Tales of 3 eco-friendly moms

By Voula Plagakis on April 02, 2013
When my son was in Grade 6, he told me that all the kids at school threw their juice boxes in the garbage, so he couldn’t understand why I wanted him to bring them home to put them in the recycling bin (they only recycled paper at school). So I took it upon myself to teach him and his classmates a lesson. I brought a recycling bin to his class and all the kids placed their juice boxes in the bin for a month. We counted all the boxes at the end of the month so they could see all the waste. Then I brought that load of drippy juice boxes home to recycle. To my horror, the result was that all of the kids, except for my son, went back to throwing their juice boxes in the garbage! Head, meet brick wall. But I’m not alone. Here are three other moms who go to great lengths to be green.

Liz Alloul
Mother of two, Pointe-Claire, Que.

Liz led an eco-conscious lifestyle long before she became a mom. She says her eco-friendly habits are so ingrained that she has to consciously think about which of her habits are for the planet’s sake.

For instance, as an early adopter of cloth shopping bags, she often had to fend off cashiers who would automatically put her groceries in plastic bags. Undaunted, Liz would transfer her groceries into her cloth bags, but to no avail. The cashier would throw the used plastic bags into the garbage!

When Liz became a parent, she wasn’t prepared for the ecochallenges of having twins, so she (temporarily) adjusted her greencoloured glasses. She tried cloth diapers but the family and friends who helped look after her kids weren’t so keen. When the girls were a little older and Liz got her eco-groove back, she switched back to cloth diapers in the daytime. But the girls objected to them so much that every diaper change became the battle of poop. The eco-mom says she felt guilty, but gave in to the kids and continued her efforts in other ways. Kids, 1. Planet, 0.

Liz cites her kids’ birthday parties as particularly challenging. “One year we asked our guests to bring only used or recycled gifts but my friends ignored it. They all told me, ‘Liz, you can buy your kids recycled gifts, we bought new things.’”

When Liz attends birthday parties with her twins, her green instinct kicks into action. At gift-opening time, she plants herself next to the birthday child, collects the wrapping for the recycling bin and takes the tissue paper home.

Tip: Small eco-changes add up. Add something more ecological to your life every year or month. Starting this year, I am not buying purses made from plastic.

Alexa LeBlanc
Mother of two, Montreal

Alexa says she wasn’t all that environmentally conscious until four years ago when she went back to school to complete a Masters degree. A course on the environment and human rights triggered a slew of changes in her family’s lifestyle. Besides slowing down her family’s consumption, she also gives talks at schools about climate change. Alexa’s family recycles and composts but when winter rolls around, they use a vermi-composter, a bin full of red wiggler worms primed to devour food scraps. “My husband thinks it’s a bit extreme but I still do it.” It’s reduced their garbage output by about 75 percent. Raising livestock is one of the biggest greenhouse gas producers, so her family is about 80 percent vegetarian. “We eat red meat about three to four times a year. The kids don’t like tofu or eggs, so we eat chicken and a bit of fi sh about once a week. If it were up to me, we’d be 100 percent vegetarian.” She admits it takes more time to organize vegetarian meals, but it can be done. “Initially, a lot of my time was invested in trying to fi gure out recipes that were appetizing.”

When it comes to eating organic, Alexa admits she sometimes has to weigh her aspirations with reality. “When organic green beans are three times as much, the price factor plays a role.” Fortunately a bit of shopping around yields better prices, even for organic food.

Her boys share her green values, but Alexa has to be mindful that they don’t feel deprived or left out. She struggles around expectations for certain festivities and the traditions that come with them. Last Christmas, for example, they decorated a tall tree-like houseplant instead of a real or artificial tree. The boys complained that it didn’t smell or look like a real Christmas tree.

Alexa aims for litterless school lunches by avoiding prepackaged snacks and using refillable containers. Her older son’s school has a “no garbage day” policy once a week, but not her younger son’s school. When her kids ask why they can’t have packaged single-serving cookies like the other kids, she explains that it’s too much packaging.

For the Leblanc’s annual trip to France to visit family, they buy carbon credits for roughly $200 to offset the environmental cost of air travel. They also don’t own a car and use public transportation or a car-sharing service available in their community.

Tip: Shop at second-hand stores. Some specialize in designer clothing and can have hidden treasures. You can find some really original clothes that are both trendy and green.

Tovah Paglaro,
Mother of three, Vancouver

The “Queen of Green” blogger for the David Suzuki Foundation says parenting has defi nitely strengthened her earth-friendly views. She believes one of the best things we can do for our children is to help them feel connected to nature so they will see how their actions influence the planet. As a family, they organize outdoor cleanups and discuss why they make certain choices.

It’s easy for children to take food origins for granted when everything they eat comes from the grocery store or a restaurant. “When we put food waste into the compost bin, turn that material back into soil and use it in our garden to grow things, the kids see the time and energy it takes to care for such things.”

Tovah recommends making other small changes like meal planning (to avoid excess leftovers) and joining a food co-op where local produce is delivered to your community. Her family now eats about 90 percent organic. When asked about the common misconception that organic food is more nutritious, Tovah says, “Organic is not more nutritious but avoiding pesticides in our food is a healthier choice.”

Tovah concedes that eco-conscious parents often wrestle with keeping celebrations green. She suggests replacing birthday party lootbags with small tokens like homemade crayons, or instead of Valentine’s Day cards, heartshaped birdseed ornaments. Her family has also invested in a set of birthday party dishes and reuses them for all three of her children’s birthdays and other festivities. “I even keep the party decorations so when the kids see the party bag come out, it becomes rooted in tradition instead of consumerism.”

Four years ago her family bought a live potted Christmas tree, which they place on a stand and decorate with all the trimmings. When Christmas is over, they put the potted plant back outside. Now that’s an evergreen idea!

Tip: Ease into organic. Start with the Environmental Working Group’s guide for the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 (produce with the least and most pesticide residue) to guide your organic choices.

Voula Plagakis is an eco-inspired freelance writer.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2013.

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