Ten Ways to Reduce Your Toddler’s Ecological Footprint

2009-05-13 06Eco-conscious parents can be overwhelmed by the amount of plastic-filled, extravagantly packaged, and ultimately unnecessary items that are commonly marketed for babies and toddlers. But parents need not despair: not only is it possible to avoid the wastefulness of a commercialized childhood, it is also easier than you think to instill your Earth-friendly values in your budding activists.

Below are ten ways to reduce your toddler’s ecological footprint. And instead of simply making these decisions for your toddler, involve her in the process. Explain in simple terms why your family chooses to live sustainably. She may not understand every detail, but your words and actions will help establish a foundation of lifelong learning and environmentally conscious habits.

1. Use Cloth Diapers

If you didn’t discover the joy of cloth diapering at the birth of your child, it’s not too late. Collective wisdom preaches that cloth diapers make potty training easier and faster. And, if you do cloth “right,” your child will have less of an environmental impact than if she stayed in disposables.

2. Make (or Imagine) Toys, Don’t Buy Them

Toddlers don’t need the plastic bells and whistles that are made in China and advertised on television. Your one year old will be just as happy banging on a pot as she is hitting a store-bought drum. Your two year old doesn’t need the latest toddler gadget when there are sticks and rocks to play with.

When you make toys with your toddler, they learn the value of repurposing materials. When you play pretend, you are allowing your child to flex his creative and cognitive muscles, work through tough emotions, and develop large and fine motor skills.

3. Buy Secondhand or Look for Hand-Me-Downs

Toddlers (and babies) move so quickly through developmental stages – and clothes – that it makes little sense to spend the money on anything new. Look on Freecycle, shop craigslist, garage sales, and thrift shops, and graciously accept the generosity of friends – then pass it on.

4. Give Clutter-Free Gifts

Instead of gifting stuff, give a toddler an experience. Inspire a love of aquatics or animals by gifting a toddler a year’s admission to an aquarium, nature center, or zoo. Introduce a hobby by giving your toddler a month of gymnastics or music classes. Resist the urge to give something disposable; give something that will last.

5. Unplug

Spend more time outside with your little ones. Be creative with arts, crafts, and raw/repurposed materials. Get out from in front of the boob tube and the computer. Live a little.

6. Don’t Rely on Prepackaged Foods

Skip the boxed crackers, the individually wrapped bags of fruit treats. Give your toddler’s growing body the more healthy nutrition found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Make your foods from scratch, together with your toddler.

7. Buy Organic and Local Foods

Food bought locally (and in season) does not have to be transported, extensively packaged, or frozen for long periods of time. Organic food does not contribute as heavily to the overload of chemicals and pesticides in our environment. Plus, taking your toddler to the farmers’ market is almost always a fun and educational experience.

8. Skip the Assorted Useless Plastics

Sippy cups. Toys. Plastic plates. Toys. Plastic silverware. Toys. Beds. Oh – and toys. Many of the plastic things marketed to and for toddlers can be replaced with suitable (or superior) substitutes made of wood or metal. The added benefit is that wood or metal objects will likely be more durable and can be passed on from child to child or between generations.

9. Teach Your Toddler the Three R’s

It is easier than you think to teach a toddler how to separate trash. My son has known where the “plastic recycling” and “paper recycling” are and what goes in them since well before he was two years old (we keep the rest of the recycling in a less child-friendly area). He loves the responsibility of putting things in the recycling bins, and he also loves accompanying us to the recycling drop-off. It been an excellent way to introduce him to the concept of reducing and recycling our waste.

10. Help Your Toddler Be a Role Model for Others

Don’t underestimate the powerful influence your toddler can have on others. Toddlers love to share their knowledge through example or through dramatic play. If your child attends a daycare or other group setting, find ways for her to share what she does to care for the environment. Help create a school recycling center. Grow a class garden. Bring homemade snacks instead of prepackaged ones whenever it is your turn. You can do more than foster a respect for our Earth in your own children, you can help your kids be the light for others.

Dionna is a lawyer turned work at home mama of an amazing son, and she is one of those crunchy liberals her parents warned her about. You can normally find Dionna over atΒ Code Name: Mama where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with a toddler. One of sustainablog’s writers published a guest post there, so once you’re done reading Dionna’s thoughts on reducing your child’s footprint, head on over to find out some of Mary Beth’s thoughts on cloth diapers.

  1. Melodie

    We’re in the process of moving and have put away some toys and have a lot of cardboard boxes around. My kids and the daycare kids only want to play in the boxes anyway. They really do make the best toys!

  2. Dionna @ Code Name: Mama

    Josie – those slippers are adorable!! What a lot of work you’ve put into them!

    Liz – I love clutter-free gifts. My mother, on the other hand, does not πŸ˜‰ I have to specifically request “no stuff” or else we are inundated. (If you’re reading this mom, love you!)

    Melodie – boxes are the best! By the way, I also read an article (on the NurtureShock blog maybe?) that simple toys – the ones without all the bells and whistles – are better for your kids’ creativity/imagination anyway. So besides being easier on the wallet and plastic parts, they’re also better for the mind! Bonus.

    It was pointed out to me on Twitter that I should have added breastfeeding to this list – so true! Breastfeeding leaves less of an ecological footprint than toddler formula, not to mention the great health benefits for mama and child πŸ™‚

    Thanks for the comments!

  3. Heather Colvin

    Hi Dionna, my name is Heather Colvin and I am the editor for a yoga and balanced living company called Green Monkey that is based out of Miami Beach. In addition to offering yoga, pilates, meditation classes as well as workshops, events, detoxes etc. we also publish 5 monthly newsletters. As the editor I am responsible for recruiting new writers. I follow sustainablog on google reader and ran across your piece. This is exactly the kind of material we’re looking for to publish in our newest newsletter for Kids & Families. I’m including a link to the first edition of that newsletter so you can get an idea of what it is we’re looking for – but I wanted to offer you the opportunity to work with us. Please feel free to email me at [email protected] if you’re interested – we would love to work with you.

    Many thanks!

    Newsletter link: http://us1.campaign-archive.com/?u=74b70e71f38e14fdb87d22f01&id=b865edcfaf&e=b82e7de60c

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