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The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting

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We all know that babies come with a lot of stuff — diapers, clothes, strollers, cribs, toys… the list goes on and on. But where does all this stuff go once your little one no longer needs it?

Lots of items can be donated or recycled, but sadly, most of this stuff ends up in landfills, contributing to an already dire global waste problem. We all want our kids to grow up happy and healthy, but the climate crisis could make that more difficult. So, what can we do as parents to lessen the environmental impact of growing our families while still giving our littles every bit of love and joy they deserve?

Tara McKenna is the founder of the Zero Waste Collective, a blog that promotes living life with less waste and more joy. We chatted with Tara about how to reduce the environmental impact of modern parenting on our 40 Weeks to Forever - Season 2, Episode 7: Don’t be Trashy.

This article will guide you through some simple steps you can take to cut out waste, reduce clutter in your home, and make choices that benefit your child — and the planet.

Parents with the 3Rs

Remember the classic “3Rs” of waste minimization: reduce, reuse, recycle? This mantra is a useful guide to greener parenting. For example, clothing (and gear) sharing is a great way to cut down on clutter and reduce the environmental toll of fast fashion. Newborns grow so fast it’s very common to have a stack of onesies that may only get used once (if at all) before they’re too small. Swapping and/or sharing items within your circle of friends or through social media groups is a great way to reinforce ties within your community and cut down on waste. Another way to keep your kiddo clothed while helping the planet (and your wallet) is to shop secondhand. You can also bring in a little cash while decluttering by selling gently used items on consignment.

One great way to be a more green-minded parent is to rethink your diapering system. Using cloth diapers might seem very daunting at first, but there are lots of different options, including cloth inserts that only require changing the lining as needed. If you choose cloth diapers, take the time to create a setup that is easy and convenient to use — check out our podcast for more details.

Reusable diapers not only have a significantly lower environmental impact, but can actually be more reliable in avoiding overflows, plus you’ll never be caught short — avoiding the dreaded late-night run to pick up whatever they might have in stock (if they even have your size on the shelf). If you aren’t able to commit to cloth diapers, look for a brand that is more eco-friendly — these diapers are usually free of dyes and other chemicals that can irritate your little one’s bum, and they also break down faster in the landfill than other brands. Check out our Learning Centre article about cloth diapering for more info, here.

As your baby grows, you can give some waste items a second chance (even if only for a day or two). Cardboard boxes make great forts/spaceships/whatever they can imagine, and a few (clean and empty) toilet paper rolls can be repurposed into craft supplies or used as columns in a simple building block set hack. These repurposed items can provide some of the ‘new’ or ‘different’ feel your toddler may be looking for when they are asking for more toys, allowing you to concentrate your spending on well-made items that will withstand regular use — cutting down on toy clutter. Oh and don’t forget to recycle that box when your little one is done playing!

Embrace a Minimalist Mindset

Another big step you can take towards greener parenting is to embrace a minimalist mindset. This doesn’t have to be a full Kondo-style culling of everything in your home that doesn’t ‘spark joy,’ but just a focus on getting by with a little less — and “less” means something different to each individual. The easiest way to begin living with less is to decide where you want to put your energy (and money). A well-made, high-quality stroller, breast pump, or car seat is a worthwhile investment, but bringing home a cheaply made plastic toy after every outing is bad for the planet and household clutter.

Another important part of embracing a minimalist mindset is learning to respectfully refuse. Friends and family are often excited to show how much they care about you and your little one by showering you with gifts — which can too often include clothes you don’t need, toys you don’t want, or whatever little thing may have caught their eye. To avoid accumulating all these extras, have a conversation with your family and friends to set boundaries for what you do and don’t want, and make clear what your child truly needs — especially around birthdays and the holiday season.

If folks just can’t help themselves, and don’t abide by these boundaries, you can always return things you won’t use, or pass them along to someone who needs them. Other items, like newborn clothing can easily be swapped and shared with other new parents.

Shop Quality Over Quantity

Shopping for baby gear can sometimes become like a hobby for parents. While there’s nothing wrong with browsing, it can quickly get out of hand if you’re buying everything that ‘looks sooo cute’ or just ‘might come in handy someday.’ If you find you’re spending a lot of time (and money) on unnecessary items, consider shifting your focus from shopping for things to learning more about them. You can also help curb impulsive shopping by using a wish list. We all know how easy it can be to get sucked down a baby shopping rabbit hole! A list allows you to make calculated purchases — benefitting your wallet, reducing clutter, and decreasing your overall environmental impact.

Taking the time to consider your purchases allows you to become a more savvy consumer. As you dig a little further into how each product is made, what it is made from, who is making it and where, you can make more informed choices about what is coming into your home, how you plan to use it, and whether it will stand up to regular use. This is particularly important if you have (or are planning on having) a larger family. Having to buy a whole new set of clothes, toys, and feeding essentials for each child can break the bank and cause you to go a little bonkers trying to juggle everyone’s needs and wants. If you take the time now to find and invest in high quality gear, all you’ll need to worry about is where you stored things away.

This step ties back to embracing a minimalist mindset. Think about what you (and/or your baby) actually NEED, not just what you want or what looks appealing in the moment. If you see something you want to buy, you can add it to your wish list. Then, give it some time to do a little research before actually purchasing the item to see if it is really something that you’ll use and hold up over the long term.

It's About Progress, Not Perfection

Living green is not about depriving yourself, but rather about making smart choices that benefit you, your child, and the future of the planet. Every step you are able to take toward a greener lifestyle is a step in the right direction. At the same time, it’s worth keeping in mind that nobody is perfect, and living a completely zero-waste lifestyle can be complicated and time-consuming. So, try to implement as many green choices as you can and strive to shift toward including more environmentally friendly choices as your child grows.

Be sure to check out Season 2, Episode 7 of our 40 Weeks to Forever podcast for more information on green parenting. For more great ideas, check out these top product picks for eco-friendly parents.

*This information was taken from our 40 Weeks to Forever - Season 2, Episode 7: Don’t be Trashy
Guest: Tara McKenna