PROMO 660 x 440 - Environment EarthTalk

EarthTalk - How can I be a more environmentally responsible parent?

© iStock

Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss

Dear EarthTalk:

How can I be a more environmentally responsible parent?

Betsy E., Boston, MA

Sustainable parenting isn’t easy given all the ways modern society has become largely a profusion of disposable products. Besides making conscious decisions about the products you buy, you also have to think about teaching your kids to do the right thing—and you can never start too early.

One way to do the right thing by the planet is opting for reusable diapers. The average American baby uses 7,000 disposable diapers over the course of a typical three-year run. Some 200,000 trees are cut down each year in the U.S. alone to provide the wood pulp found in diapers. To make matters worse, the diaper’s plastic and absorbent polymers are not recyclable.

Nowadays you can purchase reusable diapers at a local Walmart or Target, or online. Popular brands include Cotton Babies, Nora’s Nursery and Green Mountain. Many people are concerned about the washing process, but it is relatively simple. For liquid waste, you should pre-rinse the diaper with water. For solid waste, you should allocate a spatula or knife as a “scraper” and dispose of the waste in the toilet. You can purchase a dry pail to hold the diapers until laundry day. Keep in mind, reusable diapers must be washed with water that is at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) to kill bacteria. 

Another environmental hazard of parenthood is baby wet wipes. Almost all, even the “flushable” ones, contain microplastics which do not biodegrade. This causes buildup in pipes because grease tends to accumulate on the plastic. Also, these microplastics can get into local water bodies and be ingested by marine wildlife. A solution is to create your own reusable wet wipes. Buy cotton or bamboo baby washcloths and cut them into eight-inch by eight-inch squares. For the wipe solution, oft-used ingredients include aloe vera, gentle baby wash or Castile soap, natural oils, and water. Other recipes can be found online. You can keep this solution in a spray bottle to use when needed. Store not-yet-used wipes in a clean airtight container. Spray them thoroughly with the solution before use. Store soiled wipes in a dry pail until you do laundry. As with reusable diapers, you should scrape off solid waste before washing.

Another major source of waste from kids is toys, most of which are made of cheap plastic and end up landfills. According to the Yale Environmental Review, toys constitute six percent of landfill plastics worldwide. Today, there are many online services where you can order a monthly subscription for rentable plastic and wooden toys. If your child gets bored, you can send the old toys in and receive new ones in the mail in the matter of days. The toys that you send in are sanitized and sent to other families. 

Aside from these options, you could also make homemade food to reduce packaging waste. Buying second-hand clothes is also a simple and cheaper way to reduce your landfill footprint. But arguably, the most important thing you can do is to educate your children about environmental issues and encourage sustainable practices.


How to be a sustainable parent,

Most materials are recyclable, so why can’t children’s toys be sustainable?

Should We Ditch Wet Wipes?

EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at To donate, visit Send questions to: