I sometimes feel as though parenting, in American society, is an endeavor fraught with wastefulness. Even before your baby is born, “they” (“we”?) hit you full force by making you think you need not only diapers and wipes but also swings and bouncers and bottle warmers and so many clothes and pacifier wipes and bottles and disposable breast pads and milk storage bags and more and more and more…Then, as your baby gets older, you suddenly need individual squeeze packs of baby food and more clothes and boogie wipes and disposable placemats and bright colored plastic dishes and then more individually packaged snacks and milks. And toys! Lots of toys. Plus books. Newly printed books.
In the toddler years, it’s more than your own choices and the relentless marketing: if your child is anything like mine, once they’re around 2, they take wastefulness into their own hands and want to play with tissue after tissue and use three feet of toilet paper for each pee and squirt out excessive amounts of sunscreen “all by myself” when there’s not even a ray of sunshine in the sky. And don’t even get me started on how much she “washes” her hands with “just a little bit” of hand sanitizer. And here in drought-prone Denver, Willa singlehandedly wastes at least a gallon of water a day between playing with it in the backyard or washing her hands for several loooooong minutes. Ok and now that I write that, I realize that must be much more than a gallon.
As someone with an above average interest in waste reduction, this all drives me CRAZY. On good days, I was able to avoid most of the initial pitfalls. But sometimes those damn squeeze packs of applesauce just seem too convenient. And now that Willa is often the driver of our wastefulness, I struggle with how strict to be. Is it really that big of a deal if she wants to play with 5 tissues for her doll? And all that water play seems like it has some developmental benefits, right? Physics and such? Plus, we don’t have that many toys, so playing with water and tissues and hand sanitizer is cheaper than getting new toys?
Parenting is a lot of work (shocker!). And the little things that make it easier can make a huge difference. I totally get that. And I agree! But I do think we should all take step back a from time to time to ask ourselves how necessary all the stuff we are buying actually is for our childrens’ development. I might ask these questions a bit too often; aggravating those around me with my constant analysis, but going against the prevalent disposable culture doesn’t always come easily or naturally. I have to constantly remind myself to make what I consider the better decision. And I also have to forgive myself when I cave and buy a ton of individually packaged snacks, wipes, and disposable diapers for whatever reason.
Below I’ve listed are some of the choices I’ve made related to waste and parenting in the past couple of years. Most are obvious, and as with most (all) posts on this blog, they’re really just reminders for me. I completely support everyone making the decisions that are best for their own life and family, but sometimes it’s good to realize the options. So these are the little things I try (key word) to do to reduce our family’s waste, but I also don’t think I’m an extremist. I like a snazzy new shirt or toy or book and I love eating a LÄRABAR when I need breakfast or a snack on the go. Balance is what I’m going for. (Although I’m not budging on the boogie wipes or pacifier wipes. Those are ridiculous.)
Parenting choices to ponder to potentially reduce waste:
Cloth wipes. I really don’t think babies need as many disposable wipes as we seem to think they do. A gentle cloth on the bum or face that then easily gets thrown into the wash seems like a no-brainer. Save the money and the chemicals and the waste! These GroVia wipes are my favorite. They’re so soft and have held up great for over two years. And I honestly find they work better than the disposable ones for cleaning a soiled bum. So that’s something.
Cloth diapers. I was only a few months pregnant with Willa when I decided that we’d use cloth diapers. It just seemed logical. Cloth diapers have gotten all “fancy,” which means they are super easy to use. And for me, the most motivating factor is how much cheaper they are than disposables. Plus no driving to the store to replenish your stock, which is great for someone like me who never seems to be able to keep necessities on hand. I completely understand that there are tons of reasons that cloth diapers might not work for some families. But even if you use just a few cloth diapers in addition to disposables, that can make a difference to both the landfills and to your budget! And there are some diapers that are a hybrid, like gDiapers. Disposable inserts with a cloth cover. So many options!
Reusable Nursing Pads. (Apparently I’m starting with the cloth portion of my suggestions.) I loved using cloth pads during my early breastfeeding days. I had a few of both kinds, and found the disposable pads to be really scratchy and uncomfortable. You’re likely doing a good amount of laundry anyway, and chances are, that laundry already has some milk stains on it!
Eat meals at home. This one is super challenging for me! But, ever since Willa started solids, I’ve made an effort to, at least more often than not, have our meals and snacks at home. I not only think it’s good for her to learn that we should sit down for mealtime rather than continually eat throughout the day (and to be honest I really need this reminder too), but also this makes it easier to feed her fresh, whole foods instead of relying on prepared snack foods which have a lot of packaging and aren’t usually as healthful. This is definitely a goal of mine, not a reality, as I’m sure I could be “caught” several times each week giving her an individually packaged snack. But I try to keep it in mind. (Side note: She loves Nature’s Bakery “fig bars” that you can get at Costco, but I got annoyed of all the packaging. So I found similar ones at the regular grocery in less packaging, but they were 3x the price. Blargh. Lose-lose.) Related: teach your kids to drink from a regular cup by the time they’re one, as recommended by doctors. The sooner they use the same utensils as adults, the less plastic stuff you have to buy.
Buy milk in glass bottles. I was determined not to have a baby who was obsessed with cow’s milk. Better luck next time, because we drink a lot of milk these days. It doesn’t help that once I tasted whole, non-homogenized, local milk, I was obsessed myself. I finally found a local milk that comes in reusable bottles, so I’m not recycling a carton every week.
Buy used. So many people have babies. And all those people buy baby stuff. And then, their babies grow up. They don’t need their baby stuff anymore. They’d love to sell it to you! Or maybe even give it to you. When I wanted to get Willa a Bumbo, Dan shuddered at the thought of millions of Bumbos in a landfill. Just picture that for a second. As a world, don’t need that many foam seats! So I found a used one through our neighborhood parents’ group, and made friends with the gal who sold it to me too! Hit up eBay, Goodwill, thredUp, Kidizen, Swap.com, or borrow from your friends and neighbors!
Go to the library. Books take up space. Printing books uses trees. Kids “favorite” books change all the time. Buy a few you love, and then go to the library for fun new ones. This isn’t rocket science. (You’re all like, “duh!”) But take it to another level and look for a toy library in your area. We have one near us, and it’s amazing to be able to check out toys for a few weeks and then take them back for something else that’s new and exciting. I’ve even heard that some cities have babywearing libraries. Awesome.
Upcycle. Yogurt containers make great snack traps. Old baby blankets can be used as wipes or rags. And so many things can be used for craft projects or toys instead of being thrown away or recycled.
Buy gender-neutral. This ensures you can use them again if you have multiple kids. I’ve had this on my mind a lot lately, since I’m having a boy (next month, whoa!). You can accent the greens or yellows by buying more “gendered” items that are specific to that one kid. For example, hair ties or tights for girls. I think this is especially important with bigger items like bikes. Why buy a “girl” bike that your daughter will outgrow and then your son might not be into riding given its pink and sparkly nature. I’d say the boy should just ride it anyway, but we can avoid that issue by just getting a neutral bike at the start.
Read things that support your parenting style. I get frustrated when Willa’s not playing independently “enough,” and I sometimes think it’s because she “needs” more toys. But I don’t truly believe this. So I find articles to support my views, which helps bring me back to reality. Self-serving? Yes. But keeps me sane!
There are so many more things I wish I could bring myself to do, but I gotta keep it real. We might be on the “rag system” for wiping up messes around our house, but I don’t see myself stopping buying toilet paper any time soon…