In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how parents can begin to approach the enormous and often overwhelming topic of climate change. In this part, I’m going to delve deeper by suggesting specific products, actions, and resources. Many of these things also have added health benefits for your family and can lead to savings after the initial cost.
The chemicals used in many cleaning products contribute to air and water pollution and come in containers that end up in landfills. Fortunately, there are many ‘greener’ products on the market now and companies that want to help you make that switch. Try looking at Grove Collaborative or check the aisles of your local Whole Foods. Find brands that make refills so you can reduce plastic waste. I personally love this sanitizing spray bottle which makes a sanitizing solution out of the water you add straight from the tap. It leaves behind no chemical residue, costs nothing beyond the original cost of the bottle, and means no more empty spray containers in the trash!
As parents, we also use a ton of things to mop up spills and clean sticky fingers. A big goal for me was to reduce the number of paper towels and baby wipes we were going through. I thought about what I was using them for and what reusable alternatives I might use instead. I bought some flour sack dish towels for drying produce after I wash it, some dishcloths for wiping down counters and mopping up floor spills, and some inexpensive washcloths for wiping sticky fingers and faces. All of these can be tossed in the laundry and since I seem to be doing laundry all the time anyway these days, it doesn’t feel like a lot of extra work. If that really feels like too much, you can buy paper towels made from recycled paper, like these ones from Whole Foods but, the reusable products are much kinder on the wallet.
Avoiding meat and dairy is one of the biggest things we can do to reduce our environmental impact. If your family is anything like mine, this is a tough sell. What I have tried to do is reduce our meat and dairy consumption by eating smaller portions of meat, reducing the amount of red meat we eat (which has the highest environmental impact), and including more vegetarian meals in our weekly rotations.
Mealtimes and what to cook often feels overwhelming to me as it is, so if that’s you too, here are a few things I’ve found that made it easier:
- Start with just one meal a week that will be vegetarian or entirely plant-based; pick something simple like a soup or salad night, or pasta and sauce with vegetables.
- Think about what you make already with meat where you could use a meatless substitute; this could be a vegan meat alternative, but if you struggle to find something like this your family will eat, beans and lentils can also make good substitutes in pastas, chillis, and stews.
- Experiment with plant-based milk. We’ve found it difficult to move away from cow’s milk on our cereal, but we don’t notice it in oatmeal which we eat a lot of, and while I don’t like almond milk in my coffee, I found I love oat milk in it!
- When you eat out, consider a vegan restaurant every now and again, or try a vegan dish from the menu of your favorite restaurant. We love the food from Plant City in Providence, and the cocktails aren’t bad either!
- Another great way to reduce your carbon footprint is to choose produce that’s in season, or buy from local farms and farmer’s markets. We like to order food from Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods; they send you in-season, organic products at a cheaper price, that would otherwise have been thrown away.
- Cut down on food waste by meal planning or buying less produce than you think you’ll need and keeping a stash of frozen fruits and vegetables. You’ll be amazed at what you can rustle up from the freezer or cupboard and it’s better than throwing moldy fresh produce away that didn’t get eaten.
- Perhaps the most important thing is that we educate our kids about food choices; where it comes from, how it is made and how our body uses it, as well as involving them in the food prep. When we empower them to make good choices for themselves, the challenge of introducing new foods and unfamiliar flavors to family mealtimes is lessened.
As parents, it feels like we are always throwing things away; whether it’s items the kids have grown out of, the endless bits of paper and artwork they bring home, or the copious boxes of granola bars they get through. Every time I throw something away I try to challenge myself with the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra.
Reduce: I’ve tried to reduce the number of packets we throw away by buying in bulk, occasionally making my own snacks, and bringing things in reusable containers. I’ll be honest, this is not always achievable. But I do it when I can and occasionally I will set a goal like packing three out of five snacks for morning recess in reusable containers. I like these stainless steel divided bento snack boxes and these reusable zipper sandwich bags. These were both the best of their kind I could find for the price. I also like these little glass food containers from IKEA.
Reuse: So much that would usually end up in household waste can be re-used. Cardboard boxes and magazines can be used in kids’ art projects, takeaway containers can be washed and kept to store craft materials or to store food again. Even kids’ art paper can be used to wrap presents. When you go to the grocery store take reusable bags with you. Can’t get to a thrift store to donate old clothes or find new ones? The online clothing and consignment store Thred Up will sell your old clothes for you so they can get further use.
Recycle: It is worth familiarizing yourself with what your neighborhood recycling accepts, to maximize recycling efforts. You can also often find takers for things you can’t recycle, like old toys, books, clothes, and furniture on your local neighborhood Buy Nothing Group. You’ll be surprised by what people will offer or want. It’s true what they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Like cleaning products, so many of the personal products we use contain harsh ingredients, good for neither ourselves nor the environment, and their single-use plastic containers contribute to the trash we produce. It is possible to make your own products, but if that feels too involved, some companies, like Pure Haven, are now taking out the work for us.
Bar soap shampoo, reusable period underwear, and ways to recycle toothbrushes are all just a quick google search away. I love the cosmetics from Saie, that use clean ingredients which are also sustainably made and packaged. (It is worth knowing that you can check the safety of many skincare products, including both adults’ and kids’ sunscreens, in the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database.)
Lifestyle and Advocacy
There are a lot of other lifestyle choices that will have an impact on climate change and reducing our carbon footprint.
These include, but are not limited to:
- Walking and cycling more and driving less, or switching to electric cars
- Choosing to take a vacation locally rather than flying
- Advocating and donating to support green spaces and the planting of more trees
- Being thoughtful about what kind of gifts and toys your kids are getting; experience gifts may help cut down on consumption
- Insulating your home and making sure it is energy efficient
- Running appliances on energy-efficient settings when possible
- Considering where you invest money and asking your bank or pension provider if you can opt-out of funds investing in fossil fuels
- Campaigning to bring these issues to the attention of policymakers and asking political candidates to take action on climate change a priority
Thinking about climate change can feel overwhelming. Some of these things will be easier for one family than another. It is important to start with what is achievable for you. Big change starts with baby steps.