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May 28th, 2015 · No Comments

Avoiding the consumer trap that awaits new parents

About five years ago, the first of my friends had a child. I was viewing the periphery of this mega-industry and didn’t really appreciate what the environmental impact of having a First World baby was until I was faced with having one of my own. The industry is more hawkish than the wedding industry — convincing every parent that unless their kids have helmets to sleep in, they might spontaneously combust (I wish I was joking about the sleeping helmets, but they actually exist).

The industry has also equated spending copious amounts of money on an infant with love — not unlike De Beer’s campaign, which equates large diamonds with true love.

What was amazing to me was the sheer volume of baby stuff we are told we need — stuff that has a life cycle of at most three years (maybe five or six if siblings are involved) and it inevitably ends up in the landfill. We are already swimming in plastic waste and now encouraged to buy more products with short life spans.

My way of decreasing my personal baby footprint was to host a “wisdom party” in lieu of a baby shower. Since five of my girlfriends have their due dates around the same time as mine, I decided to invite the neighbourhood moms and grandmoms to share their bountiful baby advice with us.

In the invitation, I also asked these moms and grandmoms to bring used baby items they no longer needed.

What I found was that those who still had such things were more than happy to pass them on. A lot of used baby stuff is still in great shape, but the moms don’t know what to do with it. Gifting used items seems awkward, so a lot of things just sit there. The societal pressure of buying things new also renders a lot of the stuff to the dump. To have a request for used baby items seemed to be a welcome change.

I also learnt that there is an Annex Parents Facebook group. I joined recently and posted my need for more baby preparation items. I was able to obtain great secondhand items at a fraction of the retail price. I also kept more plastic junk from flowing into the landfill for the time being.

I don’t believe raising a child should be this much of an environmental burden.

Yes, our lifestyles are not sustainable by definition, but we shouldn’t have to add to the craziness. I’m told my perspective might change once my baby cries and I rush out and buy whatever device might give my sanity a few precious minutes of relief.

Certainly that bridge is for crossing when I get there. In the meantime, it’s great to know I live in a fantastic neighbourhood with a parents group that shares a minimal waste philosophy.

So far I have seen postings for art classes, gently used children’s items, babysitting, etc. There is no doubt it is a good resource for new parents in the area.

Going used also has benefits beyond simply saving money and keeping things out of the landfill. When it comes to baby toys, products, and clothes, many items available in Canada are manufactured for a U.S. market where it is mandated they be doused in flame-retardant chemicals. These chemicals have been shown to be both carcinogenic and neurotoxic. In other words, you don’t want your baby exposed to this stuff. Getting used items has the benefit of some of it having been washed off over time (though no guarantees). A safe alternative is to buy baby sleepwear that is made in Europe (a solution that hardly decreases your carbon footprint).

There are no easy answers to raising a kid it seems. We can only do our best. It’s great to know there are groups out there like the Annex Parents that can help even just a little bit.

Terri Chu is an engineer committed to practical environmentalism. This column is dedicated to helping the community reduce energy use, and help distinguish environmental truths from myths. Send questions, comments, and ideas for future columns to Terri at terri.chu@whyshouldicare.ca.

Tags: Annex · Liberty · News · Editorial