Ask Eartha: Sustainability and a baby can go together
February 17, 2017
I am expecting a baby soon! I'm passionate about sustainability, but I also know that babies are pretty resource intensive. Do you have any advice for how to maintain my sustainable practices while raising a little one?
— Carrie, Breckenridge
Carrie, congratulations on your growing family. This is quite an exciting time, and while it might seem as though every aspect of your life is going to change, this doesn't mean you have to give up your environmental values as well.
Start by examining your values in order to discover what is most important to you and your family.
For the purposes of this article, we will define sustainability as a lifestyle that works with nature instead of against it and does no long-term or irreversible damage to the environment or our own human health. Therefore, creating habits that consider not only the environment but also the health of your baby are sustainable. I will do my best to recommend practices that incorporate both considerations.
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Reducing waste is one of the easiest ways to lessen your environmental impact. The most obvious method of reducing waste with a new baby in the house is by eliminating disposable diapers. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Americans throw away 18 billion disposable diapers a year. The average baby will go through about 2,500-3,000 just in their first year. In addition to being such a large source of waste, disposable diapers are made with a slew of toxic chemicals. Dioxins, sodium acrylate, phthalates, tyributyltin are just some of the chemicals found in diapers, and these chemicals can negatively impact hormones and fertility.
Cloth diapers are the best alternative to disposable diapers, but don't let the idea scare you. Modern cloth diapers are in no way the same type that your grandmother or even your mother used. These days, cloth diapers consist of a waterproof shell with an absorbent cloth interior. Choosing an organic or natural cloth interior ensures that there will be no harmful chemicals against baby's skin.
Another bonus of utilizing cloth diapers is the cost savings. According to U.S. government estimates, the average cost of disposable diapers per year is $936. BabyGearLab.com, a website that reviews baby products, estimated the lifetime cost of cloth diapering is between $300-$720, depending on the brand and type of diapers you buy. Of course, you will need to factor in the added costs for electricity and detergent — around $150-$200 per year — but doing so still means that cloth diapering is cheaper than buying a few years' worth of disposable nappies.
Water quality and baby's health can also be affected by cleaning and personal care products. Examining the labels on products that clean surfaces or get slathered on baby's skin and hair will result in a list of harmful toxins. After use, these chemicals are either absorbed into the body through the skin or rinsed down the drain, where they can cause a whole host of health problems: increased susceptibility to disease, allergies and migraines; resistance to antibiotics; and possible onset of early puberty resulting from the use of compounds such as parabens, phthalates and triclosan, which all mimic hormones. To limit your child's exposure to these toxins and to prevent them from ending up in our waterways, choose products that are free of these ingredients. If you want to be sure the cosmetics and cleaning products, you are using are truly harmless for both baby and planet, make your own using recipes you find online from sites like Pinterest. Typically, these are made with simple household ingredients like coconut oil, castile soap, vinegar and essential oils.
These are just a few ideas to help you raise your family in a sustainable manner. Creating and maintaining people and planet-friendly habits will instill in your child that the Earth is to be respected and that their health is of upmost importance. If you have any more questions about sustainably raising a child, be sure to reach out to the folks at High Country Conservation Center, the go-to resource for sustainability here in Summit County.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.
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