Easy eco wins for busy parents

We all want to save the planet, but sometimes it seems as though being sustainable means a lot of extra effort - washing cloth nappies, walking instead of driving, repairing, going to zero waste shops, there's a never-ending list of 'should's. And with two small children, I already have a long enough list of things I should be doing.  

But luckily there are some easy eco wins that are actually easier than the fossil-fuelled alternatives. They can reduce your carbon footprint and your ‘to do’ list at the same time - the holy grail! 

Easy eco wins for baby toys

Baby stacking toy

My daughter's stacking toy has a carbon footprint of around 4.4kg CO2e, which is the same as driving 6 miles in a car. By the time they're 5, the average child will have owned 190 toys. That's about 8% of your child's annual carbon footprint (assuming they are quite eco)!

But it's not just the environmental cost - studies have shown that especially for children under 5, having too many toys can have a negative impact. They feel overwhelmed and can't concentrate on one thing to learn from it. 

So the solution here is simple. Buy. Fewer. Toys. That's it. But if it was actually that simple then we’d all be doing it already.

Under an increasing amount of pressure to be 'good' parents, we often turn to shopping for a quick fix. We hope that buying endless new toys will entertain and educate our children so we can put our feet up for once. Changing this ingrained behaviour is hard. However, there are some baby steps we can take in the meantime:

  1. Try a 'one in, one out' rule so that at least you're not increasing the amount of toys you have.
  2. If you have space, just move all except a few toys out of sight and see what effect it has on you and your child for a day or so. Cycle toys around if you're getting bored. 
  3. Buy secondhand.
  4. Rent/borrow toys. If you have friends with children the same age, organise toy swaps so you can get all the fun of new toys without the cost to the
    Wooden blocks
    planet or your bank account. Whirli is a company that offers toy rental for a monthly subscription so you can access new toys in an environmentally-friendly way.
  5. Buy open-ended toys such as blocks, trains and dolls which encourage creativity and can be played with in many different ways.

Remember that every toy you don't buy is less fossil fuel dug up to turn into plastic, to transport it, to recycle/incinerate it. Possibly more appealingly, every toy you don't buy, is one less that you have to pick up off the floor.

Easy eco wins for baby clothes

The carbon footprint of a baby grow is approximately 10kg CO2e, assuming that it's worn 25 times (using data from the Carbon Trust). If you have 30 items for your baby in one size, that's 300kg CO2e. Multiple that by the five sizes they go through in their first year and you've got 1.5 tonnes CO2e, or 15% of your child’s total carbon footprint for that year! So just buy less. (Have you noticed the theme yet?)

Having a capsule wardrobe of say 15 items will cut that carbon footprint in half and you'll have saved the equivalent of flying from London to Glasgow and back again, and then back again once more! And if those clothes are organic cotton, you've reduced your global warming potential by another 46%. 

renting baby clothes

A capsule wardrobe isn't just easy on the planet and your wallet, it makes it a lot easier to see what clothes you have and dress your baby in something coordinating. Renting baby clothes is an even better option here as you can so easily change items when they're too small, without the guilt of that huge carbon footprint from buying new. It also means less work for you as you don’t have to sort items for donating, recycling, or resell. Another thing off your list!

Easy eco wins for washing

As you may have noticed, there is a lot of washing involved with small people - them, their clothes, and everything around them. Firstly a daily bath for your little one will use between 2 and 10% of their yearly carbon footprint. Quite a lot for something they might only sit in for 5 minutes. Obviously just making the bath shallower will help, or just bathe them less often. And once they’re in the bath, try skipping their next scheduled hair wash – children’s hair doesn’t need frequent washing and, especially if they don’t like it, it will make everyone’s life easier.

Every night after bathtime (if we have it!), I turn to the inevitable pile of laundry. According to WRAP, about a third of the carbon footprint of your clothes comes down to washing and drying. Obviously you can impact this quite dramatically by washing on low and line drying. You could also try using an eco egg which will reduce the amount of plastic detergent bottles, has no chemicals to irritate your babies skin, and is a lot cheaper. But the easiest thing is to just... wash less.

Capsule wardrobe

If you can make your baby clothes go two wears instead of one each time, you've not only halved your washing carbon footprint, you've halved the laundry you have to do! If you're fussy about the odd bit of weetabix, you can always spot clean it by running that part briefly under the tap, or wiping with a damp cloth. Otherwise, just accept that they will get it dirty as soon as they put it on again, so you may as well relax and feel smug in the knowledge that you're doing your bit for the planet.

As for ironing, I'm assuming that no one has the time or inclination to iron baby clothes, but if you do, know that each time you iron something, you're emitting about as much greenhouse gas as a standard disposable plastic bag. So don't. 

So, do less. Buy fewer clothes. Wash less. Buy fewer toys. Tidy less. Save your sanity and the planet.

Carbon footprints taken from How bad are bananas? The carbon footprint of everything by Mike Berners-Lee. Yearly carbon footprint percentages based on 10 tonne lifestyle.

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