As my friend’s offspring stumbles and waddles his way from infancy to full-blown, upwardly mobile toddlerhood, I’m discovering that it’s never too early to steer him toward healthy, eco-conscious choices. Though I don’t doubt that he is smart and capable, it’s clear that he’s not going to magically morph into a responsible citizen without some coaching and encouragement. He are a few tips that I’ve found from Eco-Mommies and have come up with on my own.
Be the kind of person you want your child to be.
The quickest way to teach your kid to recycle or to conserve energy is to do those things yourself. Monkey see monkey do, and guess what? YOU are the monkey.
Introduce your child to the source of the food he or she eats.
Tending a garden or visiting a farmers market can help your little one understand that vegetables don’t grow on supermarket shelves. From here you can begin to emphasize the importance of choosing organic foods.
Choose better goodies for your child.
You don’t have to deny them everything that’s good, just set limits on it. When I was a kid WAY before anyone was environmentally conscious, my parents let us drink milk, juice or water. ONLY soda on a very special occassion. Candy was for Halloween and Christmas. McDonalds was VERY limited. Today, it’s a lot easier to feed your kids healthy foods. You need to start early or the next thing you know, you’ll have a kid who only eats chicken fingers.
Don’t take your toilet paper for granted.
My Dad used to tell us “only 3 squares” when we were kids. He was trying to keep us from clogging up the toilet, but more importantly, toilet paper is PAPER and that means it comes from killing trees. I don’t know if explaining that every tree that is cut down contributes to carbon emissions, which contribute to global warming, which is simply not good at all with actually penetrate a small child’s brain. But if you choose paper products made from recycled paper — available in most grocery stores today — that will help save trees. In fact, the Natural Resources Defense Council has found that if every household in the U.S. replaced just one roll of virgin-fiber toilet paper with the recycled variety, more than 400,000 trees would be saved.
BYOB: Bring your own bag.
Before setting out on a grocery expedition, I always grab a couple of canvas bags so I can avoid adding more plastic to the world. I personally have about 12 bags in my trunk. If you can use the bags everytime you shop, you will be setting a clear eco-aware example for your child.
When your kid is finally ready to pitch in with the house work, he’ll find that Mom and Pops only use nontoxic cleaning products. If he asks why (and even if he doesn’t), I’d break it down like this: Using cleaning supplies — laundry detergent, dishwashing soap, toilet bowl cleaner and the like — made from natural ingredients ensures that no harmful chemicals end up in the earth, our water supply and ultimately, our bodies. Don’t scare the child, but let him know that natural is the way to go whenever possible.
Each of the 3 R’s — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — plays an essential role in living a greener life, but acquiring a child, and the piles and piles of stuff that has accompanied said child, makes people especially fond of reusing. When it comes to kids — especially babies — most gear can be reused. Everything from clothes, toys and books to furniture, bath gear and even the giant hunks of plastic that form Exersaucers and swing sets can have a second life. Resist the urge to buy something new or to dump something you own by using sources like Craigslist.org, Freecycle.com and Freepeats.org to find gently used items and to pass on your goods to those in need.
Throw a smart party.
Entertaining is often where eco-values get compromised. What’s a handful of plastic cups, plates and utensils for a good time? What’s a bunch of plastic balloons (AKA sea-turtle killers)? But before you succumb to the single-use temptation, think about the many birthday parties you’ll be hosting and then think about all that cake-coated plastic and all those popped balloons sitting in a landfill for decades. A better option is to use reusable dishes and skip the balloons for multiuse alternatives like paper Chinese lanterns or biodegradable streamers (check out greenpartygoods.com for more ideas). And if you use canned or bottled beverages, make sure you provide clearly marked recycling bins. Be sure to involve your child in the planning process so he begins to understand how a party comes to be and what happens when it’s over.