Most of us are aware of environmental issues but receive conflicting advice on how to look after our children.
Are you one of those parents that are concerned about the future we are leaving for our kids but too scared to lose the bleach, the kitchen wipes and all those other commercial preparations that tell us we must remove 99% of all known germs?
Becoming an eco-parent is mostly common sense and can help save you money as well. The first gift we have for our children is breast milk and those of us that are able to feed our babies should consider it a privilege. Sadly, breast feeding rates in the UK are among the lowest in the world, despite the fact that breast milk is said to enhance immunity and strengthen the mother-child bond.
The most basic attire in any babyís wardrobe is the nappy and it wasnít until the 1970ís that disposable nappies became the liberating force that at a stroke changed the way we lived and removed the necessity of all those cotton squares blowing in the wind. Or have they really been such a godsend? Each day over 9 million disposable nappies are thrown away, which equates to 3 per cent of total household waste. The Womenís Environmental Network estimates that you can save up to £500 a year if you use cloth nappies. And if you are not keen on washing all those nappies, there are plenty of nappy laundering services available. Cheekies is a service that covers the South East. http://www.cheekiesnappies.com
Some local councils including Kent offer incentives to parents to use real nappies and run regular meetings. The Kent Cloth Nappy Network produces a quarterly newsletter and can be contacted on 01622 605972 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
If you really canít cope with real nappies, Moltex nappies are eco disposables with an unbleached cellulose core and are considered to be 100% biodegradable. Find them at http://www.spiritofnature.co.uk
There is no doubt that fresh, locally produced food is not only better for your health, it is also better for the environment. Buying fruit and vegetables in season reduces food miles, helps the local economy and means that the produce has not travelled halfway round the globe to get to your plate. Children enjoy eating with the seasons. Headcorn Sustainability Group started a school gardening project with the kids from the local primary school and it has been a thrill to see the pupilís excitement at the transformation of a tiny seed into a hearty cabbage. And whatís more, they are keen to eat the produce as well! Check to see whether your area has a local farmersí market, where you can buy seasonal produce at reasonable prices.
Buying clothes for your children is an expensive business and because kids grow at an incredibly fast rate, it makes sense to borrow and buy from second hand and charity shops. By doing so, you are not contributing to the consumer drive, and will have more money available for that special outfit. Smile Child has wonderful organic, fairly traded clothes for kids. See http://www.smilechild.co.uk
Hug has a section called Little Green Radicals featuring fairly traded, organic denim. http://www.hug.co.uk The Little Green Boutique has a fairly traded fairy dress for the sweetest of fairies with, attached fairy wings, elasticated bodice, adjustable shoulder straps, for £14.99 http://www.littlegreenboutique.com
Most organic children's toiletries are more expensive than supermarket ranges but in my experience you use far less so they last much longer. Faith in Nature has won awards for the quality of their produce and their chocolate foam bath and shampoo is a favourite with children. Their products can be bought at Headcorn Community Shop or from http://www.faithinnature.co.uk
There are many companies on the web that offer fairly traded childrenís toys and games and it is worth looking around the second hand and charity shops for items. Share toys and games with your friends children and donít forget the pleasure of long country walks, kicking a ball in the park rather than sitting by the computer playing the latest aggressive computer game. Research unsurprisingly showed that aggressive computer games increase the chance of aggressive adolescents. A team from the University of Missouri-Columbia also said their study which monitored the brain activity of 39 game players suggests a causal link.
Parents spend an absolute fortune on parties including the ubiquitous party bag, which mainly consists of tat and sweets full of 'e' numbers. Try the Green Stationery Company www.greenstat.co.uk for a more ethical present. One of my favourites is the soya bean crayons.
If you are thinking of investing a sum of money for your child, pick a bank that has ethical investments. Triodos and Co-operative Banks are good bets and both have environmental criteria. Triodos has invested money in renewable energy initiatives and the Co-operative bank regularly makes donations to environmental concerns.
Check out http://www.ethiscore.org which is run by the Ethical Consumer where you can rate companies against fifteen environmental, animal welfare and human rights issues.
Children these days are very aware of the environmental issues we face and are keen to do their bit. Often it will be the children educating the parents on reducing energy usage, minimising waste and recycling. Remember, we donít inherit the earth; we borrow it from our children.
Penny Kemp is a broadcaster and writer and runs The Headcorn Sustainability Group and is currently working on making Headcorn and the surrounding area a low carbon community. www.headcornsustainability.co.uk