Environmentalists spend a lot of time and article-space discussing whether having children is the worst thing one could do for the planet, or whether it actually makes parents more environmentally conscious after bringing a life into the world. Is overpopulation the problem, or overconsumption?
While I feel that it is important for environmentally conscious people to raise some next generation environmentalists, it is undoubtedly less impactful to have one or two children than five or six. However, just having fewer kids is not enough if one raises them by Western norms.
Even before birth, Western babies become mass consumers as companies play on new parents’ desire to do the best for their child. The lives of Western parents overflow with unnecessary gadgets and devices – many of which are plastic and single-use.
The average American child uses 2500 disposable nappies in the first year of life, and 1400-1800 in its second year! With about 4 million babies born annually in the US – that adds up to around a trillion nappies added to landfills each year, just from newborns. Add disposable wipes, disposable nappy bags, disposable postpartum pads, breast pads, linen savers and hospital waste to the mix and one can imagine the mountains of waste created by parents and babies each year.
Besides plastic, nappies contain petroleum, adhesives, dyes and other harmful chemicals – one of the worst being Tributyltin (TBT). TBT is added to nappies to prevent the growth of bacteria, but it is dangerously poisonous to humans and marine life and is building up in ecosystems at an alarming rate. It does not degrade and damages fertility in humans, adversely affects unborn children and organs.
While the run-of-the-mill disposable nappies take more than 500 years to degrade, better disposable, degradable nappies are now available that take about 2-3 months to degrade. These are made from plant-based materials and can be composted at home or sent away. By far the best option, however, are cloth nappies – especially if one buys them second-hand.
Cloth nappies are reusable throughout a few babies’ nappy-wearing years and can be found in natural fabrics like: hemp, bamboo and organic cotton. They can be homemade, bought second-hand or new and are much cheaper in the long run. The same is true for baby wipes, postpartum pads and breast pads – compostable options are available, as well as reusable options.
Linked with the dairy industry, infant formula packs a huge environmental footprint as well as a sketchy past. Many years ago, Nestle faced lawsuits for pushing infant formula instead of breastfeeding in third world countries – the company implied that infant formula was a better choice and went as far as dressing their reps as nurses and giving free formula samples to all new moms in hospitals. Infant formula advertising and sale laws have since been adjusted, but the damage to peoples’ mindsets remains apparent. Many people are repulsed by or do not trust breastmilk, or they think that infant formula is more nutritionally complete. This is untrue. If one is able to breastfeed, it is by far the best nourishment option for infants and it comes without the added plastic containers and environmental catastrophes of the mass dairy industry – including the degradation of land and waterways, the release of methane gas, and the usage of fossil fuels in running machinery and transportation.
The industries that have developed around profiting off of pregnancy, birth and child-rearing have created a mine-field for new parents trying to do their best for the Earth. However, it is not impossible to raise an eco-baby. With a good amount of research, discernment and self-empowerment – parents can raise babies with appropriately tiny environmental footprints and teach them to be future eco-warriors in the process.
Written By: Kelly Steenhuisen