As sea levels and temperatures continue to rise globally, so does climate anxiety. In fact, concerns about global warming have many reconsidering if they want to have children at all.
But what about those who are pregnant, or those who already have a family and want to raise their children in a healthier environment? What can parents do to not only protect their children from a potentially harmful environment but raise them to be more eco-conscious themselves?
We spoke to eco-friendly parenting experts for some simple and efficient tips that will not only help you raise more conscientious kids, but will protect the planet as well.
Watching What You (and Your Children) Eat
The effects that climate change will have on our food has been well-documented, so re-thinking how you and your family consume food is something to take into major consideration. Sustainability writer and the author of the upcoming book An Almost Zero Waste Life, Meagan Weldon puts it simply: “Whole foods over processed junk, always.”
Midwife and herbalist Dr. Aviva Romm suggests using both the Clean15 and Dirty Dozen lists, as provided by the Environmental Working Group, as a guide to what to eat and what to avoid in terms of pesticides.
Romm says that when you can, shop organically, particularly when it comes to dairy products and protein, as those are like “insurance for your baby’s well-being.” She also says that if you are going to eat fish, during your pregnancy and beyond, to make sure it is low-mercury fish.
Pediatric nurse practitioner Jessica Pawlicki APRN, FNP-C, adds that if you choose purees for your baby, “Making your own with organic, non-GMO fruits and vegetables is a must.”
Another thing to be aware of when it comes to eco-conscious eating, Romm says, is to avoid any plastic packaging with food. Not only does this help the environment, but it can reduce the blood levels caused by phallates. Romm says this is also true when you swap out your water bottles, and instead of drinking out of plastic, opt for glass or stainless steel.
Cooking, and grocery shopping, as a family can also have some major positive impacts. (Don’t forget to pack your own bulk shopping bag and avoid using plastic bags.)
Romm says that when you shop and cook together, “it engages children in learning how to shop smartly and not take home any unnecessary packaging.” She says it also teaches important lessons like eating leftovers and to avoid takeout whenever possible to avoid excess waste.
Reducing Overall Waste
Less, as they say, is more. That is especially good advice for parents who are looking to have a healthier household and a healthier planet for their children to grow up in. Romm says one way families can do this is to make environmental commitments while raising their children. This includes deciding what you absolutely need and to avoid the excess.
“Keep it simple,” Weldon echoes, “I know the excitement of a new baby creates an irresistible urge to buy all of the new, cute things, but [it’s not] the most eco-friendly thing.”
One way to do this, Romm advises, is to avoid plastic toys (which will eventually wind up in a landfill and won’t degrade) and instead go for wood and/or cloth toys. “Even teethers are made with natural wood, untreated and silicone,” Pawlicki points out.
If you can, Romm suggests using cloth diapers and a cloth diaper service, as this will stop you from “putting microplastics into the environment.” However, if you can’t afford cloth diapers and services, she says to find diapers on the market that are “truly as biodegradable as possible.”
Using eco-friendly and eco-safe products such as organic sheets, mattresses, and covers for cribs and bedding is also important, Pawlicki says, adding that using low VOC paint in their rooms “will help eliminate [harmful] chemicals.”
As your children get older, Romm says to consider how many electronics you have in your household and perhaps opt for one iPad that can be shared on a schedule.
You can also factor in how many TVs, iPhones, and laptops you want in your household, as a 2018 report found that digital consumption “already estimated to have the same carbon footprint as the aviation industry’s fuel emissions.”
Teaching Valuable, Eco-Friendly Lessons
In addition to teaching your children things like how to cook and consume wisely, you can also lead by example and show them how little day-to-day things can make a big difference.
“If a child grows up in a home that is more conscious of environmental impact, that habit will be a normal part of life,” Weldon says. “Teach children to respect their toys, enjoy nature, and grow plants.”
For instance, Weldon says, “if you recycle in the home, teach them what can be recycled.” The same goes for family-friendly and earth-friendly activities like composting and gardening.
Romm also says you can do things like “teach kids to shut off lights when they are not in a room and to not leave the water running when they are doing things like washing their hands or brushing their teeth.”
Buying upcycled, gently-used clothing for your children not only saves you major bucks and doesn’t add to fast fashion waste, but it sets a good precedent on why “new” doesn’t always necessarily mean better.
As Pawlicki points out, it’s hard to combat everything that is bad for the planet (and ourselves), “so we need to avoid what we have in our control.” She says to leave your guilt and regrets at the door when it comes to being more eco-conscious and instead, “make small life changes” that add to something much larger than all of us.