The baby-raising years (everything from the baby shower to the minivan) are deeply connected to consumption and waste – all contributing to the degradation of our Mother Earth. With Mother's day just behind us, Father's day ahead, and the regular drum beat of birthdays and anniversaries, I've been thinking a lot about gifts-- especially about the choices we make while parenting and lasting gifts we can give our children that will help ensure there will be a healthy planet for them for years to come.
Here are five tips (or gifts) from my new book, The Zero Footprint Baby I’m sharing with all mothers, fathers, grandparents and friends:
- Forget new baby clothes! There are more baby clothes produced than ever used (babies grow in the blink of an eye, right moms?), and all those never-worn, or once worn, onesies and cute baby jeans contribute to waste. Shop at your local consignment stores instead of buying new stuff. If you don’t have a local shop, there are a few online consignment shops that specialize in providing high quality like-new clothes for babies.
- Get a grey water sink! Each flush of the toilet wastes precious clean and fresh water. “Grey water” sinks deliver a clean, environmentally friendly hand wash with every flush (they connect to the top of your toilet and distribute the water used to wash your hands into the bowl). It saves water by using a toilet’s freshwater refill cycle for washing, then channeling the dirty sink water into the bowl. Seems too complicated? These devices take about five minutes to install, and replace your toilet lid, so are great for renters and home-owners alike.
- Sticks – that’s right, sticks – make the best toys! Think your kids always need the latest and greatest gadget to keep them entertained? I would argue otherwise. The best toys are the cheapest and don’t harm the planet. A stick, a box, a rock, some dirt, and a piece of string are all great toys. The beauty of these toys is that they encourage your baby’s creativity. A shoe box can be a truck one minute, and a house the next, and even turn into a dog a few minutes later. A plastic toy car on the other hand, will only ever be a car.
- Invest in Solar power! Solar power is cheap! For no money down there are companies out there that will install solar panels on your roof, and lease you the energy at a lower cost than your current electricity bill. If you don’t have a roof, you can change your electricity bill to renewable energy, and you can always get a few solar powered gadgets to replace ones that are currently plugged in. For example, we love our solar powered speakers!
- Microwaves rule! Making your own baby food might seem like a lot of work, but with a microwave and fork – voila! My baby food was usually a microwaved sweet potato that I mashed with a fork. Along with saving time and money (v. buying food in jars marked up at the store), I also saved a lot of energy by using the microwave or crockpot over using the oven, which not only uses a lot of energy, but also heats up your home in the hot summer months forcing your air conditioning to work even harder.
Some of these answers I discovered thanks to my Indian heritage, where I found that many families do not use diapers at all. Other solutions were a bit more complicated and high tech. Regardless, why not start a new tradition with your children on Father’s Day – a commitment to leaving a lighter footprint on the planet and in the process, setting an example for your family and the rest of the world that there is a better, alternative future.