Random Thoughts

Mega Families – More Environmentally Friendly

With my older children now grown and a recent separation, my Frugal Fam is down to just two: me and my five year-old daughter. You would think that would mean we were even more environmentally friendly? The horrid truth is that I am finding it even more difficult to maintain our standard of care for the world in which we live.

For instance, I used to brag that with my family of six at the time, we had only one 16-litre bin bag per week. Everything else was either recycled or re-used. The thing is that with just me and Emily, we still have one small bin bag per week.

The issue is one that economist know well, as do warehouse stores like Costco. It is called economies of scale. Basically, it refers to the situation in which the cost of producing an additional unit of output (i.e., the marginal cost) of a product (i.e., a good or service) decreases as the volume of output (i.e., the scale of production) increases.

In terms of larger versus smaller families, the issue is two-fold. One is that the un-recyclable plastic wrap used to package so many times from electronics to toilet paper is the same whether you are purchasing for one person or fifteen. In fact in some instances, it is less. The amount of plastic is takes to wrap four rolls of tissue is relatively larger than what it takes to wrap 12 or 16 rolls.

The other issue that arises with smaller families is convenience. I always cooked evening meals for my large family and did so as economically as I could. But now that it is just the two of us, I find it easier to use ready-made products that increase both of recyclable and non-recyclable trash.

Another factor that I believe may play an even bigger factor with single people and couples with one or no children is disposable income. With more disposable income, people may be tempted to make choices that are less environmentally friendly, such as long air travel or purchasing the latest technology and fashion trends not because you need it but just because you can.

When we were a large (mega) family with more than the average 2.1 children, those luxuries were beyond our means. We drove or sometimes took local holidays. We purchased used clothes and household items and handed down new ones. And we never bought a new car or computer until we absolutely positively had to.

So while a lot of attention has been given recently to the 7th billion person being born and the stress that is placing on the earth’s resources, my response is that perhaps what we also need to consider is how we are using her resources. Is the subsistence farmers in Africa and Asia with six children really causing as much damage as the city banker, who earns millions of dollars/pounds and takes several holidays, buys everything he or she sees and owns a sports car? Perhaps instead of singling out large families as the problem as so many environmental groups have, they should focus upon the same greed that is now being blamed for the economic woes. And not the poorer, larger families who count every dime, use everything until it is broken and rarely purchases anything new.

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