicating her time to raising awareness, and I hope this helps her in her gallant quest to save the world. J