Tag Archives: environment

zero waste tips for renovating your home

Zero Waste Tips for Renovating Your Home

We recently had a major piece of work done on our home – the addition of a new floor upstairs – and I was absolutely shocked at how eco-unfriendly and wasteful the whole process was. We did our best to ensure that the existing building materials which were still in good condition, such as the slate roof tiles, were reused, recycled or repurposed. It wasn’t a great experience, and when it was all over we came to the clear conclusion that we will be personally be managing any future property improvements ourselves.

But that got me thinking, can you create a luxurious, comfortable home while still saving both environmental and financial resources? Surely there must be companies out there willing to make an effort to reduce the waste in building or renovating a home? And finally, at the end of your project, there must be some creative ways to repurpose unwanted kitchen and bathroom goods rather than sending them to landfill sites?

Here are some ways you can update your home while still keeping your eco cred:

1. Buy a Second Hand Kitchen or Bathroom

We inherited our cheapo white standard IKEA kitchen when we bought our home several years ago. We’ve updated the room by having a pantry built (to match the white finish of the cabinet units), we had the wooden countertops refinished, installed some attractive handmade Spanish tiles and then painted the room a pleasant shade of pale blue. Its a very simple but functional kitchen. In my heart of hearts, I still don’t like the shiny white cabinets though.

I recently saw a piece on the news about a couple of companies which make birch plywood doors designed to fit standard IKEA kitchens like mine. I think they look really cool and appeal to my Canadian/Scandi aesthetic. It could mean just replacing cupboard doors and handles for a kitchen like mine, rather than ripping out all the cupboard units unnecessarily.

But some kitchens are really and truly badly laid out and I know how frustrating that is. You really do need a whole new kitchen when this is the case. If you’re building a home from scratch or doing major renovations to a property, you’ll also be shopping for a whole new kitchen. But the good news is that you don’t need to actually buy a new kitchen – it just needs to be ‘new to you’. You can now buy beautiful kitchens and bathrooms second hand.

There are a few ways of doing this. You can go onto a second hand website like Craigslist (US, Canada & UK), Gumtree (UK), or Kijiji (Canada) or even eBay. You’ll be really surprised with the beautiful high spec kitchens and bathrooms, barely a few years old which you can find for sale second hand.

You can even get a free kitchen (or give your old kitchen or bathroom away rather than having it sent to a landfill site) on Freecycle.

And for those who will not compromise on having their perfect Shaker style kitchen or white Carrara marble counter tops, there are also companies like the Used Kitchen Exchange (UK) which sell both used and ex-display kitchens, bathrooms and other rooms for a fraction of the price of buying them new. You’ll also get the reassurance of 14 day purchase protection.

This family-run business has a number of environmental, social and business awards behind them and all the kitchens they sell have been pre-surveyed for quality. There is a visualisation service so you can see how the kitchen will work in your space and they’ll also buy your old kitchen and will professionally remove it (saving the main hassle when you’re selling it yourself).

Photo of Shaker style kitchen

2. Refinish, Repair & Restore, Don’t Replace!

Wooden floors, kitchen work surfaces, banisters, mantles and furniture can all be refinished. Our downstairs neighbour recently had her old gap-py and yellowing pine floor boards sanded down and the gaps between the floor boards filled in, and it looks amazing now – a luxurious Scandi-look pale smoked finish.

All the beautiful natural chalk paints on offer these days can paint over a multitude of sins in your home. I hear great things about UK-based Frenchic and of course you can get Annie Sloan just about anywhere these days (though not as confident in her eco cred as much as Frenchic). They do paints for furniture, walls, trim as well as waxes and something you paint on for a crackle effect if you like that kind of look.

A friend in Canada (well, my BFF really) updated the upholstery on a dozen or so of the old vinyl covered chairs from her in-laws’ long-gone Greek diner from the 50’s and ended up with the most beautiful, sturdy teenage-boy-proof chairs that were both a labour of love and have some family history to them.

Exquisite walnut floor boards or oak stairs could be hiding underneath that horrible carpet from the 80’s and lovingly restoring them may take a little time and effort but will respect the heritage of your home and could save you a lot of money.

Damaged surfaces such as chipped countertops, scratched wood floors, cracked tiles and furniture can all be repaired. I recently read an article in Good Housekeeping singing the praises of a company called Magicman. Their technicians can repair wood, stone, marble, uPVC, veneers, laminates, granite, ceramic tiles, stainless steel and even glass, rectifying chips, dents, scratches, burns, holes and more, on site, nationwide throughout the UK. I haven’t tried them yet, but have a burnt elm Ercol table which could use a little love.

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3. Buy Reclaimed

When shopping for the wooden floors for our new loft bedroom, I was delighted to see that its pretty easy to get a hold of beautiful reclaimed flooring these days. You can always go to a salvage yard to get rough flooring and refinish it yourself, but if you aren’t that brave (like me) you can get it through one of a number of reclaimed wood flooring specialists – just Google ‘reclaimed wood flooring’ and you’ll be surprised by the variety on offer with nationwide delivery.

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4. Recycle, Reuse & Repurpose

And finally, when you have your lovely new home updated, what do you do with what’s left over that you haven’t been able to sell or give away?

If you have an old unwanted carpet, check out Carpet Recycling UK for ideas on how to dispose of it. It can be:

  • Given away on Freecycle.
  • Donated to a furniture reuse network
  • Used in your allotment or community garden (to keep weeds at bay on pats and in plots). Wool carpets have a high nitrogen content which helps to increase growth and growth rates too!
  • Donated to a local animal rescue shelter for kennel mats (especially to keep animals warm in winter).
  • Laid down on your loft/attic floor for some added insulation – it will help retain heat and lower heating bills!
  • Used as a pond liner in your garden.

For a full list of specialist carpet recyclers go to Find A Recycler Near Me.

And all the other leftover bits? What do I do with those? Well, I asked my friends in the Zero Waste community what they’ve done…

  • Sinks and some parts of old kitchen cupboards can be used to make mud kitchens in the garden – lots of kindergartens and preschools want to build mud kitchens and may be happy for the donation.
  • Tiles can be broken up and used as drainage for potted plants.
  • Old bath tubs can be used for raised bed gardens in allotments – great for ‘fussy’ vegetables like asparagus. They can also be used as garden ponds.
  • Old glass shower doors can be used for cold frames in the garden or to cover alpine troughs in winter.
  • Wooden kitchen worktops can be turned into bread boards.
  • Kitchen worktops can be made from old recycled wooden doors.
  • Kitchen cupboards can be downcycled for use in garages, greenhouses and/or potting sheds.
  • Old paint can be given to a community repaint scheme or there may be a donation point at your local recycling centre for paint to be re-used rather than recycled.
  • Anything else you don’t know what to do with? Check the Recycle Now website for ideas.

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This article was in part sponsored by Used Kitchen Exchange

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Travelling with Kids

I don’t write as much about travel as I would like to. I usually plan to do amazing YouTube travel videos which never get edited or posted and I take lots of photos which I think would be great here on the site…but rarely does a travel post I’ve planned or started ever materialise. Which is a shame, because my husband and I travel A LOT and we’ve learned tons about travelling with kids. So that’s what I am going to share with you today. (If you’d like some general zero waste travel tips, check out this post I wrote a couple years ago.)

1. Planning & booking your trip

My husband and I love planning our trips. We think about where we want to go and then read lots about it (not just Lonely Planet guides, but relevant novels, poetry, historical literature, etc. about the area) and really draw the process out with a sort of childish delight. If you have no children you can spend hours doing this during weekly date nights, but if you have a child, like we do now, all I can say is good luck. (I’ve been trying to read a Costa Rica guide for like a year now.) Once you’ve decided where you want to go and when, try to find a child-free hour when you can book your trip with a clear head, free from distractions. Your flight schedule, free time from work and school, and accommodation availability all have to align and stupid mistakes are so easy to make at this stage. I’m not being patronising here, but this is one area where multi-tasking is fairly risky.

If you’ve booked a package holiday, life should be simple – you’ll get collected as per whatever arrangement your package holiday company has made and you get taken straight to your hotel. We do very little package holiday travel (although we have done so occasionally) and have found its not always the best when travelling with small kids.

Its easy to get lured into the belief that you’ll have loads of kids clubs to watch your kids all the time and you don’t have to worry about cooking or cleaning. The reality is that unless your kids are older, they’re often too small for kids clubs and you end up having a screaming hot baby/toddler with you on the beach/poolside while everyone glares at you. When dinnertime comes you can either eat ridiculously early at 5 or 6 o’clock or wait until later and take your cranky/hyper kids with you to dinner at 7.30 or 8 and watch in horror as spaghetti is flung onto the lady at the next table (it happened). Or you can book a babysitter every night and have a peaceful dinner with your partner, but that gets pretty expensive pretty quickly. You’ll probably also be sharing a room with your kid(s) and bedtime can be just…um, awesome when you’re away from your usual environment and routines. Evenings with your partner will be spent huddled on the balcony, whispering and playing Uno whilst sneaking up all-inclusive cocktails from downstairs, and being extra quiet while your kid(s) try to get to sleep. But don’t worry, they’ll start getting used to the new routine just by the time you’re packing to leave and go home. So yeah, I’m not really recommending the package holiday that much. Maybe once they’re teenagers?

I do have one caveat to this. If you can afford to book a villa at a resort, you can get many of the advantages of having an apartment with a kitchenette and separate bedrooms, with the conveniences of being on a resort (including access to resort babysitters and kids clubs for older kids, etc). I’ve not done this, but my friend Katie swears by it and for her family of 4, its the preferred way to travel. Its definitely not an inexpensive way to go, but I wanted to share as many options as possible.

Another friend of mine travelled in a minivan from Glasgow to the Peloponnese with her husband and 3 children (all under age 6) and they stayed at a range of types of accommodation ranging from bizarre British guest houses to luxury spa resorts, but they enjoyed the private apartments and houses they rented the most. It gave them more freedom to enjoy their destination and a more relaxed experience while travelling with their young children.

Personally, I prefer independent travel because I happen to like going to local shops and markets and experimenting with the local foods, and in some small way, ‘living like a local’…or at least pretending to.

If you are doing independent travel (which is what we highly recommend when travelling with babies and smaller children), you can rent your own house or apartment with Airbnb. This can range from fairly basic and simple accommodation to extreme luxury. It provides all the reassurance of booking a hotel, but you get your own house or apartment wherever you want to be. This is great because you can keep your home schedule (nap times, meal times, etc…) with your children and you can make meals and packed lunches that you know they will eat and best of all you can pack your little ones off into their own beds before having a leisurely evening with your partner with the full run of the house/apartment and its garden, pool, hot tub, etc.

Make sure you read all the reviews for the Airbnb accommodation you’re considering. Make sure its suitable and safe for children. Often they will be able to provide travel cots so you don’t need to schlep one around with you – just make sure you check in advance if your hosts can provide this for you. You can even arrange for a cleaner to come in periodically at some properties, for an extra charge.

If your Airbnb accommodation is fairly far away from the airport where you’ll be landing and your flight gets in late at night, it might be advisable to just book a hotel near the airport and crash that first night you get in and worry about picking up car rentals or travelling long distances by car/train/boat the next morning. This is what we do. It keeps the continuity of domestic bliss – travel-related frustrations are a prime time trigger for spats and domestic arguments.

We like using Lonely Planet guides when we travel, and highly recommend them for researching interesting things to do in the area where you plan to travel. Most libraries have them, so you don’t necessarily even need to buy them. Trip Advisor can also be very helpful.

2. Packing

Pack Light – You’ll know best how to pack for your family and for what you plan to do when you get to your destination, but I do recommend that you pack fairly light. You’ll all usually end up wearing the same 3-4 outfits over and over and if you’re staying at an Airbnb you’ll likely have your own washing machine (and perhaps dryer) so you can wash your clothes as often as you need to.

Layering – Bring clothes you can layer. I’ve gone to ‘cold’ destinations to find I was boiling in an unseasonal heatwave and have gone to sunny destinations where it was colder than London (and I only had a beachy sort of wardrobe packed).

Two Pairs of shoes (max) – Keep shoes to a minimum. I often waste suitcase weight/space on shoes that we simply never end up wearing. You’ll have much better memories of your holiday if you and the kids all have comfortable shoes that keep your feet pain-free after lots of walking around and sight-seeing.

Compact Toiletries – I do travel with all the toiletries and make up I need, but my rule is that it all has to fit inside my size medium LL Bean toiletries bag. (As a former Vermonter, I do love my LL Bean!) My husband has one too for all his toiletries and shaving gear. I did lots of online research and read lots of reviews on these toiletries bags before deciding on this one. Some people have had theirs for 15 years plus and they are still in top shape. They also unzip and have a little built in hanger so you can hang them off a towel hook and keep everything tidy (and above toddler reach). I’ve recommended these to so many people, I should be getting a commission on these things! When my daughter gets older, she’ll get her own, but meanwhile she just shares with one of us because all she really has is a toothbrush, a tangle teaser, some Owie (which you can order here), a couple of bandaids and a small bottle of Calpol (just in case).

By packing light, you’ll have room to bring all the things that really matter – enough eco-disposable or cloth nappies (if your little one is still in them) and any food items you know that you or your kids couldn’t do without. I’m vegan, so I always pack a few chocolate chip Cliff bars so I know that I have something protein-filled to snack on, some Ningxia Red packets (to provide antioxidant support after the radiation exposure on the flight) and I also bring a small box of UHT plant based milk, for my tea/coffee on that first morning we are at our destination. My daughter is a huge fan of strawberry Yoyos, a natural version of a Fruit Rollup they sell here in the UK. They come in paper & card packaging so aren’t the most zero waste of snacks, but they aren’t too bad and they travel well in both hot and cold climates. This is also your chance to pack the ‘right shape of pasta’ or whatever your kid’s particular non-negotiable foible is. (For us, its porridge oats which are milled to our daughter’s exacting specifications – not too flaky, not too jumbo.) Don’t overdo it, but just be prepared.

3. Getting to the Airport

If you live in an urban area near your airport (and don’t have a kind family member to drop you off) its probably just easier to order a cab to collect you, but make sure its a very reputable firm you trust to show up on time. I’ve had local car companies let me down before. Companies which specialise in airport cars are more reliable in my experience and you can pre-pay for them. Give yourself more time at the airport than you think you will need – if you have an extra 45 minutes hanging out past security, big deal. Go to Starbucks or Pret (with your reusable cup) and have a coffee, or peruse the duty free shops. Whatever floats your boat. Its so much better to be a bit early.

You can also pre-book airport parking which is usually a really cheap option if you do it far enough in advance, but be aware that the transport vans which take you from the car park to the airport terminal are sometimes not too spacious (think tiny babies in bulky car seats) and don’t have safe booster seats for toddlers travelling – its a short distance, but still usually is about 10-15 minutes of driving from the offsite car park to the terminal and its often on a stretch of busy road.

If we have an early flight from Gatwick we pre-book an overnight at the Premier Inn at the North Terminal. (I’m not a budget hotel gal, but this chain is so so clean and comfortable in my experience.) They have a SleepParkFly package which includes up to 15 nights of free parking when you stay overnight there (with free meet & greet parking upon your return), so the cost of staying over is negligible (often the whole package is cheaper than the standard car parking package) and your car is waiting for you at the airport when you get back. Check if your local airport budget hotel does something similar. For us its amazing waking up and simply walking our sleepy toddler across the zebra crossing to the airport entrance – no early morning panic.

There is also the option of taking public transport which I find is just all too much for me when throwing a child and luggage for three people into the mix. But if you know your public transport is reliable, there’s no planned delays or works on the line, and it will get you there quickly without too many changes – then go for it.

Oh yeah…and before you leave for the airport, just make sure you have your kid’s stroller packed. I’m not kidding…this has happened to us before and we ended up having to find a stroller rental shop at our destination.

4. Flying to your destination

This can be really hard, especially if you’re flying with your little one(s) on your own, as I often do. When my daughter was a baby, I’d simply nurse her during take off and she’d fall into a deep sleep which would last most of the flight. Now that she’s older, its a bit harder to keep her happy on long flights. Some kids seem to get locked in to the inflight entertainment or an iPad, but that can often frustrate my little one and it makes her edgy, cranky and eventually ends in total melt down. We’ve found that old school entertainment like magic painting books (only water required!), a few dinosaur toys, and some crayons and colouring books work well. I don’t usually buy disposable literature, but its become a bit of a tradition (and a treat) for my daughter to get a Cebeebies magazine at the airport before each flight and it is worth every penny for the hours of entertainment it provides. It also includes a couple of toys which won’t induce a lifelong trauma when they inevitably get lost. (But if you know that the iPad will make your flight a harmonious one, then just go for it – just put it away when you get to your destination and don’t let it dominate the whole holiday.)

There won’t be any food served on budget airlines, so I usually go to Pret a Manger or Leon at the airport and stock up on some yummy sandwiches and snacks to keep everybody happy during the flight. I love starting my flight off with a coconut cappuccino!

If I’m really super organised I’ll have prepped a meal at home, at least for our daughter. I pack it in our eco-lunchbox which is also handy to have at our destination for making snack boxes to take down to the beach or on day trips. (Even if you’re staying at a hotel, you can load it up at the breakfast buffet to create a snack box for your toddler who will inevitably want to eat at the most inconvenient time imaginable.) Its never been something I consider a mistake to bring or a waste of space and it saves us a lot of money buying expensive, junky snack food while we’re out.

We also try to keep things reasonably zero waste, so I usually choose to have no in-flight meal for my daughter and myself (my husband always gets one) if its a flight under 7 hours. I find the amount of waste produced by in-flight meals really distressing and its not like the food is that great anyway. Just pack lots of yummy things from home supplemented by a few special treats picked up at the airport (if that’s your idea of a treat). My daughter loves the reassurance of having food that mommy has made and it makes the trip far more peaceful for her and for us. As long as any liquid or soupy consistency foods are kept under 100ml in containers which hold no more than 100ml maximum, you’ll be fine. Bring water bottles for everybody and fill them up at the filtered water fountain after you pass security. This way you won’t have to drink the plastic bottled water on the plane – at least until you exhaust your own supplies.

For babies drinking formula, you should be fine getting those past security. Be aware that you are entitled to bring a reasonable amount of formula to meet your baby’s requirements for the journey and the 100ml limit does not apply here. If you are travelling with a formula fed infant, you’ll find it far more comfortable to bring enough of your own supplies with you in your checked luggage rather than relying on buying formula at your destination. Babies can be so funny about tastes and brands and although the formulas being sold in other countries are likely to be safe and fine, you might not be able to read the ingredient list, and you’re really best off having an adequate supply of the product you know brought from your home country. For more details, check out this article from Hipp Organics which sets out all your rights and has some good advice.

When it comes to pumped breastmilk, you never know what stupidheads you might encounter though, and many a mama has had to dump her precious stash. Although the rules vary from country to country, in the UK, US and Canada you are entitled to pack breastmilk in your hand luggage. Here are the UK, US and Canadian rules for travelling with pumped breastmilk in your hand luggage, as they vary on quantities allowed and how the milk will be screened by security.

5. Once you get there

Sometimes your host will meet you at the property, but most hosts simply install a key safe and will email you the necessary security codes to access the keys. (Write these down somewhere just in case your phone battery dies or you lose your phone.) Your little one(s) might be exhausted when they get to the property (or hyper and overtired). It might be a good idea to encourage a nap or some quiet down-time while you unpack and get yourself situated into the property.

This is a good opportunity to look at the information folder your host will have left you and see if there is a local supermarket they recommend. Otherwise, you should be able to find one on Google. Personally, I love grocery shopping in foreign countries, seeing what the local foods are like and trying all the local vegan brands. I always pack a couple of lightweight reusable shopping bags and reusable produce bags in case we’re lucky enough to come a farmers market.

We don’t like to over-schedule or over-plan when travelling with young children. Its actually no fun for anyone if you try to cram too many activities into each day, as you’ll end up dragging screaming, overtired children out of museums or attractions you’ve spent a fortune to see. But you also don’t want to find you’ve left your destination without having done any of the activities or having seen any of the sights you wanted to. We sketch out a rough schedule (we’re talking back of an envelope here) of the things we want to do and build in a few relaxation days or unplanned days. This allows for spontaneity and in the mornings we can wake up and check the weather before deciding to spend the day at the beach or going on a hike or seeing a cultural site. You definitely can do all these things with kids, but just don’t push it. Remember its their holiday too. We always plan in a special day of stuff just for our daughter, even on short breaks. It often ends up being our favourite day of the holiday.

Let snacktimes and mealtimes happen as usual – pack enough food, snacks and water for yourself and the kids for day trips or outings and if it looks like the kiddos are getting sleepy, try to allow time for a bit of a snooze – in the buggy, on a picnic blanket in the shade after lunch or in the car while you’re driving. Remember, they’re little, and seeing all new things and their little brains are working hard assimilating a lot of new information and maybe even hearing a new language. They deserve a little down time and you’ll probably even find its good for you too.


The Certifications You Need to Find the Right “Green” Mattress

A mattress isn’t something you think about until it’s time for a new one. With millions of mattresses sent to landfills each year, they’ve become a growing concern because of the difficulty of their disposal. Growing environmental and human health concerns have begun to change the mattress industry. Today, with the help of certifications from independent organizations, you can find a mattress made through sustainable methods with low environmental impact, and that won’t expose you or your family to harmful chemicals.

Look for Certifications

Mattresses are a complex product with many layers that each have to go through their own manufacturing processes before reaching consumers. In addition to the complexity of the product, the mattress industry does not have a governing body that sets standards or regulations for what constitutes a “green” mattress.

Labels like “organic,” “all-natural,” or even “eco-friendly” may only apply to one component of the mattress or one step of the manufacturing process. Rather than relying on sales labels, it’s better to read the mattresses’ materials list and look for certifications by independent organizations that monitor environmental, social, and human health-related concerns such as:

  • OEKO-TEX Standard 100: For this certification, eighteen independent institutes from Europe and Japan test products to be sure they do not exceed established limits for certain chemicals.

  • CertiPUR-US: This certification only applies to products that use polyurethane foam. The foam is tested for chemical emissions as well as other harmful materials like lead.

  • Eco-Institut: Based in Germany, the Eco-Institut is an independent certification organization that tests for harmful emissions and chemical substances in textiles and building materials. They most often certify latex mattresses.

  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): GOTS focuses on organic fibers, evaluating both raw materials and their derivatives. The certification is only given to products made with 95 percent certified organic materials. The remaining 5 percent cannot contain other materials that have been known to be harmful to humans, like polyfoam or formaldehyde.

  • Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS): GOLS only evaluates latex products and is similar to GOTS in that the latex must be at least 95 percent organically produced. Natural latex mattresses may have both a GOTS and GOLS certification.

  • OEKO-TEX MADE IN GREEN: This certification looks at the processes used to produce products and monitors the sustainability of manufacturing practices.

  • Cradle to Cradle: To receive this certification organic fibers and materials are examined and tested for a variety of sustainable criteria like carbon emissions, water conservation, and ecological impact. It is most often applied to natural latex and the organic materials used in mattress covers.

Green Mattress Options

Though there’s no mattress on the market that’s 100 percent green, there are several mattress options that are environmentally friendly. No matter what type of bed you choose, you can check the materials used in the mattress for environmentally friendly options, such as:

  • Plant-based polyfoam and memory foam

  • Organic fibers in the mattress cover like wool and cotton

  • Wool, cotton, thistle, or Kevlar fire socks (Kevlar is not a natural substance but does not have to be treated with any chemicals during production.)

These substances can be found in the basic mattress types—foam, innerspring, hybrid. However, the most environmentally friendly and only mattress option that’s biodegradable is natural latex.

Natural latex mattresses are made from the sap of the rubber tree, a sustainable resource. The sap must go through one of two manufacturing processes, Dunlop or Talalay. The Dunlop process produces a dense, durable mattress with a thicker layer of latex on the bottom. This process is simple, energy efficient, leaves a small carbon footprint, and is less expensive than the Talalay process. (Though it should be noted that latex mattresses are amongst the most expensive mattresses on the market.) The Talalay process takes more resources but produces a softer, bouncier mattress than the Dunlop process.

These natural latex mattresses are technically biodegradable but it takes years to break down, and there will still be a small amount of material left over. They also have some synthetic latex, which is derived from petrochemicals, and these chemicals are expensive.

If a 95 percent natural latex mattress is out of your budget, some natural latex mattresses use a Dunlop core for its denseness with Talalay comfort layers to get the benefits of both. Other manufacturers have begun to combine innersprings with latex for the sustainability of the latex and comfort of the innerspring. These hybrids aren’t as expensive and offer a good combination of comfort and affordability.

You’ll have to weigh in not only environmental and human health concerns when choosing a mattress but comfort issues as well. Look for a mattress with the right certifications so that you know it’s been produced in an eco- and human-friendly way but will also allow you to get a good night’s rest for years to come.

This article was a non-paid collaboration (guest post) with bestmattressreviews.com, a small but valuable website from Seattle staffed by a team of veterans from the mattress industry who write about sleep health and conduct independent reviews on sleep products.

Rick Blanchard is an expert on sleep product materials and manufacturing for BestMattressReviews.com. His research covers the entire life cycle of mattresses and bedding, including production, wear over time, and disposal. Rick lives in Tarrytown, New York.

Green & Sustainable Style Edit – September 2016

I’m a bit late getting this month’s style edit out.  There are several reasons.  Life happens, stuff gets busy, and I turned one year older.  But here I am and I’m really happy with this month’s look.  It reflects my feelings about September.  Going back to work after a long summer holiday.  The return to more structured clothes and lady-like style.  And for me, it signals the return to school.  After a two year break to enjoy pregnancy and my daughter’s infancy, I am now returning to finish my studies in Naturopathic Nutritional Therapy.  Its a part time course, and I will be attending the classes and clinics on weekends, so my daughter will be with her father while I’m not around.  (They have all kinds of fun things planned without me.)

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While for many, the return to school can mean wearing comfy clothes, for me that can’t happen.  I will be starting to attend the student clinics this year (scary!) and we need to look professional when seeing clients.  Here are some pieces which really caught my eye this season from a few of my favourite green/eco clothing companies.  For my first look I’ve gone for a Breakfast at Tiffany’s inspired theme and have paired a simple pair of organic cotton tapered black Alba trousers from People Tree with a structured NIA wool and recycled fibre blend boucle top from Komodo.

This is also the first time I have featured Beyond Skin, the Brighton-based (Hove, actually) vegan shoe company.  I struggle with vegan leather alternatives sometimes because they often simply replace leather with non-biodegradable plastics and other environmentally unfriendly options.  But what I like about Beyond Skin is that they are both ethical and environmentally conscious.  They incorporate organic and ecologically sustainable materials wherever possible and their shoe components are sourced from Spain and Italy and then produced in Spain – so all within the EU.  At present, they do incorporate PU into their soles, but in time they aspire to phasing this out to create a shoe free from all non-recycled petroleum products.  But…yadda yadda yadda…they’re doing the best they can at the moment and they make gorgeous shoes which are worn by more glamorous movie stars than you can shake a stick at. (Natalie Portman wore exclusively Beyond Skin in her movie V for Vendetta.)   This month I’ve featured two versions of their Shelley flats – one in a faux suede and the other in a shiny faux leather.

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For my second look I’ve continued with my Audrey Hepburn inspiration and have brought together a Komodo TAIO bamboo jersey dress with a cotton Wrasse jacket from Cornish designer, Seasalt.  I’ve accessorised it with a very simple vintage silk Hermes scarf in a bright autumn colour.

3093For perfume, I’ve been wearing my favourite essential oil of the moment, Idaho Blue Spruce.  I added a rollerball to the top of the bottle and roll it along the top of my spine and along the tops of my tension-ridden shoulders.  I find it an incredibly comforting smell and with all the uncertainty I’m experiencing with preparing for my return to school, comfort is what I need right now.  (Better than finding comfort in a plate of macaroni cheese, right?)  Idaho Blue Spruce is meant to bring a sense of balance, to release emotional blocks and clear emotional trauma.

What about you…what are you wearing this season now that there’s a slight chill in the air?

Our Little Organic Life Spring 2016 Style Edit

This Spring the OLOL family will be doing some travelling to the South of France and Southern Italy.   Pretty stylish places, huh?  Well, just because we try to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle doesn’t mean that we can’t look good while doing it, so thought I’d share what I’m planning to shove in my suitcase.  I’m going for a really simple capsule wardrobe where everything coordinates.  Wardrobe emergencies hundreds of miles from home are NOT COOL.  We’ll be doing lots of walking around in the sun so a big floppy sun hat, a pair of comfy shoes and my faithful Oliver Peoples Layla sunglasses will all be in order, as will a large capacity tote bag to carry around bottles of water, snacks for the baby and an extra nappy or two.
After a couple of years of use, my tan suede Sebagos need to be retired and I’ll probably buy these suede Tom’s sneakers to replace them.  Also, Anthropologie is a favourite of mine and I’ll be heading there before I go to look for some sort of loose linen jacket like this Eva Franco coat to wear in the evenings when it gets a bit cooler.  I tend not to travel with jewellery but have a simple amber tagua nut chunky bracelet which I’ll wear as an accent piece and as it wasn’t expensive, I won’t be devastated if it gets lost or stolen.
Food wise, we won’t be bringing much with us.  I mean…we’re going to France and Italy for pete’s sake.  But I will pack a couple bags of emergency snacks, just in case.  My favourites are these beetroot and acerola kale chips from InSpiral.  I’ll also bring a few Ella’s Kitchen coconut and pineapple smoothies for the baby.
So happy Spring and happy travels!

MaxMara short sleeve shirt
houseoffraser.co.uk

Paige Denim blue jeans
£180 – brownsfashion.com

TOMS suede shoes
£55 – cusp.com

A L C hobo handbag
£550 – saksfifthavenue.com

Eugenia Kim beach hat
£300 – anthropologie.com

Oliver Peoples oversized sunglasses
£67 – therealreal.com

Chantecaille eyeshadow
£18 – farfetch.com

Chantecaille eyeshadow
£18 – farfetch.com

Baby Essentials: What to Have Before Baby Arrives

Having your first baby is a bit like getting married.  The minute its obvious that you’re pregnant, sales clerks see pound signs in neon lights on your forehead.  There are so many things to buy.  All of them designed to make your baby smarter, better, faster, happier, cuter…and with a rounder head.  And very little of it do you actually need.  But when you tell the sales clerk you’re looking to buy organic, environmentally responsible products…well, weirdo.  Sadly, I suspect that those of us looking to buy natural products for their babies are in the minority, because even the big ‘healthy living’ stores like Planet Organic and Wholefoods have very little to offer aside from nappies and baby skincare.

As I’ve recently had a baby, and have gone through all the trouble of tracking down these products for my own use, I thought it might be helpful to share my list of essential items to have prepared at home for when your baby arrives.  You can get most of these things from Amazon or John Lewis. However, if there are local eco stores in your town, I would encourage you to shop there…or better yet, see if you have friends and family who could lend you or give you hand-me-downs of the following items. So many of these items are used for such a short time, and not all can be found in environmentally friendly versions or at least in effective environmentally friendly versions.

As a blanket statement, when buying new cotton items, I prefer to buy organic, but if you’re getting non-organic hand me downs or gifts, don’t sweat it and just use those.  Why buy organic?  Because cotton production is responsible for 25% of the world’s insecticide use and 10% of its pesticide use, with those pesticides being amongst the most hazardous and carcinogenic.  Not only do you not want any of that residue against baby’s skin, its just more environmentally responsible.

1.  Your hospital bag and your baby’s hospital bag

I will be doing a separate post on this, but make sure that you have two bags ready to pack.  Its much easier to keep your things separate from baby’s things.  This is so your things can be easily accessed during labour and you’ll only need access to baby’s things once he or she is born.  Your bag should be a small suitcase or duffle bag and baby’s bag can be your nappy/diaper changing bag.  My husband bought me this Skip Hop changing bag for Christmas before the baby was born and it was perfect to have in hospital, and continues to be useful to this day for its original purpose as a changing bag.

2.  Something to Sleep In

I know plenty of people who used an empty drawer as baby’s bed for the first few months of their lives.  And others who chose to co-sleep.  But…I wasn’t about to put my baby in an empty drawer.  And despite being a natural mama, I just wasn’t comfortable with the risks associated with co-sleeping (even with safe co-sleeping guidance).  We were given a Moses basket and I found it useful having her in the basket right beside my bed to pick her up for comforting and late night feedings.  I liked that it was made from renewable resources and would easily biodegrade once it had reached the end of its lifespan.  I found the Moses basket to be convenient, safe, easy to move around the house and inexpensive.  Only you will know how long your baby needs to be sleeping in your bedroom with you, but the Moses basket will contain them for roughly 3-6 months before they outgrow it and need to go into a cot (unless you are a long-term co-sleeper).  To go with the Moses basket, you will need a mattress, fitted sheets and ideally a stand or rocker base.

I’ve included links below to a plain, undressed palm basket (the same one we had), a natural mattress to fit it and the same rocker base we had.

You may be able to live without the rocker base or stand…but your lumbar region may not, so give it some consideration.

Two fitted sheets should be enough.  I recommend organic cotton jersey sheets.  The jersey is soft and doesn’t need to be ironed.  There are organic waterproof mattress protectors for Moses baskets, but unless your mattress isn’t already waterproof, as most are, you won’t need one of these.

3.  Cellular Blanket

You will be given many, many blankets as presents.  Some for the cot, some for the pram.  But just in case these don’t appear until after baby is born, its best to ensure you have one in the house ready to cover your baby in their Moses basket and/or pram.  Cellular blankets are made with a loose weave so if the blanket goes over baby’s face, they should still be able to get air and will be less likely to overheat which is associated with cot death.  The cellular blanket in the link below is made from organic and unbleached cotton.

4.  Muslin Squares

Prepare to spend the next six months of your life mopping up poo, wee, vomit and drool.  You will get used to it.  These muslin squares were recommended to me by every parent I know.  And they were right.  They serve as burp cloths, drool catchers, towels, napkins, baby wipes…you name it.  Its best to buy around 20-24 of these.  Cotton is good, but bamboo is far more absorbent and the ones below are made from organic bamboo.

5.  A Tippitoes Bath & Sponge

I am recommending this product specifically by brand as it has a raised section in the base and anti-slip back rest that helps babies feel supported and safe.  Everyone told me to not bother getting a baby bath as you can wash them in a sink or the dish pan.  This was bad advice!  I did this for the first few weeks and consequently my little one hated bath time and screamed her way through – first in the dishpan (which was awkward) and then in the sink (which was uncomfortable for both of us)…until my friend lent me her son’s Tippitoes bath that he’d outgrown.  Bath time instantly became fun, for both baby and me.  She felt supported and safe and I was able to have more fun with her as she splashed around and giggled.  More practically, I could finally wash her more easily with the sea sponge now that I wasn’t having to hold her in place.  This product is not natural.  It is plastic and it is expensive-ish for what it is at around £13.99.  However, they can be found second hand on eBay and if you choose to buy one new, the resale value on eBay is very good, so you can pass it on to the next person.  Don’t bother buying any baby toiletries as they are too harsh for baby’s newborn skin and you won’t need them until later down the road.  Even now at 4 months, I still only use coconut oil with a single drop of lavender or chamomile essential oil to wash my baby.

     

6.  Baby Towels

Your baby will need a couple of hooded towels for after bath time.  Lots of shops recommend Cuddledry apron towels which do look really cozy and they are organic.  If you can afford them at £29.99 each, great.  However we just bought very simple, hooded baby towels which we use for bath time and now that our baby is older, we can take them to the pool too.

7.  Water Wipes

There are some wonderful ways to make your own reusable baby wipes at home and someday I’ll provide links to the YouTube videos I’ve found useful.  Even if you already plan on using reusable wipes, you will want to make your life easier when baby comes – just for the first couple of weeks – by using Water Wipes.  The olive oil and cotton wool combo recommended by the hospital is just really messy and you cannot use conventional baby wipes on a newborn – nor would I want to do so at any stage (have you seen the ingredients in those things???) – but Water Wipes are 99.9% water and .1% fruit extract, so they’re very gentle on baby’s skin and they do an excellent job of cleaning even sticky meconium.  I order them by the case at home and keep them at the baby’s changing station and in my changing bag.

8.  Nappies

You’ll need to have some disposables packed away in your baby’s hospital bag anyway, so just go ahead and buy a pack of eco-friendly disposables.  We are a cloth nappy household and I would encourage anybody else to do the same.  Modern cloth nappies are effective and just as easy to use and maintain as disposables.  But for the same reasons as recommending the Water Wipes, you’ll want to make life with a newborn as easy as possible for those first couple of weeks.  Out of the natural brands of nappies, we found the Swedish brand Naty worked the best for us and our friends.  They are made from GMO-free corn, are biodegradable and don’t contain the chemicals found in conventional brands such as Huggies and Pampers.  We also tried Beaming Baby Biodegradable Nappies but found them to be consistently very leaky.  I’ve heard good things about Bambo Nature Nappies, but I’ve not tried them yet.  We still buy the eco-friendly disposables for longer outings away from home so I recommend finding one that works for you.  That being said, I would discourage anyone from buying conventional disposable nappies.  The average baby will create around 2 tons of nappy waste in their lifetime and this will take a minimum of 500 years to degrade away in landfills, so please do give cloth nappies or at least eco-friendly disposables a try.

When and if you are ready to try cloth nappies, remember that every baby is a different shape so different cuts or brands may fit them best.  I learned the hard way that you also get what you pay for with cloth nappies.  Also, if you buy ‘one size fits all’ nappies or nappies that are too big for your newborn, you will get lots of leaks and you’ll be put off the whole idea of using cloth.  For us, AppleCheeks and FuzziBunz® brands were, and continue to be, the best.

If you want to cloth diaper from birth then I would recommend Fuzzibunz because they offer an x-small nappy (4-12 lbs) whereas AppleCheeks size 1 only starts at 7 lbs.  That was fine for our big baby but if you know that yours might be a bit more on the tiny size, then Fuzzibunz may be the way to go.  You can also buy your cloth nappies second hand.  eBay has now banned this practice on their site, but there are lots of Facebook groups where you can buy and sell second hand cloth nappies.  Its not as gross as it sounds and its a cheap way of trying out different brands.

 Apple+Cheeks.jpg

9. Footed Sleepsuits/Onesies

You know that cute little Ralph Lauren mini version of Daddy’s sweater vest and khakis ensemble or the adorable Bonpoint dress with cashmere cardigan you’ve already bought your bump?  Yeah, they won’t wear it.  I mean you might get it on them for a photograph and for meeting the grandparents or something, but your newborn will be much happier in sleepsuits.  And you’ll be happier having them in sleepsuits because they’re so freakin’ easy to get on and off.  No ironing of tiny miniature pleats or ruffles.  Again, I recommend organic and buy a few newborn sized ones, if you can find them.  They won’t be wearing them for long but even if you have a big baby, you’ll still get a couple of months’ use out of them.  You can then either save them for the next baby, donate them to a charity shop, eBay them or sell them on one of the plethora of specialist organic baby clothes buy & sell groups on Facebook.

I say ‘footed’ sleepsuits so you don’t have to use those horrible little newborn socks that don’t stay on and will just clog up the filters on your washing machine.  Its the same for scratch mitts.  If you can find a sleepsuit with built in scratch mitts, you’ll appreciate it so their little talons aren’t ripping apart both you and them.  (Tip:  If you insist on using newborn socks and scratch mitts, wash them in a lingerie bag so they can’t get into the nooks and crannies…and filters and mechanisms…of your machine.)

Unfortunately when my baby was born, I couldn’t find any organic sleepsuits in newborn size, so we used a combination of second hand normal cotton sleepsuits in newborn size and some 0-3 month organic Toby Tiger sleepsuits.  I have now found that L’ovedBaby make newborn sized sleepsuits and sleepgowns.

          

10. Bodysuits

Have around 3 to 5 or so of these on hand before baby arrives in newborn size.  If your baby is born during the colder part of the year, they are handy to layer underneath their sleep suit as an extra layer of warmth.  In the summer it may be their main wardrobe staple.  What we found worked best for us were these little kimono style bodysuits by L’ovedBaby which wrap around your baby rather than being pulled over their heads…something which is incredibly enraging to a newborn for some reason.  Down the road they will also be awfully helpful at containing poo blow outs.  The L’ovedBaby 100% Organic Cotton Kimono Short Sleeve Bodysuits come in loads of lovely colours and are available in newborn size which will fit preemies – something normally quite tricky to find in an organic brand.

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11.  A Newborn Hat

Just buy one of these little Newborn Baby Hats.  These Lilano brand ones look like the one which Princess Charlotte wore when she came out of hospital and they are made from 70% Organic Merino Wool and 30% Silk and they even come in a Preemie size (2-5 lbs).  Little babies only need a hat on indoors during their time in hospital, as they’ve just popped out of a very warm, cozy environment into a cold one.  Once they’ve acclimatised however, don’t keep the hat on all the time while indoors like your mother and grandmother will tell you to do.  Overheating your baby is linked to cot death and unless your house is very cold, keep the hat off until you go outside.  Cotton ones are more common, but wool ones are designed to help regulate baby’s temperature and avoid overheating.  If you do prefer cotton (or if you’re vegan and eschew wool and silk) these colourful Toby Tiger jersey hats are so incredibly soft and are in such fun colours…though we only discovered them once our baby was a couple of weeks old.

hasmultst-front

12.  A Swaddle & This Book!

Buy something to swaddle with and a copy of this book:  The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp, MD.  It does what it says on the tin.  Key to the whole process is swaddling your baby.  So get a swaddle.  Even if you think your baby doesn’t like swaddling.  Get a swaddle.  You can buy a fancy swaddle like the Gro Swaddle which is idiot proof (I say from experience) and comes in a non-organic cute version with little woodland animals or in a plain organic version (which for some reason is a few pounds cheaper).  You can also just use a big square of fabric like a blanket in winter or a big muslin square in summer.

     

13.  A Car Seat

If you have a car, you will need a car seat.  If you don’t have a car but ever travel in other people’s cars, you will need a car seat.  What you don’t need is a car seat base.  While they are incredibly handy for easily clicking the car seat in and out of the car, they are expensive (considerably more than the seat itself) and are unnecessary.  It takes about 10 seconds to buckle baby into their car seat with the seatbelt.

Do try to get a car seat which is compatible with your model of pram/stroller.

For instance, we have a Bugaboo Cameleon3 pram/stroller system and we bought the BeSafe iZi Go carseat with five point locking system which clips on to the Bugaboo base with adapters.  You can use the same adapters with Maxi-Cosi carseats, although they only have a three point locking system.

Do try to get a car seat with a five point locking system, if possible, for added safety, or buy a five point locking systems adapter to fit onto your existing car seat.  Its available from places like Halfords (here in the UK).

Stokke iZi Go 120330-6921 black_15844

14.  A Pram/Stroller System

Pram and stroller shopping is like buying a new car.  You cannot do it online.  You have to go to the actual store – perhaps several times – and try each stroller out, weighing up the pros and cons of each.  It is a major investment.  It is also the only baby-related thing your husband will enjoy buying.

Do not let him take over.  He is not the one who will be spending the next two and a half to three years pushing the child in it all day, everyday.  Unless he is going to be a stay at home dad…in which case, ignore the previous sentence, and let him take over.

You will very likely wish to buy something which converts from pram to stroller so you can use it from newborn to toddler stage.

If you live in a city, make sure you buy something lightweight, with a sharp turning radius and something which is not too wide so you can get onto trains and buses easily.  If you live in the country, make sure you get something with heavy duty enough wheels to manage gravel, mud and grass which little wheels can get stuck in.  We went for the Bugaboo Cameleon3 because it managed all of the above criteria really well, but there are other good systems available at a lower cost.  You can get second hand Bugaboo strollers on eBay, and all the parts are available to buy separately, so it means if one piece breaks or is damaged, you don’t need to scrap the whole stroller.  My friend bought the base chassis second hand for £80 and then bought all the other bits, such as the pram and stroller fabrics, new,  which saved her a bundle and got her a very nice pram/stroller system for her little boy.

15.  Newborn Healthcare Kit

At some point within a day of two of getting home with your baby, you will be convinced that your little one has a fever and you will need to obsessively take their temperature, or you will need to suck out the little baby boogers from their sniffly noses, or to trim their tiny talon-like nails that grow incredibly fast and are oh-so-sharp.  Or if your baby isn’t bald (mine was) then you might even just want to brush their lovely soft hair.  This is when you will need a Healthcare Kit.  Its not quite as serious as a first aid kit, but is more than just grooming tools.

16.  Bottles

However you end up feeding your baby, its helpful to have a couple of bottles on hand.  You don’t need to buy a steriliser or a breast pump in advance.  Unless you’re full time formula feeding, a steriliser is just another big piece of equipment on your kitchen counter and its quick to sterilise using boiling water by immersing everything in a pan of boiling water for 10 minutes.  The bottles will stay sterile in a covered saucepan for about three hours afterwards.  While you may end up buying your own breast pump down the road, don’t bother doing it now.  You can rent the really good hospital grade breast pumps from the NCT, your hospital, a variety of commercial companies or your local children’s centre which often rents them for free, with a deposit which is refunded when the machine is returned.  We bought these Nuk glass baby bottles which don’t leach any chemicals into our baby’s milk (there are more chemicals in plastics than the now banned BPA, I’m afraid).  There are a number of glass baby bottles on the market but we found these Nuk ones were the least expensive, were sturdy (not a single breakage yet) and they have the benefit of the Nuk anti-colic teats.  Edit:  Also over time we have found them to be useful as snack pots for older baby/toddlers because they come with little screw on lids.

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