Raising Richmond: Earth Day at home

Earth Day is either every day or only next week–depending on what your priorities are–so take a break from buying all your Earth Day candy and decorations to learn about two ways my family has made eco-friendly changes to help offset having children.

Having a child is probably the worst thing you can do to the planet. Even if you live as environmentally consciously as possible, the amount of resources a single person uses is overwhelming: water, diapers, Amazon shipping and packaging, all the Styrofoam balls needed for school projects, millions of baby wipes. Plus, if you made a new child when there are perfectly good already-made children waiting to be adopted, that is a huge conservation fail.

I try to offset the negative impact we make on the environment where I can. I’m not at all as environmentally-friendly as I could be, but I’m a big recycler and try to reduce waste. While I’m not getting solar paneling installed anytime soon, I do try to live smartly and pass on those values. Two ways we try to conserve have been through cloth diapering and composting (separate activities, by the way). Here’s how those have worked for us.

Cloth diapers

We didn’t have to get talked into cloth diapering with our daughter; I was on board with it in the planning stages. She was born in 2010, so that was well past the “going green” heyday of the early aughts.1 Cloth diapers were accessible and practical back then, and the technology around them has only improved.

Cloth diapers are an investment up front, which makes them a perfect registry gift. We went with bumGenius 4.0 One-size (avoid the Velcro ones if you find them), and for her diaper years my daughter was primarily in cloth diapers. She wasn’t big enough to wear them until about eight weeks, though cloth dipes do come in newborn sizes. Overall, we had a good experience with cloth diapers and will definitely use them again. We can actually use the same ones again.

We only used cloth diapers when our house was home base. We put her in disposables when we travelled, though I’d sometimes bring cloth diapers for a day trip or overnight stay. She also used disposables for most of daycare. Her sitter was into the idea of cloth diapering at first, but she didn’t really use them except to have her loosely bound in one when we picked her up.

Cloth diaper maintenance doesn’t take a lot of active time. The diapers were easily put together in about ten minutes when washing all of them. And when my daughter was a baby I felt like I was doing laundry at all times anyway, so a load of diapers every second or third day wasn’t very taxing.

Once you pay out for them up front, other than the occasional replacement (we bought at least 16, with 12 up front, and the rest later since some kept getting lost at the sitter’s), they’re more affordable than disposable. They pay for themselves quickly. The ones we used also function the same as disposables. You discard the used one and grab a new one like you would a disposable. We kept a large, washable wet bag in a heavy-lidded small trash can to store soiled diapers in the baby’s room, and never had an odor issue.

Plus, cloth diapers are cuter. My daughter and my nephew–who used the same brand when he came along later–would often hang out in a diaper instead of pants. They’re more aesthetically pleasing than disposables and look like a normal part of a baby outfit.

There are environmental reasons, too. I hated the idea of my daughter’s diapers taking up that much space in landfills if they didn’t need to. Sure, washing diapers uses water and energy, but she is going to generate so much garbage in her lifetime, I just wanted to lessen that impact a little.

The diapers did have some leaking issues, which I don’t want to blame on the diaper as much as I’m willing to consider that we didn’t take as good care of them or didn’t always follow the recommend care procedures. We had leak issues with disposables, too. There is a strong online community for cloth diaper users, though, which were a great go-to to troubleshoot any leaking and other problems.

Cloth diapers are easy and better looking and more cost-effective than disposables. A lot of child care providers won’t use them, and that’s a huge deterrent, but even when our child was only in them half the time, we were still getting our money’s worth. The only other drawback was how bulky they were in a diaper bag, but I’d prefer that bother any day to having to buy diapers continuously.
Along with our diapers, we ordered a diaper sprayer that attached to the toilet to clean off solid waste, and three wet bags to hold soiled diapers (the wet bags have been useful post-diaper for pool time and potential outfit changes due to other accidents).

Franklin Goose in Carytown offers classes on cloth diapering on the second Wednesday of each month, and also sells new and used diapers–which sounds stranger than it is. Used ones still look new where it counts, and people like my sister have had luck with online purchases of gently used or secondhand diapers that were never used. Also, check out Cloth Diapers 101 from Parents Magazine, or just put out a call on Facebook and some cousin of your spouse will send you 20 articles about it to convince you.


I genuinely feel bad about how long it took me to get a proper compost bin. I made one a few years ago out of a Rubbermaid container, but I must not have made enough holes because despite turning often, it never decomposed. It’s still in my backyard and I’m afraid to move it or open it. It will just have to pass on to the next owners of our house.

When I was a kid, we threw organic matter into a big, open-aired bin that my parents made, but the more I read about composting years later it seemed like it could only be done with giant, complicated set ups or fancy tumblers. I asked around online, and a few friends responded that methods as basic as throwing kitchen scraps in the backyard on a tarp and turning it often worked for them. Since I have a dog who has free rein of the backyard, that wasn’t a good option (I’m sure she would love it, though).

Then my much handier-than-me sister gifted me a compost bin last September. She took a tall, outdoor trash can, drilled a lot of holes in it (one every inch), and secured the top with a bungee cord. I keep it propped up on two bricks in my backyard for draining, and after about six months I can tell that it’s actually composting.
I keep my kitchen scraps (such as vegetable trimmings, egg shells, coffee grounds, small cardboard tubes) in an old plastic pitcher with a lid on the counter. I empty it when it’s full–and it gets full quickly–and keep a small shovel by the bin to turn it around a bit since it’s too heavy now for me to pick up and roll around like I used to. I’ll add moisture to it if it hasn’t rained lately. I suppose I take out the trash less now, but seeing the volume of compostable things that we build up has made me glad that we finally committed to composting. It’ll only be enough to cover my small garden plot, but that’s perfect–it wasn’t meant as a money-saver, just an earth helper.

I’m hopeful that raising our daughter to think about the environment and to consider recycling and composting as primary methods of waste disposal will make a lasting impact. The goal is to raise a child who will school us about what eco-friendly measures we aren’t taking around the house (like my sister and I did to our parents).2 I fuss at her when she picks up trash outside so that she can throw it away, but we’ve promised her that we’ll put on gloves one day and have a litter pick up since the amount of litter on our street upsets her, too. I guess another way I try to offset the harm that having a child does to the environment is to raise someone who wants the world to look better than how she found it.

It’s the least I can do. Other than to stop ordering things with wasteful packaging online and having more kids.

Photo by: AmySelleck

  1. I hate the marketing around “going green.” Companies and people shouldn’t be rewarded for doing something now that they always knew better about. 
  2. I’m also going to teach her to ask her grandparents “Why don’t you recycle? Haven’t Baby Boomers done enough to ruin the world for their grandchildren?” That’s not too precocious, is it? 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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