Friday, November 22, 2013

9.5 Things to do to be a More 'Green' Parent

Being a parent is tough. Being environmentally conscious is tough too. Being an environmentally conscious parent... well, that's just 'tough squared'. 

The modern, First World child is awash in opportunities that most of the kids on this planet just don't have: opportunities to travel, get a college education, engage in a huge variety of extracurricular sports and activities, a lifetime of internet access (and all the benefits and challenges therein), and so much more. 

They also are awash in massive amounts of STUFF. It's too easy to want to give these kids everything and then suddenly your kid is six and has already accumulated six years of STUFF in their rooms and you, as a parent, are suddenly spending far too much time in what I call 'stuff management', which is, in itself, purely a 'first world problems' type of issue. 

Lillian asks for more CRAP at King's Island.
Just say 'no' to more STUFF!
Stuff Management is just that: constantly getting tied up, over and over again, just managing STUFF. It's repetitively picking up, fixing, and putting away all the Barbies and/or GI Joes' accessories, the endless explosion of tiny Legos, all their past artwork masterpieces (works that have to be snuck out of the house to be thrown away), stacking back up all their stuffed animals 'won' at so many fairs (and note that they really aren't 'won', as the fairs just order prizes whose unit price is so low that even the act of paying to play a game means that they've already taken in some profit), and just generally dealing with the massive crapload of STUFF that the modern, First World child accumulates. 

Kids love stickers, and markers, and rubber band bracelets, and tiny, tiny little toys called Squinkies, and Iwanko erasers, and barrettes, and plastic coins, and cheap rings from vending machines, and old birthday cards, and broken crayons, and they certainly love to 'collect 'em all!' They just adore every single little tiny bit of crap that our American society can get them (and I suspect that all this consumption could truly be addictive as their little brains search for the next 'high' of consuming the next new thing). 

And a mea culpa here; I readily admit that I love to buy them stuff. It's a quick fix, a cheap and readily accessible opportunity to turn around a kid's bad day, further endear them to you (or at least feel that way), or just generally make a day extra special. Just imagine your child bursting through the front door with you, as s/he screams "Mommy, mommy, look what dad bought me!" and you'll get the picture.

But, as an environmentally-conscious dude, all this STUFF drives me nuts. Hell, my own amount of personal STUFF drives me nuts, and the girls have six times as much of it as I do (at least when considered in amount of stuff per pound of person...). 

So, I offer up here a few suggestions on how parents can be a little more green:

1. Choose experiential gifts over more plastic crap. This year our girls' gift list (mind you the one written by us and not the one written by them) includes a night at Great Wolf Lodge, renewing annual passes to places like an indoor water park or the zoo, special day trips like ice-skating and hot chocolate downtown, a trip to the rock climbing gym, tickets to a ballet or kid's play - complete with fancy dresses and dinner at their favorite restaurant. And don't forget to get the grandparents and aunts/uncles on board with experiential gifts too. 

A special birthday party sleep over
- with chocolate chip pancakes the next day. 

1.5 And don't forget to GIVE experiential gifts too at your kids' friends birthday parties. Providing a special day for your child and his/her BFF doubles the joy, since they get excited when they first get the gift and again when you actually do it. Ideas here include a 'high tea' with fancy dresses, go-karts, a picnic with special food at a park near their favorite playground, a day together at a children's museum with a trip to the ice cream shop afterwards, tubing or sledding with hot chocolate, etc. 

2. Buy permanent straws. These things are absolutely genius and you can order them online, either as tough plastic, glass, or stainless steel. It will save innumerable cheap, disposable straws from ending up in landfills (and don't forget to also buy the straw cleaning brush). 

3. Travel with water bottles for the kids - and I don't just mean on long trips, but have them in the car with you all the time. You can always fill them up as you go about doing errands, so they will save you from buying any more plastic disposable bottles. Further, when you go into a restaurant, it might (hopefully) allow the restaurant to NOT have to serve your kids their drinks in yet another disposable, single-use plastic or styrofoam cup, as you just ask them to fill the bottles instead.

4. Travel with crayons too. While many restaurants now are so nice as to offer up kids a brand new little box of crayons (which is very thoughtful), we have accumulated and/or thrown out maybe a hundred of these things. They're a little thing, but they sure do add up. So, carry your own little pencil box full of colored pencils or crayons with you. (Further, why not have a little kit that also includes some travel games or other non-electronic diversions?) 

5. And don't buy markers. Kids LOVE the vibrant colors that markers produce, not to mention the smooth flow of them over paper - and sometimes the smell of them. But they're a huge waste. Often kids don't even use them up, but just forget to put the caps back on and they dry out (which makes me wonder... what exactly is outgassing out of these things to dry them out and where is that going within the air in our house?). Stick with crayons and colored pencils. (And when you do end up with a pile of old markers, sometimes local waste disposal agencies will take them on the same days they accept old electronics, batteries, etc.)

6. Buy secondhand kids' clothes. Kids, especially tiny ones, don't care of their onesie or their Spiderman t-shirt came from a second hand store and, luckily, there has been a boom in such stores, especially for babies and toddlers. They are fantastic, often filled with brand new items (we'd seen things like a brand new coat, with a tag still on it, from places like Baby Gap) at ridiculous prices. After all, why buy all sorts of new clothes for a kid that's only going to wear it for a few times during the six-month period while it actually fits them?

Sylvia, reusing a box, egg cartons, and shipping tubes
to make a castle.

7. Reuse one-sided office paper, toilet paper/paper towel rolls, large containers, empty boxes and other recyclables for art projects. We've built boats out of old take-out salad containers, a castle and a space ship out of old boxes, caterpillars out of egg cartons (a classic), and more. I will even break down old crafts and reuse things like beads and pipe cleaners to give them additional life.  

8. And when you are buying toys, consider the content of the toys (I LOVE the cool, durable, well-designed toys made from milk jugs at Green Toys) and the longevity of them. 

9. Get rechargeable batteries! This is huge. This will save landfills from acquiring more of these toxic little buggers, and also hopefully save you some cash as well. And make sure to buy toys that actually use these sizes of batteries. There are so many little toys out there that take annoying, hard-to-find, hard-to-install little bastard batteries with names like 'CR2406-7'. Stick with toys that take batteries that are sizes AAA-D and get a recharge station that will recharge all of them. 

So, these are my thoughts on how parents might take another step toward hopefully being a little more environmentally conscious - and maybe saving yourself some time and money in the process. After all, wouldn't you rather be taking your kid out to race go-karts or ice skate than put away, rebuild, pick up, fix, install more batteries in, or step on yet another plastic, probably made in (and shipped from) China Super Squinkie Princess/Pirate Octo-Launcher Bubble Beads Playset? I know I would. 

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