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Living an ethical lifestyle: eco-friendly parenting

If you’re worried about the carbon footprint caused by your growing family, there are some things you can do to raise your little ones in an eco-friendly way.
Baby being held up by parent as they walk on the beach
Reading time: 8 mins

*Please note: this blog was published in Dec 2021 and its content is based on what was correct at the time of writing. As a result, some of the facts and opinions may no longer be current or relevant.

If you’re planning your first baby or want to add another child to your brood, then you’ve probably already considered how this will affect your free time and finances.

After all, having a kid is a huge responsibility that doesn’t go away as soon as they turn 18 – and it can be very expensive too. As a matter of fact, research shows that the basic cost of raising a child to 18 in 2023 is around £202,660!1

But although we know that children eat away at our time and put a big dent in our wallets, have you ever thought about the impact that having kids can have on the Earth?

As lovely as they are, babies generate a lot of waste that typically ends up in landfill. Just think about all the things you need to buy for them (such as nappies and baby wipes) and how quickly they grow out of things like toys and clothes!

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to reduce the environmental impact. For example, you could switch to eco-friendly baby products, such as changing products, clothing and toys, as well as giving gifts that aren’t just things that are enjoyed for a few months before being thrown away.

But before we get onto the subject of eco-friendly parenting, let’s answer an important question…

What is the environmental impact of having a child?

Understanding how much of an impact of each individual has on the planet is tricky.

There are a number of different figures out there, and we also need to take into account the fact that certain personal circumstances (such as what part of the world you live in) can play a factor in how big your carbon footprint is. As an example of how many different figures there are, back in 2020, it was said that just one person in the UK would emit the same amount of carbon in five days that one person in Rwanda does in one year.2 

And according to data from Global Carbon Atlas, each person in the UK emitted 8.34 tonnes of CO2 emissions on average in 2017.

For reference, the global average for that year was 4.7 tonnes per person.2

However, more recent figures also show that in 2021, global energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 6% to 36.3 billion tonnes - their highest ever level.3

According to a study4 carried out by two climate scientists in 2017, when a child is born into the developed world, they leave an annual carbon footprint of 58.6 metric tonnes.

And away from carbon, statistics show that in 2020, local authorities in England collected around 399 kilograms of household waste per person.5

Looking at these stats, some people may say that the solution to reducing our environmental impact is simply for more people to choose to not have children or limit ourselves to having just one child – after all, the Earth is already overpopulated.

That’s great if you’re not fussed on having kids of your own and are content with being the fun aunt or uncle, but what if you’ve always yearned to be a parent? What if you already have a child and want them to give them a sibling?

Remember, none of us are perfect when it comes to being kinder to our planet. Most of us still own a diesel or petrol car and buy plenty of items that come wrapped in plastic.

But if you do want to reduce your carbon footprint, one thing that could have an impact is making more eco-friendly choices when it comes to raising your children.

How can I raise my child in an environmentally friendly way?

There are many ways you can embrace eco-friendly parenting, and a great option could be swapping out items that end up in landfill with more sustainable choices.

Here are some ideas to help you get started.

Essential eco-friendly baby products

Baby wipes and nappies are just two of the things that babies need and will get through rather quickly. Yet unfortunately, they cause a fair amount of environmental damage to our planet.

Because the majority of single-use nappies are non-recyclable, they end up being burnt or will sit in landfill for many years – both of which cause harmful greenhouse gases to be released into the air.6

Baby wipes (and most other types of wipes for that matter) are also bad for the environment because they contain plastic, which can take between 20 and 500 years to decompose.7

And because baby wipes are often flushed down the toilet, they can block sewage systems and make their way to our oceans where they cause great harm to marine life.

So, what alternatives are there? When it comes to nappies, there are a number of cloth versions (which can be washed and reused again and again, rather than being thrown in the bin) available on the market, so you have plenty of choice.

But if you’re wary of how effective they are, don’t worry – cloth nappies have come a long way since your parents (or even your grandparents!) were young, and they work in a similar way to the disposable versions that most of us are used to.

And if you’re looking for eco-friendly baby wipes, then the good news is that you can buy ones that are made from natural, biodegradable materials like bamboo.

If you want to go a step further, however, then another environmentally friendly alternative to baby wipes is reusable cloth wipes. These can be used with water or dedicated sprays, then chucked into a washing machine alongside your cloth nappies. Yes, it really is that easy.

Eco-friendly baby clothes

When it comes to eco-friendly clothing (whether for yourself, your new baby, or an older child), one of the most important things to look out for before making the purchase is what fabric and materials it is constructed from.

These days, many clothes are made using synthetic materials, like polyester, acrylic and nylon, because they’re cheap and extremely versatile. However, you may not realise that all these materials are forms of plastic.

Instead, you could opt for eco-friendly baby clothes by choosing brands that use sustainable fabrics for their garments – some great natural and vegan options include organic bamboo, hemp, linen, and cotton. Many brands now also use recycled cotton and polyester which helps to reduce the amount of waste ending up in landfill.8

But if you can’t afford to shop from sustainable brands, another thing you can do is to scour second-hand in charity shops and from websites like eBay.

Not only is this better for the Earth, but you could save yourself some money, too. And remember, when you’re done with your children’s clothing (which will only be used for a short time before they grow out of them), you could sell them on yourself!

Alternatively, think about holding onto them for your next baby (if you plan on having one), or pass them onto your friends and family members that will be having children soon if they are in a good enough condition to be reused.

Eco-friendly baby toys

No one wants their little ones to go without the toys their little hearts long for. But while there’s no denying that they can provide hours of fun, plastic toys are not exactly great for the environment – and it is said that 80% of all toys end up in landfill.9

So, how can you make a difference? Is there even such a thing as an eco-friendly kids’ toy? Well, it turns out there is.

There are several brands that sell toys eco-friendly baby toys that are crafted from wood and rubber instead of plastic, and you can get cuddly toys that are made from organic cotton or wool.

However, when buying wooden toys, you may want to go a step further by checking that they are FSC® Certified.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a not-for-profit organisation, and this stamp of approval means that the forests in a business’s supply change have been managed sustainably.10

Again, when your little one is finished with these toys, you could put them away in storage ready for your next child to enjoy, give them to a friend or family member who is expecting a bundle of joy, sell them on to someone else, or even donate them to a charity shop so they bring happiness to children for years to come.

Eco-friendly baby gifts

Having a baby is an exciting experience, and even if you’re not having a baby shower, it’s likely that your nearest and dearest will want to buy you something to celebrate the new arrival!

But with the purchasing decisions out of your hands, how can you ensure that you’re being eco-friendly when it comes to all the products you use for your little one?

If you have a baby shower, or one of your family members or friends simply asks you what you’d like to receive as a gift, then let them know that you want to make more ethical and eco-friendly choices when it comes to buying things for your baby, such as clothes, toys, and other essential products like nappies and wipes.

If they’re new to shopping sustainability, then you may even want to point them in the direction of where they can purchase eco-friendly baby products.

Another alternative is to ask to be given a nonphysical gift – such as money that can be invested in your little one’s future.

But if you don’t feel comfortable asking people for money, then you could set up a Junior ISA (also known as a JISA) for your child that your family and friends can contribute to, rather than giving you cash in a card.

Although you can’t set up a Junior ISA for a child until they are born, your friends and family probably won’t mind waiting to give them a gift that could make a real difference to their financial future.

But what is a Junior ISA and how does it work? A Junior Stocks and Shares ISA is an investment account for your child that can be accessed by them when they turn 18.

This means that they could use the savings in their JISA, to help them in the future – such as to pay for university or get on the property ladder – and any loved ones that contributed to their JISA can feel satisfied that they helped your child to achieve these goals.

Plus, with a Junior Stocks and Shares ISA (which is what we offer at Wealthify), their money is invested in the stock market – meaning it could grow further than it would in a savings account due to interest rates and rising inflation.

To explain it simply, inflation is when the price of goods and services gradually increase over time, meaning your money has less purchasing power in future despite it still being the same amount.

So, if you keep your money saved in your bank account (where it gains interest over time), its worth may decrease over the years. This is because inflation could outpace the amount of interest you gain if your interest rate doesn’t match or exceed the rate of inflation.

However, by investing your savings in the stock market instead, they could grow further over the years as inflation protection has been factored into many investment products.

But what if your little one isn’t a baby anymore?

It’s all well and good using sustainable products when your little one is still a baby, but if you want to make a lifelong difference, continuing to raise them in an eco-friendly way as they get older could help to instil good habits in them that they can take into adulthood.

Here are some ways you could do this.

Teach them about climate change

With us having more awareness about the effect of climate change on the planet and what we can do to slow it down, it makes sense to be honest with your children about what could happen to the environment if we don’t make a change.

So, why not make being eco-friendly a standard practice in your household and a common topic of conversation with your children?

As an example, you could encourage them to start recycling from a young age and explain why this is so important to do, as well as encouraging them to embrace shopping second-hand in places like charity shops and car boot sales by framing it as an exciting treasure hunt.

With almost 22% of people receiving unwanted Christmas gifts each year donating them, and nearly 12% deciding to sell them11, you never know what great things you might find when shopping second-hand.

Help them appreciate experiences, not physical gifts

When it comes to Christmas and birthdays, you might want to avoid getting your child into the habit of expecting a big mountain of toys as presents. Instead, think about quality over quantity, or even consider giving them nonphysical gifts.

This could be an experience they’ll remember for many years to come, such as a trip to the theatre or the zoo, or even money that they can save up and use for something they really want.

In fact, a Stocks and Shares Junior ISA doesn’t just have the potential to be a great eco-friendly baby gift for when your little one is born. Every Christmas and birthday, you could continue to put some of the money you would spend on toys for your child into a Junior ISA you have set up for them.

And if you have friends and family who always have trouble deciding what to buy them as a gift, you could ask them to do the same each year. With a Wealthify Junior ISA, setting up your friends and family members as contributors is very easy and secure.

Our Junior ISA also acts like a time capsule because they can include personal messages when they pay into the JISA, which your child can see when they get access to the account at age 18.

Again, because the money in the Junior ISA is invested in the stock market and can’t be accessed by the child until they turn 18, their money could grow over the years. They could then use the savings for a big purchase that could make a big difference to their life – such as buying their first car.

So, contributing to a child’s Junior ISA is an eco-friendly gift for kids that has the potential to keep on giving long after Christmas has passed.

Consider the food your family eats

Data12 shows that eating a vegetarian diet produces 2.5x less carbon emissions than a meat diet.13 Not only that, but it’s said that if you ate a vegetarian diet for a year, you could save the same amount of emissions as a family not using their small car for 6 months.12

According to the NHS website13, children can be brought up on a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet if they get all the nutrients they need. However, your family could still have an impact if you eat a ‘flexitarian’ diet – which as the name suggests means that you still occasionally eat animal products (like meat or cheese) some of the time.

But little ones can be so picky about what they eat, can’t they? While it is a true that many children would live on a diet of chicken nuggets and chips if we let them, making it the norm for them to eat a vegetarian diet from a young age (or at least a diet that is heavy in fruit and vegetables with meat being enjoyed as a treat a few times a week) could help them to adjust and enjoy eating a colourful diet that’s kinder to the Earth.

Ready to embrace eco-friendly parenting? Even if your little ones aren’t babies anymore, it’s not too late to make a change and live more sustainably as a family. And if you want to find out more about how your friends and family can help by giving your child an eco-friendly gift that keeps on giving, find out more about our Junior ISA and Friends and Family Contributions.

The tax treatment depends on your individual circumstances and may be subject to change in the future.

Please remember the value of your investments can go down as well as up, and you could get back less than invested.


  1. https://www.lv.com/life-insurance/articles/cost-of-raising-a-child
  2. https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/british-carbon-footprint-africa-emissions-oxfam-climate-change-a9271861.html
  3. https://www.iea.org/news/global-co2-emissions-rebounded-to-their-highest-level-in-history-in-2021
  4. https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/sustainable-living/climate-crisis-children-family-planning-b1889373.html
  5. https://www.statista.com/statistics/322535/total-household-waste-volumes-in-england-uk-per-person/
  6. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-45732371
  7. https://chariotenergy.com/blog/how-long-until-plastic-decomposes/
  8. https://www.sustainablejungle.com/sustainable-fashion/sustainable-fabrics/
  9. https://www.greenmatters.com/p/environmental-impact-plastic-toys
  10. https://www.ecoandbeyond.co/articles/eco-friendly-toys/
  11. https://www.finder.com/uk/unwanted-gifts
  12. https://vegsoc.org/info-hub/why-go-veggie/environment/
  13. “After adjustment for sex and age, an average 2,000 kcal high meat diet had 2.5 times as many GHG emissions than an average 2,000 kcal vegan diet.”
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