Deborah Hladecek is newly committed to reducing plastic in her family’s life. And living in Northern California, she’s practically my neighbor. So I was thrilled when she offered to write a guest post about what she’s been doing about the plastic in her child’s world. Deborah writes the truly awesome Pure Mothers blog. She also participated in the Show Your (Plastic) Trash Challenge this month. It was an eye-opening experience for her. Check out her stash.
When Beth at Fake Plastic Fish asked for more bloggers to write about plastic, I thought, what could I possibly have to say that she hasn’t said already? She’s the plastic-free goddess! Then my toddler clamored and clawed his way on to my lap to see what I was doing on the computer and I realized that I have another perspective – the mommy view. Beth has her cats, and I have another human being using more resources and contributing to my plastic consumption. I’m a green mom trying to balance what’s good for us with what’s good for the planet, and I am learning that they don’t always co-exist.
Plastic tends to fall into five categories when it comes to babies and children; feeding supplies, food packaging, personal care products, toys, and gear.
Let’s start with feeding. Breastfeeding is the obvious green choice. My son got great nutrition and the planet didn’t suffer one bit. There was absolutely no packaging or energy used (other than my body burning up those extra calories to make milk). No bottles to sterilize and no formula bottles or cans to purchase and throw away. Once my baby started eating solid foods, I was able to make most of it from organic, local fruits and vegetables and I froze servings in reusable plastic baby cubes. Not much waste there either. I can continue to use the cubes for fruit ices and then pass them on to another mom. I did purchase a delicious, fresh, organic baby food called Homemade Baby, and it was packaged in recyclable plastic. I chose a couple of flavors from them that were more difficult or too expensive to make at home. If you buy pre-made baby food, fresh tastes better than jarred, but glass jars are more eco-friendly. The lids on glass jars are still a problem though, because they are lined with BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical. Homemade is still the greenest choice.
The biggest problem I see out there is the use of “Toss and Go” cups, straws and plates. What a terrible concept- use it, toss it and off you go, while the plastic doesn’t ever “go”. The more we can make at home and package ourselves in reusable containers, the less will go to the landfill or end up in our oceans. We use stainless steel bottles, stainless steel baby utensils, To-Go Ware containers and reusable snack sacks that we found on etsy. This helped us do away with Ziploc bags – a staple in most homes with children. And why do I want my child to eat with plastic utensils when Mom and Dad use stainless steel? Oneida makes a beautiful baby and toddler collection.
Once my son reached toddlerhood he got picky- like most toddlers, and it’s easy for me to grab a box of cereal bars, juice boxes and prepared, organic frozen meals – all laden in plastic. As busy as my son is, I do whatever it takes to get him to eat. And, today, who has time to make everything from scratch? I’m a SAHM and I still can’t find time to make everything from scratch. This is where the dichotomy comes in. There are plenty of organic, choices available that my son will eat, but there is always some plastic involved in the packaging. I can’t always make it to the farmer’s market or health food store to get fresh fruits and veggies. A child can throw a wrench into the best-laid plans and I have to account for illnesses when I can’t get out to the store. If you have a child, you’re probably like me and keep some frozen foods on hand. It’s a necessity because they ARE convenient. But here are some ways I’ve cut back on plastic associated with my organic foods:
- I always bring my own bags everywhere – including cotton produce and grain bags for fruits, veggies and bulk bin items. Why bring your own grocery bag and then proceed to put all of your produce in those clear plastic bags?
- I also don’t purchase pre-packaged chicken anymore, because it comes on Styrofoam and is wrapped in plastic. I ask them to just wrap it in the paper and leave out any plastic. Unfortunately, I can’t purchase hot dogs and sausages directly from the deli because they use pork casings. We only eat fish and fowl, so, I have to purchase the pre-packaged organic sausages – they’re the only choice with no casing.
- When in season, I purchase fresh fruits and berries from my farmer’s market and freeze some for later. I still purchase frozen blueberries, because my son devours them!
- I am reducing the amount of juice boxes and filling up a stainless steel kid’s thermos with juice from glass bottles to take with us when we are out.
- I make homemade muffins more often and sneak veggies in there, like carrots or zucchini, to bring with us when we are out. This cuts back on cereal bars.
- I’ve started making my own yogurt. I have to work on my recipe a bit. It was a little too tart for my son’s taste, but my husband and I ate them. So, that cuts back on our store bought yogurt, which comes in plastic tubs, and are not accepted into the recycling, where I live.
My biggest frustration has been with personal care products for my baby and me. There are actually quite a few organic choices available today, but almost all of them are contained in some form of plastic. And, if they’re packaged in glass, they usually have a plastic lid. Those lids bother me. They always have, because they cannot be recycled. How many little lids exist in the world? I would bury my head in the sand on that one, but would probably choke on a plastic lid. So, what have I done in this department? For myself, I have switched to solid shampoo bars and as soon as I run out of my pump hand soap, I am using good old-fashioned bars. I learned how to felt soap to make them look prettier and they don’t leave the soap dish a scummy mess. I also signed up to take a class to make my own soap and body butters/lotions. I will make some for my child too, because I simply cannot find baby stuff in glass. There is only one company, who I love, by the way, called BabyBearShop. They make an organic shea butter balm for babies in glass (with a pesky plastic lid), body oil in glass with a metal lid and my favorite organic lip balm in a little tin. I am never buying lip balm in a plastic tube again!
The biggest personal care item has got to be diapers and wipes. Cloth diapering has made a comeback – good news for the environment. I hate to say it, but we mostly use your run-of-the-mill disposable with a splattering of all-in-ones and organic training underpants. My son is so skinny; he always tried pulling the cloth diapers off and had difficulty walking in them. Sorry Beth. Sorry Earth. I tried. I really did. My saving grace is that we use 100% biodegradable, earth-friendly wipes packaged in a biodegradable compostable chalk-based package called Nature Babycare. No plastic involved!
Toys and gear are different from the other baby categories, in that these are longer-lived items. I have some solace knowing that a fish hasn’t swallowed a stroller or a baby car seat, but I still think about the amount of plastic when making these purchasing decisions. Legally, we have to use a car seat. But other than that, we really don’t need all the “stuff” that “they” say we need. I opted for eco-friendly slings over using the stroller, but I do have a stroller; I own two, actually. First time moms will probably empathize with me. We just don’t know what will work- and I fell for the “stuff” at first. Some babies like bouncers, some like swings. They all contain plastic. From crib mobiles to teething rings, plastic abounds. We limit our plastic by purchasing used toys made of plastic and new toys made of wood, fabric or metal. Learning more about Waldorf education and their toys has helped tremendously. Some of my son’s favorite toys are his carved wooden figures of people and animals from Germany.
There are a lot more ways I can cut down on our plastic and I am finding alternatives every day. Changes like this don’t happen overnight, but they can happen and life with less plastic is not as hard as it sounds. Just take it one item at a time. So, that’s my challenge to all you moms out there. Just look at where you could find an alternative that would eliminate some plastic. Day by day it gets easier and your kids will thank you for trying to make the world we are leaving to them, a better place.
And if you know if ways you can share with me, I’m listening.