These 30 tips make it easy to be a greener parent—on Earth Day and year round.
13 Ways to Make Your Family a Little Bit Greener
We get it. Some days you actually feel like you're Mother Earth and the weight of the world is on your shoulders. That's why we came up with 30 small changes you can make that will lighten your load and your carbon footprint.
From household hacks to money-saving tips to what kids should (and shouldn't) be bringing to school, we consulted six experts—and did plenty of product-testing and soul-searching ourselves—to present you with these (totally easy!) ways to be a little bit greener as a family.
1. Cut back on red meat, which is detrimental not only to your health (it can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer) but to the environment as well. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, cattle farming is responsible for 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gases and is a major source of deforestation. Consider swapping red meat for these delicious, kid-friendly chicken or turkey recipes instead.
2. Ditch the plastic bags. Nearly 9 million tons of plastic waste fill the oceans every year, but it's easy to do your part to reduce that number if you keep a reusable one with you at all times—like this compact grocery bag made in the USA from Maptote.
3. Plan a greener getaway. Be a family of responsible travelers by supporting small community-driven businesses wherever you go, flying with eco-friendly airlines like Jetblue and United—that make it easy to offset your trip's carbon footprint in a few clicks!—and booking an environmentally conscious room with hospitality industry trailblazers like Kimpton and Starwood's Element.
4. Don't support fast fashion. Kids outgrow clothes so quickly, and given the environmental impact of making clothing, it's more eco-friendly (and cost-conscious!) to embrace hand-me-downs and second-hand clothes. Try second-hand outdoor apparel shop Threadlyte as well as Luvmother for durable, sustainably sourced clothing that's great for passing down to the next kid or your friend's new baby.
5. Wash clothes in cold water. Your washer will use much less energy when it doesn't have to heat up the wash water. (Bonus: You’ll save on your energy bill!)
7. Say bye-bye to chemical fabric softeners and dryer sheets and opt for handmade Wool Dryer Balls from Nurtured Sew Naturally, which makes long-lasting 100 percent Canadian wool balls that not only reduce static and wrinkles, but also save you money and loads of energy by cutting dryer time up to 50 percent.
9. Keep your fridge between 35 and 38 degrees. Anything lower than that temperature range is a waste of energy.
10. Talk to kids about conservation. Explain why you recycle and get them involved locally with planting trees or community cleanup operations. Grow vegetables from home, encourage tree climbing, and engage the whole family in plenty of outdoor adventures. With these experiences, they're more likely to grow into good environmental stewards.
11. Buy organic food, whether you're at the grocery store, perusing the farmers market, or ordering USDA certified organic pouches for your little ones (try Ella's Kitchen, Earth's Best, and HappyBaby). Can't afford to buy all organic? Download the free Dirty Dozen App to get to know the foods most highly contaminated with pesticides and chemicals and buy those foods organic when you can.
12. When dining out, have your tot use the restaurant's glassware instead of paper and plastic. Don't forget to explain the motives behind this decision, too, so they can take pride in being eco-friendly.
13. Pack snacks for family excursions so you're not tempted to buy packaged goods when out and about.
14. Use fewer paper towels. More than 3,000 tons of paper towels end up in American landfills every day. Swap them for the sponge-like dishcloths from Three Bluebirds—each cloth replaces 17 rolls of paper towels. (If you must use paper towels, use 100 percent recycled ones from Seventh Generation.)
15. Take shorter showers and turn off the tap when kids are brushing their teeth—this can save as much as three gallons of water per minute!
16. Skip straws. (Bonus: You may skip wrinkles around your mouth, too!)
17. Ditch plastic wrap. Bee's Wrap is a reusable, washable, and compostable food storage solution that makes for a great alternative.
18. Add a recycling bin to your bathroom. You may have one in the kitchen, but chances are shampoo bottles and toilet paper rolls don’t always make it there.
20. If possible, breastfeed your baby. The production of formula has a considerable negative impact on the environment, while breast milk is a natural, renewable resource with a wealth of health benefits for mother and child.
21. Ditch the car sometimes. Curb air pollution by embracing alternative modes of transit, be it the train, bus, or two wheels—get a bike trailer from Thule or Burley that can turn humdrum outings into a thrilling ride.
22. Unplug your computer and TV. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a quarter of all residential energy consumption is used on devices like modems, computers and televisions that are in idle power mode. You'll save money on your electricity bill, too.
23. Join a local farm share (known as a Community Shared Agriculture or CSA)—which you can find on Local Harvest—and enjoy cooking family meals together with wide varieties of produce you'd never think to use otherwise. Also, watch the fascinating, kid-friendly web series How Does It Grow, which will intrigue young gourmands with field-to-fork stories about the foods we eat.
24. Raise a little beekeeper. More than 700 North American bee species continue to decline at an alarming pace due to habitat loss and pesticides. Help protect these vital pollinators by getting this affordable bamboo Mason bee house for your backyard—Mason bees don't sting and visit as many as 1,000 blooms per day–or build your own bee house.
27. Don't buy a brand new stroller when you can get one at a yard sale, through a mommy Facebook group, or via local classifieds on Craigslist. You'll save money and help lessen the energy used to manufacture and ship the pram. (Just check recalls.gov to make sure the stroller hasn't been recalled.)
28. Don't clean with harsh chemicals. From the tub to the dinner table, you want to create an environmentthat's free of harsh chemicals for your child. Nourish their sensitive skin with high-quality, plant-powered products like Chantecaille's certified organic Bébé collection. Plus, use Honest's multi-surface cleaner or make your own aromatic vinegar all-purpose cleaning spray.
29. Get a ficus plant—these plants can help remove chemicals from the air in your home.
30. Avoid buying brand-new books. Given that the paper industry accounts for 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, it's more eco-friendly to buy from a used bookshop or thrift store, or borrow from the library. Even better, start a Little Free Library in your community.
The following sources were consulted for this article:
- Erin Boyle of Reading Tea Leaves
- Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club
- Holly Daffurn, author of The Natural Baby
- Richard Louv, author of the Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder and Vitamin N
- Kathy Marrocco-McLaughlin of Your Organic Child
- Aly Nicklas of the Born Wild Project