Your Child and the Environment: How Australian Parents Can Reduce Their Impact
The Environmental Impact of Manufacturing Disposables
One of the most environmentally damaging things about disposable nappies is their manufacturing process. It takes massive volumes of water just to produce the materials used in disposable nappies. For example, nappies are made from wood pulp, paper, and plastic, all of which use significant amounts of energy and water to produce. In fact, the production of disposable nappies uses 20 times more raw materials and 2 times more water than that of cloth nappies.
Issues in the Landfill
When people throw out their baby's solid waste along with their disposable nappies, this creates a hazardous environment in landfills. Did you know that you're actually supposed to flush your baby's waste, even if you use disposables? In America, disposable nappies cause 84 million pounds of raw fecal matter to enter landfills every year. Disposable nappies in the landfill produce methane and other toxic gases. This contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to the acceleration of global warming. Plus, many disposable nappies contain volatile chemicals that end up in the surrounding ecosystems.
Water Use from Washing Cloth Nappies
But, cloth nappies aren't perfect either. Since they require frequent washing, they also use a fair amount of water and electricity. This may be a concern to Australians facing issues with water shortage. Studies have found that the water used to wash cloth nappies for 2.5 years is about equal to the amount of water used in the production of disposables.
The difference with cloth nappies is that parents have more control over their environmental footprint than those who buy disposables. For example, purchasing second-hand nappies or using a stash for more than one child will cut the environmental impact significantly. Washing cloth nappies in water-efficient, front-loading washers have a lower impact on water usage than disposables as well. Line-drying cloth nappies instead of using the dryer will also cut down on your energy usage.
Problems with Cotton in Cloth Nappies
Many cloth nappies, particularly pre-folds and traditional flats, are made from cotton. Cotton production is very chemical-intensive, causing damage to the environment. Pesticides in cotton crops seep into groundwater and can even make it back to consumers. Plus, cotton fertilizers produce harmful greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere.
Cotton also uses a huge amount of water in production. In fact, producing the cotton for one stash of cotton cloth nappies uses three times more water than will ever be used to launder them. If you’re concerned about chemicals and the environment, look for organic cotton nappies that are produced with less water and without pesticides. Even better, choose nappies made from more environmentally-friendly fabrics such as these Little Piglet bamboo nappies.
Baby Food Packaging
We all know that baby food comes in those tiny, sealed pouches or jars that need to be thrown away after one use. Though this is extremely convenient, the packaging quickly builds up to create quite a lot of waste. These disposable containers are also difficult to recycle since they're composed of different materials. Try to use glass jars when possible since they can be reused and are more easily recyclable than plastic. Even better, aluminum is the most energy efficient recyclable material.
Children’s Plastic Toys
Plastic toys are a large source of household waste created by children. Cheap plastic toys break quickly and are almost impossible to recycle. This is because they're often composed of various materials including metals that are difficult to separate out. Environmentally conscious parents should opt for durable toys, such as those made from wood, metal, and natural rubber.
Since having a kid means doing a lot more grocery shopping, parents should try to cut down on their plastic bag use. Many parents recommend using muslin bags for produce. You can even purchase bulk flour, trail mix, and other bulk grains in these reusable bags. Get smaller reusable bags for packing children's lunch items, such as pretzels and dried fruit. Also, try to use food containers instead of sandwich bags whenever possible.
The Recycling Crisis in Australia
Up until recently, Australia sent 30 percent of their recyclable waste to China for processing, This equaled about 1.2 million tons of waste in one year. Now, China has implemented heavier restrictions on the waste they accept for processing, leaving Australia with building stockpiles of recyclables and nothing to do with them.
Consumers can help out by using fewer disposable plastics that end up in recycling bins. Try to avoid plastic baby food pouches and water bottles. Reuse glass and plastic containers for food storage instead of throwing them in the recycling bin. Finally, support manufacturers who use recyclable materials in their products by making conscious consumer choices when you go shopping. For example, get biodegradable toothbrushes for your child instead of plastic ones.
Whatever you do, having a kid is going to have an impact on the environment. But, this doesn’t mean you should feel guilty about having a child. Instead, do what you can to cut down on your carbon footprint as a family. Switching to cloth nappies is one great way you can reduce the waste you send to landfills and have better control over your own environmental impact.