Wednesday, January 18, 2012

6 Tips for Convenience Parenting Without Being an Eco-terrorist

I live in the great metropolis of Seattle, where recycling and compost are sacred.  Seriously.  Once I threw away a diet Coke can in the trash because there was no nearby recycle bin.  A stranger accosted me, fished out the can and took it home to recycle.  I just stood there, dumbfounded that someone would go to that kind of trouble.  Crazy.

So I've just outed my deep dark secret.  I live for convenience.  Sure, I'll choose the environmentally friendly option when it's there and just as easy.  But it's just not a priority for me to be eco-friendly if it makes things harder on myself.  (*ducks to avoid composting fruit scraps*)

So, when it came to the inevitable cloth vs. disposable debate before BabyT was born, I chose disposable without a second thought.  I did not want to wash poopy diapers.  I did not want to store a bag of poopy diapers somewhere in our (storage-challenged) house waiting for the diaper service to pick them up.  I knew I'd have to buy disposables for backup, for nighttime, and for daycare, so it was just easier to choose disposable overall.  I'm not here to argue, I'm just saying it was easier for our lifestyle.

But, it turns out, we're not the total eco-terrorists I thought we were.  We do a handful of things that could actually be considered green, or at least, not totally awful.  So I thought I'd share those with you, because they're also easy and convenient.  

1.  Burp cloths are multi-purpose!

Before T was born, I didn't really get the idea of burp cloths.  A close friend whose baby was a few weeks older than T clued us in, and generously bought us a pack of those really thin "cloth diapers" from Target, which are just great for absorbing spit-up.  We're long past the spit-up stage, but we still use those cloths *all the time*.  T uses them as "blankets" for her dolls.  We use them to wipe her constantly runny nose (thanks, daycare!).  One of them is the "eraser" for T's chalkboard easel.  They're handy for cleaning up spilled soymilk when T leaves her sippy cup on its side.  I've even used one to dry off a damp beagle.  They're even great for the icky stuff, like vomit, or as a makeshift changing pad cover.

Eco-bonus:  We're not using a crapload of paper towels, Kleenex or heavy bath towels (that would then need to be washed) for little jobs. We just toss them into the washer and they get clean and dry easily.

2.  WTH do I do with these washcloths?

My pre-baby shopping included one memorable IKEA run where I bought every cute thing in their baby section because "it's so cheap! of course I'll find a use for it!".  So we ended up with a couple of nice-sized but totally non-absorbent burp cloths, which have now been put into use as changing pad covers. 

But the other *score* that I regretted buying at first, was a 10 pack of small washcloths (KRAMA, if you must know).  We didn't use washcloths for T's bath, so they sat around for months.  Until she started eating solid food.  Or just mashing it all over her face.  These washcloths were ideal for cleaning up her face and hands after a particularly satisfying meal, because I could wet them with warm water, and scrub her as needed.

Eco-bonus:  We don't use a crapload of baby wipes or wet paper towels to clean her up after a meal.  Now, of course, she can climb into her Baby Tower and wash her own hands, but it's still easier to use the washcloth if she's super-messy.

3.  You might be Indian if...

One of those Internet memes told me that using plastic grocery bags to line small trash cans was *totally* an Indian thing.  Apparently we Indians are a frugal people (!) so we balk at buying small trash bags.  No idea if this is true, but I think it was something I learned from my mom, and seemed like a reasonable thing to do.  All of our bathroom trash cans are lined with plastic grocery bags.  We have so many, it seems like a shame not to re-use them.

The baby angle?  Well, any of you with a kid over 6 months knows the unpleasantness of changing a dirty diaper when the kid starts eating real food.  Our diaper trashcan was not doing a good job of controlling the smell, so we switched to a new system.  Dirty diapers go in a plastic bag and directly outside to the trash.  This works *so* much better, and then we don't need to change the diaper trash bag as often, either.  *And* our plastic bag stash is finally down to a manageable level.  In fact, we're actually perilously close to running out.  (Time for another Target run!)

Eco-bonus: We re-use those plastic grocery bags, instead of throwing them away and buying new plastic bags for trash.  Granted this is a stretch, because of the number of disposable diapers we're sending to the landfill, and the fact that there isn't really a good reason to get plastic bags anymore, but at least we are using the ones we have, right?

4.  We don't need no stinkin' boxes

This one is not rocket science.  We bought 2 boxes of baby wipes to get the fancy plastic box for each changing station, then just bought refill packs by the case to fill those boxes.   Cheaper, and we don't have to figure out what to do with all those empty boxes.  For the diaper bag, I got a cute personalized wipes case on Etsy, and I just grab a stack of wipes from one of the boxes.  It's smaller and I don't have to buy special travel-sized packs just for the diaper bag.

Eco-bonus: No dubiously recyclable plastic wipes boxes to get rid of.  Again, we're talking about convenience here.  Yes, I could make myself reusable wipes out of washcloths, etc.  But I don't have that kind of time or desire.

5.  No special kid foods

One of the crunchy parenting decisions we made was to introduce BabyT to solids via baby-led weaning.  The quick summary - you give the baby slices or pieces of food that they can easily pick up.  No purees, no tedious spoon-feeding.  I liked the idea, and frankly, it seemed a heck of a lot easier than making my own pureed baby food, or trying to spoonfeed anything into a suspicious baby.  If she picked up something and ate it, great.  If not, that was fine too.  It helped set the stage for us to be able to deal with toddler pickiness without getting terribly upset about what she's not eating.

So we were able to skip the whole baby-food jar stage completely.  With T's dairy allergy, a lot of the packaged "toddler foods" were out too: most Puffs, yogurt drops, etc had dairy ingredients in them.  But even the "safe" ones seemed junky and ridiculously expensive for what you got.  So I didn't buy any of those cute containers with individually packaged snacks.  If we needed dry snacks on the run, I bought Kix, Cheerios, freeze dried fruit or pretzels and put them in a little container. 

Eco-bonus: No precious individual packaging to throw away.  We bought normal sized containers of snacks and put them into reusable covered bowls for travel.  We didn't give in to the food industry's idea of specialized (unnecessary) baby and toddler foods.  Sticking it to The Man, I say!

6.  Used stuff is ok.  (Really!)

My mom will laugh at this, because I was *not* into thrifting or wearing clothes from discount stores, etc. when I was growing up.  And I won't make BabyT do it if she doesn't want to once she is old enough to have an opinion.  But for now, we gladly welcome hand-me-downs.  We sometimes cruise our local (swanky) Goodwill to find babyGap and miniBoden clothes I'd never pay full price for.  T also thinks it's great that her clothes came from "big girls" like our friends C or Z.  

I like buying nice toys used, especially the large plastic contraptions babies seem to require (swing, bouncer, etc.).  I am super picky about brands and condition, but can almost always find exactly what I'm looking for on Craigslist or our internal mailing list at work.  Or, even better, from my mama friends with older kids.  I scored a huge Plan Toys wooden dollhouse on Craigslist for $70 that retails for $150 or more, new.  T's not that into it yet, so it's just as well.

About 75% of T's clothes and toys are pre-owned. Our friends are pretty much on the same wavelengths about "good" toys and appropriate clothes, so nearly everything I get from them works for us.  So easy!

Eco-bonus:  Reuse, baby!  Not buying new large plastic things that will only be useful for a few months.  Not having to throw away perfectly good clothes or toys with lots of life still in them.

Shirt courtesy of Z, and pants from C
Pretty easy, right?  Committed environmentalists will scoff at this list while they cloth diaper with their reusable wipes, grow their own food, and compost and recycle every last bit of waste they generate.  Props to them.

Of course there's more I could do, if I had the time or inclination.  I'm getting used to bringing my own reusable bags to the grocery, and I even remembered to do it at Target a few times.  But for now, I'm happy to do just a little bit while still keeping life manageable.

So, tell me.  What easy eco-friendly thing does your household do?  I'm up for suggestions!


  1. It might be a Pittsburgh thing--I've always re-used my plastic bags as trash bags. I learned it from my mom too. Also, they're very useful for kitty litter.

  2. @Heather, you might be right - maybe it is a Pittsburgh thing! We don't have a cat, but we use them for dog poo, too. They are useful for all sorts of things!

  3. We did baby-led weaning too.

  4. Those thin cloth diapers ROCK. (Though they'd be useless as actual diapers). I have a set I've been using since Evan was born. Yes, that is nearly 6.5 years. They've been washed hundreds of times and still are holding up. Amazing. About half are now cleaning rags. They are great for cleaning mirrors/windows.

  5. I didn't know there was *anyone* who didn't put grocery bags in their trash cans. Seriously, do they even sell actual trash bags for those anymore?

  6. @Rachel - yes, @ Target they sell several different sizes of trash bags. So someone must be buying them :) When our cleaning person brings her own, they are official trash bags and not grocery bags/Target bags.

  7. I think I understand what you mean, but as a matter of semantics I just want to clarify that eco-terrorists are the freaks that attack others for what they consider to be their undue environmental damage, not people who's everyday living habits cause environmental impact. So for example, if the guy taking your recyclable can out of the municipal waste stream took it and threw it at you, he would be an eco-terrorist. That term in the title of this blog post caught my attention because these type of self-righteous activists detract, or perhaps even intimidate the moderate majority from giving due consideration to their environmental footprint, as you're doing a great job of here in this ambiguously titled blog post.

    I'm an Environmental Scientist, but don't let people call me an 'Environmentalist' because I associate that term with these same type of uninformed, self-righteous eco-terrorists types that think they know how we all should live. I consider myself a part of the moderate majority that considers the virtues of the little things that I can do, but who's 15 years of experience as an Environmental Scientist for corporate and government clients gives me the perspective that what ever we do as individuals makes no meaningful difference compared to the impacts and waste generated by government and industry. For example, I've never actually been to Washington State, but I oversaw the treatment and disposal of about 20,000,000 gallons of wastewater in Washington State, disposed of tens of tons or RCRA hazardous waste, and hundreds of tons on RCRA non hazardous waste....ANNUALLY....for a small business cleaning out chemical tank trailers at two Washington locations.

    Given this real world perspective, I still try to embrace a low impact ways and virtues of living, but can't honestly delude myself to believe anything I do makes any kind of measurable difference in the long run. Aside from lacking real world perspective, 'Environmentalists' commonly lack true scientific perspective as well. Attempting to do a true energy or materials balance of a certain decision can be a very complex task. For example, we tried to use g-diapers, which are supposedly flush-able liners you put in re-usable shells. Aside from the fact they couldn't withstand the high pressure discharges our daughter sometimes experienced (yuk!) ....and caused us to consume more clothes as a result, then I found a City POTW I worked with had actually written a lengthy white paper on how those supposedly flush-able liners were clogging their lift station pumps and resulting in higher maintenance and emergency response costs.....and with that....we dropped that crusade and went back to disposables.

    What's the moral of this story? I think, as usual, moderation makes the most sense. I mean, follow the laws about household hazardous waste and the instructions on your herbicides and pesticides because you can do some serious harm handling there kind of items. Go above and beyond and try to reduce, reuse, and recycle! Go ahead and consider your energy consumption and try to conserve.....BE INSPIRED AND DO ALL YOU CAN DO.....but PLEASE don't allow yourself to be overcome with the self-righteousness that causes you scold others for their way of living.....and certainly not to the point where you would twist those altruistic ambitions to minimize your footprint into a reason to verbally or even physically assault someone else for not thinking the same as you.

  8. Ha! Yeah, we always reused the grocery bags as trash liners to. If not reusing it that way, take it back to the store.....these bags are actually one form of plastic that is efficiently recycled now for use in composite lumber. I've read that up to 70% o the supply of those bags is being purchased by Trex. This is another article on the subject, no specific metrics, but it's a good site to bookmark to find recycling centers for just about anything:

  9. Ha! I never posted here before and didn't know this was my screen name, but want to explain it, to distinguish that I'm not an actual "lunatic", which some people who knew me in the distant past may believe could the case :) My screen name is inspired by this Kerouac quote: "... a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn't really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deodorants and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume, I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of 'em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures..."

  10. Interesting post, this was really useful. thanks!

  11. @Zen lunatic

    My father, in his 70s, a life-time Sierra-clubber environmentalist, has recently come to the same conclusion-- that it doesn't matter so much what people do but what companies do. My sister disagrees-- she says if everyone changed it would still make a sizable impact, even though she agrees that better legislation and enforcement is needed on the industry side. (She works in plastics for a large company.)

  12. @Dre - I can't believe those "diapers" from Target have lasted you 2 kids and 6 years!!!

    @Zen lunatic/Paul - thanks for the insight! And yeah, I knew eco-terrorist wasn't the right word, but I couldn't think of a better one for what I was trying to say. (Suggestions welcome!)

    I had no idea Trex was made from plastic bags! How cool.

  13. @Zen Lunatic - also, love the backstory behind your name :)

    @nicoleandmaggie - the company where i work has always been enviro-conscious - recycle bins everywhere, which is good because we get free soda in cans :) and they recently started separating compostable stuff for food and using compostable plates, napkins, and utensils. Probably a drop in the bucket, but I'm glad they make the effort *and* make it easy for us to do the right thing. (There are 30K people who work here at this location, so it probably makes a little dent.)

  14. It seems like we're on the same page. Yes, I use shopping bags as trash can liners too. In fact I put them in multiples, so each time I want to discard one, the next one's already in there.
    1. Turning off the lights behind myself and others.
    2. Use tap water and have banned all Soda or bottled water within the household.
    3. Re-use the ton loads of paperwork that comes from kids' school for shopping lists, to-do list, etc.
    4. Give away as many clothes to charity as I shop for.

    Reading about what Zen Lunatic witnessed with the chemical waste, makes me feel like my efforts are a nano-drop :S..... But still, I do think we should go on...:) !!

  15. The cloth vs. disposable diaper is not a clear cut issue. In my dry part of the world, the extra water usage from washing all those cloth diapers balances the landfill from the disposables- its a bit of a wash, so to speak. When I researched this, I thought flushables (the wet ones actually compost- and yes, I've shown that to be true) were the best way to go. But my laziness overcame me, and we didn't end up using all that many of them.

    Since we essentially live in the coastal strip of a desert, we emphasize water conservation: native plants in the front yard, low water use washer and dishwasher, etc.

    For more general things- we bought a hybrid (a Prius) for one car and a small minivan (Mazda5) for the other. We try to minimize energy usage. We even have a clothesline for drying most of our laundry- my husband had his parents bring us a fancy retractable one with 5 lines from NZ, because he couldn't find what he wanted here. We compost. We recycle.

    But there is a lot more we could be doing, and like you, a lot of what we aren't doing is for convenience reasons- or as I like to think of it "sanity saving for a dual career family" reasons. We work on the same street, a five minute drive apart, but we drive in separately. We do that because we stagger schedules so that we can both get a full workday in and still have family dinner every night. We buy factory-farmed meat even though I hate the idea of it because the closest place that sells more sustainable meat is a 15 minutes drive away, and does not sell all of the other things we need. I'm not up for two grocery shopping excursions per week. And so on.

    The way I see it, life involves a lot of trade offs. Different people will trade off different things. And that's OK, as long as we all do our best.

    And vote for politicians that will make our companies do their best, too!

    But... we

  16. @Mom with a Dot - I agree that it's important to keep doing the small things we can. Very true about turning lights off. Also not keeping water running longer than needed. (Even though BabyT loves to play with the faucet!)

    @Cloud - I like the way you talk about it being a tradeoff. That's totally what it is. Re: two grocery stores - it's something I'm looking into, for the same reasons. I'd like to get sustainable meat and organic veggies but also can't bear the thought of more than one grocery trip per week. So I'm trying to figure out how to set up an alternating schedule, and/or get delivery of organic veggies or buy a large quantity of meat direct from a farm, etc. Will post when i have a plan :)

  17. I don't even have a baby and I'm a recycler when convenient person. I love all your ideas and love the fact that you actually think about them. As for my grocery bags, I don't line my bathroom trashcans with them. In fact, I don't line them with anything...not sure why exactly. But I do collect them and then bundle them all up, toss them in the back of the Stang and drop them off at QFC who recycles them. Or at least they say they recycle them.


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