In honour of Earth Day, I thought I would use today's post to talk about the efforts I make, as a mother, to reduce our family's impact on the environment.
Let me state upfront that I am very new to environmental efforts, and I know I have a long way to go. Be assured I don't pat myself on the back and congratulate myself for saving the planet just because I use a cloth bag instead of plastic. But I do believe that every bit helps, and so I am doing my best to change one bit at a time.
We use cloth diapers, and honestly, I so much prefer them to disposable. We also use cloth wipes: simple j-cloths that I soak in water (though you can also buy or make your own wipes solution), then wash with the diapers and re-use. When researching before Gwen was born, I learned that the most environmentally friendly option for diapering was cloth diapers through a diaper service (as they will be washing huge loads in large industrial machines, there will be less water and electricity wastage). There was no diaper service available then, so we bought our own diapers and wash them ourselves. I don't find it that much of a bother, though it does take a bit of planning ahead (and a bit more when I get back to work, I imagine).
I do a few things to make the laundering process a bit more friendly, as well. I do an extra spin after washing, before transferring to the dryer or clothes line; I've read that the extra spin, which takes only a moment, saves up to 20 minutes of drying time - and the dryer takes a lot more electricity than the washing machine. I try to dry Gwen's clothes and diapers on the line where possible, though I'll be honest and confess that this hasn't happened since last fall. I'm going to make the effort to get back in the habit now that Spring is here.
Gwen's food is mostly homemade, something that I undertook not for the sake of the planet but for the sake of our bank account. All that jarred food is pri-high-cey! And where do all those little containers go when you're done with them? Here I digress for a moment and mention that yes, recycling is great and I am an avid recycler, but there's more to environmental activism than just throwing something into your blue bin. The famous motto has three elements: Reduce, Recycle, Reuse. I think a lot of people (my husband included) forget those other two pillars. Also, recycling facilities require money, manpower, and a re-manufacturing process, and the reusable product that comes out is much less than what went in. My point is, recycling alone is not going to save the planet. Responsible consumerism, as practiced by the folks at the Clean Bin Project, is a much more helpful tool.
So, as I was saying, I've inadvertently saved a lot of plastic by making Gwen's food instead of buying pre-packaged stuff. For the household as a whole, I buy in bulk where I can, reusing my plastic food bags and using green cloth bags at the store. I've even gotten into the habit of having one or two foldable green bags in my purse and/or car, so when I go to stores other than the grocery store, I can still skip the bag. Also, we compost - not because we garden, but because I want to reduce our landfill waste.
Again, being cheap proves to be an environmental advantage, as most of the books, toys and clothes I buy for Gwen are from consignment stores. We are then extending the product's lifespan rather than dumping the toy in a landfill and buying a new one. Less plastic manufacturing = good for the environment, and again, no bulky packaging to deal with. Gwen doesn't care whether her stuff has been worn or played with before - why should we? And when she outgrows these items, they go back to the consignment store for the next person to use.
Speaking of books, I am a keen user of the local library, and Gwen already has her own card. Chris likes to buy books, but at least he buys them used. I recently hit up the Books for Kids sale, where books were donated and all proceeds went to elementary school libraries. I got a (reusable) shopping bag stuffed with board books and juvenile novels for $5.
There are definitely areas that need to be improved. We drive a lot, and haven't had the mental energy to reassess that. We were buying locally-grown organic groceries from Spud.ca and had to give it up to save money, so now we're back to buying at the big-box store, foods that come from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Our skin, hair, and cleaning products ought to be examined for environmental impact in manufacturing, packaging, and disposal. All these things are on the back burner for the time being, but they're on my mind to be dealt with when time and finances allow.
If you'll allow me to get up on my soapbox for one more moment, I have to confess how aggravated I get at certain magazine articles that miss the point entirely about Earth Day and environmental awareness. I've seen quite a few articles with titles like "Help Your Kids Go Green!" and for the most part, the articles recommend buying a DVD about recycling, or a book about the planet, or maybe a few different environmentally friendly products. This makes me so mad I could spit. In my view, if you are trying to figure out a way to help the planet, the LAST thing you need to do is go BUY SOMETHING. (This is, of course, the EXACT thing the magazine and their advertisers want you to do. But you're smart enough to see through that, right?) To me, this epitomizes the North American attitude that we can just make a small, meaningless gesture - especially one that involves spending money - and then spend the rest of the day feeling smug and self-righteous, when in fact we've contributed nothing towards the solution of the problem.
Whew. Yeah, that was my ranting for the day. I've one last eco-friendly decision to share with you, and then I'll end the post and send you off to enjoy your Earth Day.
The biggest thing our family has done, or will do, to positively impact the environment, is to make the decision that Gwen will remain an only child.
Chris has always wanted just one child. I waffled back and forth between one and two, but reading this book helped me decide that one is the right number for us. Again, finances are a big factor, but I also feel good about the fact that we are doing some small part to address overpopulation. In some Third World countries, birth control isn't a realistic option, and so it would be easy to blame overpopulation on them. But North Americans have a far larger ecological footprint, so it actually will make a big difference to the planet if we in the First World limit the size of our families.
So, that's what we do to ensure the planet continues to exist for Gwen's children's children's children. How about you?
Happy Earth Day!