|Can the hand that rocks the cradle save the world?
By: John Gibbons
The future of the planet is an important but abstract issue for all of us, but the arrival of a new baby is probably the one event in all our lives which will make us really stop and take stock in relation to the protection of the world which the next generation will inherit.
If you are reading this, chances are that you’re already conscious about environmental protection and you will also be anxious to become an eco-friendly parent. But, how do you go about raising a ‘green’ baby?
The baby ‘industry’ is very big business, so new parents are constantly being pressurised by advertisers to buy the very latest gadgets and “must-have” clothing and accessories for their new offspring.
The golden rule in being eco-friendly is the three “R’s” – Reduce, Re-use and Recycle, so think of the many ways in which you can apply this mantra to all aspects of your new baby’s world. For example, how many times have you heard the phrase “new baby, new mattress” – suggesting that every time you have a new baby you must replace the mattress in their baby basket and/or cot.
Even though we all know this is a ridiculous concept, it is surprising how many parents rush out and buy absolutely everything new once baby arrives in the house. For some new parents, maybe it’s the combination of exhaustion and euphoria that can temporarily cause us to take leave of our senses, especially when it comes to indulging ‘baby’.
The thought of buying second-hand clothes, or borrowing clothes from other family members or friends, would horrify a lot of new parents in today’s affluent Ireland. However, not only is this practice very good for the environment, it also makes perfect economic sense.
Babies grow very fast and many of the new clothes which they receive as gifts from over-indulgent wellwishers are barely worn. In truth, some never even get out of the wrapper. Also, your family and friends who’ve been through the ‘baby’ phase ahead of you probably have a ton of barely-used stuff that is now clogging up their hot press and bulging out of the attic spaces.
It makes total sense to see that it gets used again, and what’s more, you’ll be doing them a favour too, in clearing up space in their homes while of course saving yourself a packet.
The same rule could, and should, be applied to the purchase of baby equipment. Not so long ago in Ireland, baby cots were family heirlooms which were passed from one generation to the next.
The cots were made of much sturdier materials than their modern equivalents, and by using second-hand furniture you are doing your bit for conservation by preserving trees. A point also worth noting is that some glues which are used to put modern flat-packed furniture together contain formaldehyde, which is not only harmful to the environment, but also to your baby.
Of course, the one area of your baby’s care which will have a major impact on the environment is the type of nappies you use. Did you know that approximately two trees per year are felled to provide the pulp for every baby who wears disposable nappies, and it takes hundreds of years for disposables to break down in landfill sites?
Over nine million nappies – or 3% of all household waste – are thrown away every day in Britain, so it is not rocket science to see that a switch to either re-usable or eco-disposable nappies would have a major impact on the environment.
Re-usable, or terry towelling nappies which our mothers and grandmothers used, are viewed by many in our disposable world as being just too inconvenient and too much work. Also, there is the issue of the energy used in boiling terry nappies, plus the detergents used to clean them. This has to be factored into the decision as well.
The good news is that the range of eco-disposable nappies is expanding and getting better all the time and, while they tend to be a bit pricey and difficult to source, they are sure to become much more popular in the near future.
Bear in mind that when you go into a shop and ask for a product, such as eco-friendly nappies, even though they may not have it in stock, or may never have previously bothered stocking it, businesses respond very directly to customers asking them to carry certain lines, and if your local shop sees a demand for an eco-friendly version of a product, that’s the one sure way of seeing it on the shelves.
If you’re shopping online, there are a number of good websites where eco-disposable nappies can be purchased electronically and these sites also provide lots of useful information articles on all aspects of raising an eco-friendly baby, including the use of organic all-cotton fibres in baby’s clothing; using eco-friendly skin products which contain no harmful allergens and how to decorate baby’s bedroom using non-toxic paint, bedding and floor covering. One Irish site worth a visit is www.ecobaby.ie.
One of the practical points to keep in mind is that many Irish créches will not accept babies in cloth nappies. On the other hand, so-called ‘eco nappies’ are compostable, which means instead of them ending up emitting methane in landfill, they are instead converted back into a resource.
It is an acknowledged fact that the first year in a baby’s life is one of the most expensive, with the most conservative estimates putting it at over 4,000 euros in baby-related costs.
Raising an eco-friendly baby is likely to add more cost to what is already an expensive 12 months, but the benefits to the environment which your child will one day inherit will far outweigh the extra financial outlay.
As a new parent, you’ll find that the days of ‘living like there’s no tomorrow’ are well and truly over. You now have a human investment into the future, certainly well into the second half of this century.
So when you read those scary headlines warning us about collapse of fish species of the disappearance of the Amazon rainforest ‘by 2050’, your new baby will be barely 40 (and perhaps with young children of his/her own) by then. Suddenly, the future may feel a whole lot closer.