How to be an enduring parent

How to be an enduring parent

Increasingly, global consciousness is turning to the problem of plastic pollution, with the annual flow of plastic into the ocean estimated to nearly triple by 2040 to 29 million tonnes per year. But despite widespread initiatives to limit the use of plastic straws, single-use plastic bags and plastic bottles, unsustainable materials and methods seem to be ubiquitous in the products we buy for our children – from bottles, which release millions of microplastic particles, to wipes and disposable diapers that never biodegrade.

The toy industry is the world’s biggest plastic consumer, according to the United Nations Environment Program – with millions sent to landfill every year after barely being used. Even the use of formulas has a huge environmental impact, which is rarely examined. Most formulas are made from powdered cow’s milk, which requires 4,700 liters (1034 gallons) to produce just 1 kg (35 oz) of powder. In fact, 1 kg of infant formula releases between 11 and 14 kg (388 and 494 oz) of greenhouse gases when fed to babies and young children.

As part of my desire to clean up some of my parenting choices, I want to examine my baby’s diaper consumption. We throw away around three billion nappies every year in the UK, which accounts for around 2-3% of all household waste – one of the biggest contributors to plastic waste globally. Globally, more than 300,000 diapers are thrown away every minute. In the US, the scale of the problem is magnified and the industry fueling it is valued at $71billion (£61billion). Most nappies are made from two non-biodegradable materials – a waterproof back layer of polyethylene and an inner layer of polypropylene – which means that when they eventually end up in the landfill, they’ll likely stay there for 500 years or so. more.

Reusable nappies are often touted as the sustainable solution – so I ask a friend who has used cloth nappies for her kids if she can lend me some to try. I’m a little scared to start the experiment – I have visions of diapers hanging to dry on all the high surfaces of our small apartment. I’m bracing for the initial financial shock – a starter package can cost up to £100 ($115) or more, which can make the idea of ​​using reusable materials daunting or completely unaffordable for some people. I also wonder how much my energy bill will increase this winter if I increase my use of both the washing machine and the dryer. But hopefully it could be easier than I imagine and could become a permanent green exchange that will help me reduce my carbon footprint.

“There are lots of ways to reduce the cost of greener choices,” says Gale, though the options can vary wildly depending on where you live. Various social media sites and second-hand markets offer second-hand reusable nappies, and in the UK so-called nappies libraries allow parents to borrow nappies and try out different brands. I take a pack from my friend and buy a pack of biodegradable bamboo diaper liners for £2.50 ($2.87). I also buy a dry bucket – basically a plastic bucket with a tight lid to store dirty nappies before washing – for £15 ($17.19).

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I’m glad I went the used route because not only is it more durable, but it’s also more affordable. And I’m grateful for this cost saving when my careful plan fails at the first hurdle. My daughter seems to hate the feel of reusable nappies on her skin, which can feel wetter than the moisture-wicking disposable alternatives she’s used to. They’re also much bulkier than single-use diapers, and the extra material causes his clothes to pull in the crotch, giving him a cowboy-like gait. At this point in infancy, moving her from the disposable diapers she’s worn since birth to an altogether bulkier, wetter cloth is perhaps too much of a ask, and I can’t help but think we missed the boat.

But what does the science say – would it have been a greener choice? A 2008 Environment Agency study found that reusable nappies can have a 40% lower global warming impact than disposable nappies. But above all, the positive impact of switching to washable diapers depends on the consumer’s ecological awareness. Many people looking to reduce their impact on the environment wash at low temperatures, but reusable nappies should be washed at 60°C (140°F) in order to kill bacteria, and machines should not be overfilled, according to the Nappy Alliance, a coalition of reusable diaper suppliers. A study by the Life Cycle Initiative, a project launched in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme, found that washing reusable items above 60°C (140°F), using a dryer or filling partially the machine may in fact entirely negate their positive environmental impact and could make the use of single-use diapers preferable from a climate change perspective.

The study highlights the importance of looking at the entire life cycle of any product to assess how environmentally friendly it is. “The biggest impacts of washable diapers do not occur in manufacturing but in the use phase, whereas for single-use diapers, the design of the diaper (the weight and its materials) as well as its management in end of life are the important life cycle stages,” write authors Philippa Notten, Alexandra Gower and Yvonne Lewis.

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