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The First “R”: 5 ways to be a better green parent

posted by Mama Hope | April 22nd, 2008 in Environment

It’s Earth Day and I’m taking up my quest to focus on “The First R” of the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” triad, which I discussed in my post, The Origins of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

But what would all the theoretics be without some good, practical ideas? Here are 5 ideas to start with when trying to reduce and enjoy a simpler more sustainable life. Of course there’s plenty more than 5 ways to reduce out there, but when we’re talking about simplicity, why not keep it short?

    water conservation stamp
    Image via Wikipedia
  1. Bathe your baby and children 2-3 times weekly instead of every day. Most people, especially babies and children, don’t need to bathe daily, and in fact baths tend to dry out the skin and taken too often are more damaging than beneficial. The Society for Dermopharmacy states: “Each cleansing process of the skin leads to an impairment of the barrier function.” In other words, cleansing removes the skin’s oily outer layer, impairing its ability to retain moisture and remain soft and healthy. Reducing your bath water usage promotes water conservation, not to mention reducing your exposure to potential tap water contaminants. Skeptical? Here’s a forum of moms discussing frequency of bathing for kids with skin problems.
  2. Skip the paper catalogs. If you’ve ever purchased any kids’ products from a catalog you may have found yourself inundated with ever more catalogs in the mail. That’s because catalog companies actually work together by share mailing lists to help boost sales. Nowadays, shopping online allows the luxury of avoiding all that paper. Even if you recycle catalogs you’re still adding to the toll on the environment as the pages are printed. To get yourself removed from those lists, visit the Direct Marketing Association’s opt out page, which also includes links for opting out of credit card mailings.
  3. Shop Local. The amount of fuel consumption it takes to ship products across the country and the world affects our energy supply and contributes to greenhouse gases. When possible, buy from local craftsman and area farmers. If you do some hunting you may find local craftsman making hand-made mobiles, lovey dolls, and personalized diapering and bathing supplies. These rare finds are not only better for the environment but naturally become best-loved items and family treasures. The same concept goes for locally grown food. The joy of actually knowing your farmer, whether it’s through a local community sponsored agriculture, a farmer’s market, or a visit to the farm itself, simply adds to the knowledge that you’re cutting down on environmental impact. And if you’re lucky and can take advantage of a nearby farmer for your meat products, you can also contribute to the protection our precious Brazillian rainforests, which lose 64 acres every minute. Try Local Harvest which sports a zip code lookup for locating locally grown food, or check the website of your nearest university agricultural program. For crafts, try Etsy’s Shop Local search.
  4. Enjoy used clothing, toys, and books. There are a wealth of opportunities for buying used that will both save you money and save the environment. Buying used clothing cuts down on the impact of cotton production, which requires the extensive use of pesticides and water consumption. Used toys reduce toxic emissions related to plastic production and polyester stuffing used on all but the most organic of plush toys. Where can you find good used stuff? Most communities nowadays have at least one consignment boutique dedicated to like-new quality baby and children’s goods. Garage sales are both a good way to enjoy a day out and about and a good way to save loads of dollars. Finally, check your local parenting resources and newspapers for annual sales and flea markets. Many communities have charitable organizations that sponsor semi-annual “garage sale” events that combine the wares of multiple families under one roof.
  5. Assess your psychological need to buy. Shopping can be one of those deep-seated needs that dates back all the way to our hunter-gatherer days. Is there a way you can fulfill those needs while also serving instead of damaging our environment? For some it may mean doing your shopping via used boutiques and local craftsman, as I’ve mentioned above, but there are other ways to satisfy your urge to acquire. Gathering information is one great way — I find that when I’m solving problems online I feel like I’m accomplishing something for my children simply by searching out the best approach that suits their health and well being. Another possibility? Make it yourself! For all those who have felt the thrill of opening packages after a day shopping, I challenge you to experience the thrill of making something yourself! For inspiration, visit Etsy.com, and for ideas, try The Crafty Mom blog, SouleMama, BloesemKids’ craft page by Arounna Khounnoraj, or heck, just get a subcription to Craft magazine, a hip, modern project-based zine heavy on fiber-arts, or, if you’d prefer, its parent publication, Make, based more in do-it-yourself electronics.

Happy Earth Day, and here’s to greater enjoyment, more positive impact, and a smaller footprint!

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