It’s not easy being green

Minimizing your footprint is difficult with a preschooler at home

The author’s son, Miles Willing, tosses a newspaper into the recycling bin. Photo credit J. WIlling



I was thinking about my family’s environmental footprint recently, specifically about food waste, as I mindlessly peeled about 10 large potatoes for a three-person meal.

I was going through the motions of prepping dinner at that magic hour in late afternoon, when your mind transitions from the long workday to the dinner-bath-bedtime sprint of early evening.

Suddenly, you’re 10 potatoes deep for a meal that probably only required two.

As I stared past the mound of potato skins and into the depths of the kitchen guck, I grasped how much food ended up in our green bin.

Half-eaten slices of toast. A pancake. Decaying produce whose expiry dates crept up on us faster than expected.

I can’t blame it all on our three-year-old son, who isn’t really a picky eater. I certainly can be a little more thoughtful in portioning meals (see aforementioned potato blunder).

Still, it’s not easy elevating your enviro-consciousness with a young child when household consumption increases in several areas.

If food isn’t the biggest area of consumption, it must be water.

Laundry piles up and suddenly you have loads running at odd hours of the day. When you get past the diaper leakages, you enter potty training, and the dirty clothes don’t end.

Perhaps, you, like us, are draining tubfuls of water each night after a bustling bathtime. Hard to argue against having a clean kid.

Then the hot weather arrives and you’re filling water tables, wading pools and running sprinklers. The best summer fun involves gallons of water.

I won’t even get into diaper waste — yes, we went for disposables in Miles’s baby years.

We balance our enviro-transgressions in other ways, especially when it comes to transportation.

We make most of our trips downtown by LRT or bike. We try our best to choose activities that are in the immediate or larger community, like soccer and swimming lessons. It’s not unusual for the car to stay untouched in the driveway for days in the summer.

Clothing consumption is another eyeopener. It’s bewildering how many articles of clothing a family can go through in those magical years where kids seem to be growing every week (I hear the pace of growth remains steady for about 16 years. That’s a lot of shoes).

We’ve done well handing clothes down to friends with younger kids or donating items. When Miles was a baby, we benefited from generous friends who passed their clothes to us.

We also try to teach Miles about recycling and separating our household garbage into bins.

He helps crush cans (ahem, yes, including dad’s beer cans) before pitching them into the appropriate box. He slides armfuls of newspapers into the black box.

Sometimes Miles even wants to help haul the bins to the curb, trying his best to drag the green bin down the driveway.

When we’re at the park, we try to toss any wayward garbage into the trash can. I don’t want Miles to have any animosity in his spirit, but I secretly hope he inherits my contempt for litterers.

Just spending time in nature is one of the best ways to teach children about ecology and keeping our communities clean.

The natural environment is one of the best playgrounds. I’m looking forward to biking into the Arboretum again this summer to explore the ponds and forests, and sprinting down the big hill until we end up logrolling to the bottom. 

We have a long way to go to become a more considerate household when it comes to the environment, but we’re trying.

Now, time chew over what to do with a pound of leftover mashed potatoes.