Today I wanted to talk about zero waste parenting. It was around the time I was in my third trimester while pregnant with my daughter that I really started looking at ways to reduce the vast amounts of waste we produce in the process of raising a child. I was determined not to contribute to that and it was in my research that I became aware of zero waste living.
I’m going to start with one of the easiest zero waste things I do as a parent. I make my own baby wipes using only 3 ingredients: coconut oil, tea tree essential oil and boiling water. Have you ever read the list of ingredients on a package of baby wipes? I suggest you check it out because most of those ingredients boil down to being formaldehyde and phthalates. I used to keep a packet of Water Wipes in our diaper bag for outings, but now I use one of these incredibly convenient 2- pocket (get it, one for clean wipes, one for dirty!) Norwex waterproof wet wipe bags filled with 5 or 6 of their chemical-free reusable baby wipes. When at home, I make my baby wipes using Cheeky Wipes which are less expensive, but don’t have the embedded silver for avoidance of bacterial growth after use (like the Norwex ones do). You could use just cut up squares of terry cloth, muslin or flannelette if you are on a very tight budget or if you want to use organic textiles. Be sure to check out my video below which shows you how to make them in 10 seconds flat!
So lets talk about that number one environmental parenting problem – nappies (or diapers as we call them in Canada and the US). Disposable nappies take 500 years to degrade in landfill (note I don’t say biodegrade) and the average baby will fill up 12 wheelie bins per year with disposable nappies. Now multiply that by the number of babies on your street, in your neighbourhood, in your city and…yeah, that’s a lot of garbage which will still be sitting in landfill when your great, great, great grandchildren will be sitting in their nursing homes. But the good news is that modern cloth nappies are easy to use. We use a brand called Applecheeks which are made in Montreal, Canada, and they are wonderful (and easy to find for sale here in the UK). They fit our baby beautifully AND – here’s the best part about them – you don’t have to pull the stinky, pee-soaked insert out before washing. I’m a total wuss when it comes to touching anything gross or dirty (like poop) and they are brilliantly designed so the insert comes out in the wash automatically. When it comes to dealing with um… solids, we buy these flushable bamboo nappy liners which catch the poop and you can neatly pick it out of the nappy by the clean corners and toss it in the toilet and flush it (you probably shouldn’t really flush the liners even though they’re biodegradable – see why here – but I confess to having done it myself a few times when the poo was just too gross). I’m a big proponent of using second hand items normally, but I will share from my own experience that it will save you money and frustration in the long run if you don’t buy second hand when it comes to cloth nappies. Often the PUL material (the waterproofing part!) or the elastics in the legs can be degraded from improper care or simply from the nappy having reached the end of its lifespan and you will end up with lots of leaks and frustration, before ultimately giving up on cloth diapering. While many recommend having around 24 cloth nappies, we found that because we use biodegradable disposable Naty nappies for overnight and longer day outings, we actually only have needed around 15 newborn nappies and around 10 of the size 2 nappies. For the first couple of weeks as you’re getting to grips with being a parent, you also might find it easier to use biodegradable disposable newborn nappies before moving into newborn size cloth nappies. With this number of nappies there is no messing about with sloshy buckets of disgusting water. I just line a pedal bin with one of these PUL (waterproof) lined drawstring laundry bags*, throw the used cloth nappies straight into the bin and every 2-3 days throw the whole thing – bag included – into the washing machine.
Now what I’m about to say relates to just about everything you buy for your baby. Clothes, furniture, baby baths, slings, highchairs, strollers…you can get it ALL second hand. Regardless of the size of your pocket book and ability to buy everything shiny and new, the environmental impact of buying and using second hand baby stuff will make a difference. There are some things you should buy new for either safety or functional reasons and as far as I’m concerned these are: car seats (unless its a friend giving you a hand me down which you know is still new-ish and safe to use), mattresses (you don’t want to risk giving your baby a bed bug filled mattress or something…urgh) and cloth nappies/diapers (for the reasons I’ve already mentioned). I appreciate this gets harder as babies turn into toddlers and toddlers turn into kids and they’re much harder on their stuff and properly wear it out. In particular newborn stuff is barely used at all, so head to your local charity shop, the Oxfam Online Charity Shop, nearly new sales or go onto eBay (or hit up your friends with older kids who can give you hand-me-downs). Its not just all the baby ‘stuff’ that creates a mountain of landfill, its the packaging that all the baby ‘stuff’ comes in and the garbage that creates, not to mention the shopping bags its put in when you buy it. I’ve found its emotionally easier to part with things I bought second hand as well, and not create a shrine to my child in the loft. “Awww, that’s the tub we bought in John Lewis. Let’s keep it ‘just in case’.” Its much easier to just be happy that I only spent a few pounds on something second hand, be grateful for the service it provided and then send it on its way to a new home where it can be used again by another baby. I live in a fairly well-to-do area and its not just those on a budget who have tapped into the second hand baby market, but everyone. So whether its for financial reasons or environmental reasons – or both – think about what you could get second hand for your baby or child. If you are pregnant and you’d like more advice on what you actual need for your baby – the real essentials and not all that other stuff they’ll try to sell you in shops – check out my post on Baby Essentials.