Sam Judd

Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: Five ways to an eco-friendly kid

By Sam Judd

Growing food with your child is a great way to teach them good habits for a lifetime.
Growing food with your child is a great way to teach them good habits for a lifetime.

Isn't it funny how once you have a child your perspective on danger seems to change.

When my now 15-month-old daughter arrived, things in our life became dramatically different and I have become a lot more cautious about what she is exposed to.

While we won't be able to prevent a teenage broken heart or stop her eating dirt in the garden, we can make decisions about what we feed her and about what product touches her soft young skin.

Now having taken thousands of children out picking up rubbish in the past, I am far from a person that wraps kids in cotton wool - but when we started researching the facts around what some baby products really are, I was shocked.

Re-using, re-purposing and recycling all that you can is hands-down the best way to minimise your child's impact on the environment. Other than doing that, here's my top five ways to an environmentally friendly kid.

5. Think about the second skin
A child's clothes and the sheets they sleep in are essentially your child's second skin - they wear them all day and sleep in them all night. So it seems obvious to be vigilant when sourcing clothes and sheets for your wee ones.

A 2007 episode of Target exposed dangerously high levels of formaldehyde in Chinese-made children's clothes - not the kind of thing you want your nearest and dearest to be exposed to. Though a follow-up evaluation by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs said they didn't find anything to be too concerned about, chemicals in your child's clothing or sheets is still something to be cautious of.

Where possible you should buy locally made organic materials and always wash everything before your child wears it or sleeps in it with an environmentally friendly detergent like soap nuts.

There are some great Kiwi brands around such as Nature Baby and Pureborn Organic. What's even better is if you pick things up second-hand from like-minded parents on Trade Me or at Recycle Sales like the one on Sunday run by Eastern Bays Mums Recycle Sales in Auckland then you will pay a fraction of the price and keep good quality products in circulation.

4. Paint it green
Paint isn't generally something you think much about other than the colour, but there are often all sorts of chemicals that have been carefully brushed over our walls, floors, furniture and toys.

My wife discovered a fantastic little company in Nelson called BioPaints (http://www.biopaints.co.nz/) that make natural environmentally friendly organic paints using plant oils, chalks and resins.

Part of her excuse for making me renovate the flooring in the house is, she says, that there is no need to move out for a week after painting to try and get rid of the nasty smell- I am promised a lovely citrus, lavender and beeswax smell.

3. Wood is good
In a world dominated by plastic it's often hard to find alternative toys.

We had a rule when our daughter was born that all gifts had to be handmade or hand-me-downs and most certainly plastic free. As a result she now has a collection of beautiful pre-loved wooden toys that have almost all been made in New Zealand.

While at the moment she's more interested in everything she can pull out of my tool cupboard that looks sharp, I know there will come a time when she will happily make sky-high towers from her well-chewed wooden blocks.

2. Don't panic, go organic
Where possible try to incorporate organic or spray free food into your child's diet.

Not only does organic food remove the nasty chemicals, it is also often in a raw form meaning your kids will get involved in the kitchen at a young age. The sooner they know food doesn't come from a packet the better. It makes dinnertime social and means you don't have a pile of single-use packaging left over. It will teach them a lifetime of good practice.

Even better, if you have the space try growing it yourself. Your kids will love getting their hands in the dirt and watching the plants grow. You get to spend time with them in the garden over summer watching the bees and butterflies too.

A handy tip: when our daughter is teething we give her organic frozen blueberries (before she could chew we wrapped them in muslin so she wouldn't choke), not only are they delicious, they help to reduce the inflammation and the pain. She is a fiend for these and it works a treat as a distraction when (resembling a drunk adult) she bails and gets a bit hurty.

Organic cleaning products are another cheap and effective way to minimise your child's environmental impact and reduce their exposure to chemicals. Check out Wendyl Nissen's book Mother's Little Helper and YouTube page. You will be impressed at how effective the natural cleaners are.

1. Cloth nappies
This hotly debated topic is still the biggest choice for you to make for the health of your baby and the environment.

It doesn't take a genius to work out how many plastic-wrapped-poops end up in landfill each year. Plus the chemicals you expose your child to through the use of packaged 'wet-wipes' and disposable nappies are atrocious.

Once you are committed to cloth it's not hard. Our daughter has never worn a disposable (even when travelling) and I am proud of that. Anyone who says they don't have time firstly is lying and secondly is not making sense - the statistics show that their child will spend more time in nappies, meaning more time changing them and a rubbish bin that smells like the lower Ganges River in summer.

Old clothes can even become reusable wet wipes and a natural solution for these can be found in Wendyl Nissen's book.

If you have anymore tips or suggestions I would love to hear them so please share in the comments section below.

Sam Judd is Young New Zealander of the Year and co-founder of the charity Sustainable Coastlines.

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