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Survey: Parents feel 'green guilt' over plastic bags, diapers

Parents want to be environmentally friendly -- after all, who has more incentive to save the earth for future generations? But it's not always easy, as a TODAY Moms/iVillage survey of more than 1,000 parents found.Nearly everyone who took our survey, 94 percent, think they could do more to help the environment. What's holding them back? Nearly half say it's lack of money, while 1 in 5 say they don
The family that sorts together, stays together... 54 percent of parents say they recycle more often since having kids.
The family that sorts together, stays together... 54 percent of parents say they recycle more often since having kids.Paul Burns / Getty Images stock / Today

Parents want to be environmentally friendly -- after all, who has more incentive to save the earth for future generations? But it's not always easy, as a TODAY Moms/iVillage survey of more than 1,000 parents found.

Nearly everyone who took our survey, 94 percent, think they could do more to help the environment. What's holding them back? Nearly half say it's lack of money, while 1 in 5 say they don't have enough time and another 1 in 5 say going green is too inconvenient.

(Most parents say they recycle the same or more than they did before kids, which is giving me "green guilt" of my own: Let's just say that life with a 2-year-old has me frazzled enough that I don't always take the time to rinse out containers for recycling and pitch them in the trash instead. Forgive me, Mother Earth!)

The older generation is still leading the way (at least according to them): 84 percent of parents say they are bigger environmentalists than their kids. And parents are finding ways to teach their kids green habits that save instead of spend money: three-quarters show kids how to save energy and explain why that's important, and more than half encourage kids to buy and use less "stuff" that's just going to end up in landfills.

We asked parents what "bad" environmental habit they wish they could change. Using plastic bags, disposable diapers and driving a lot were common themes.

"Since having kids I drive around more than I did before, and since the only car we now have is a minivan I feel that pollutes the air more often," one parent wrote. "That and the use of disposable diapers. We live in an apartment and the washing of cloth diapers discourages me from using them."

Another confessed: "Using plastic bags at the grocery store. I have a million stored at home. I never remember my reusable ones." (I usually remember my cloth bags at home right when I'm about to check out with my groceries, anyone else?) 

Parents who set a good "green" example tend to work environmentally friendly habits into daily parenting. For example, reducing, re-using and recycling teaches kids the value of a dollar, which we're all trying to do anyway. And delving into the recycling bin can yield creative, low-cost craft ideas for a rainy day.

"We don't just replace items to replace them," one eco-conscious mom writes. "If it is broken we come up with an idea to try to fix it.  If it is ripped, we sew it. We brainstorm ideas of how everyday things can be reused.  We choose not to buy items such as bottled water.  We use reusable bags, water bottles, lunch boxes ect. to help our children understand that we try not to use disposable items as much as possible." 

How do you try to set a good "green" example for your kids?

More survey highlights:

  • Worried? Since having kids, 63 percent are more concerned about the environment than before; for 36 percent of parents, the level of concern for the environment is about the same.
  • Given the choice:
    71 percent of parents would grow their own vegetable garden, versus 29 percent would buy more organic vegetables.
    80 percent would install a low-flow shower head, versus 20 percent would take fewer showers.
    92 percent would recycle every single thing they use that could be recycled, versus 8 percent would pay 5 percent more on their property taxes
  • 82 percent teach their kids to recycle and save energy and explain why we need to do it.
  • 33 percent talk to their kids about global warming, and keeping the planet safe for future generations.
  • Less than half (48 percent) think the environmental education their kids get at school is great; 42 percent think they don’t get any environmental education at school, and 9 percent say the environmental education their kids get at school is overdone or alarmist. 

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