Having a baby shouldn't cost the earth: Tips for zero waste parenting
Having a baby shouldn't cost the earth, and with just a few simple daily adjustments, you can turn your whole family into eco-warriors, writes Deirdre Rooney
Pat Kane had always been eco-conscious. Like her husband Stephen, her love of nature and the outdoors inspired her to live her life with as little an impact on the environment as possible. But when they had their first baby, they were in for a rude awakening.
"After the baby was born we started to notice that the amount of rubbish at our house was rising at an alarming rate," Pat says. "From plastic wraps and bottles, to random boxes covered in plastic tape, not to mention the mountains of disposable nappies. Also, due to the lack of time and very will to leave the house with that precious newborn baby, we ended up ordering a lot of things online which meant a bunch of bubble wrapping, plastic film, plastic tape, styrofoam and then a lot of paper. Every night after the last feed I would frustratingly stare at our bin and think, 'If just two adults and a tiny baby can generate so much waste, imagine an office or a school?'"
For such small human beings, babies require - and acquire - a lot of 'stuff'. Toys, clothes, nappies, wipes, bottles, structures to help them sit, walkers… the list is endless. And when you consider how quickly they grow and in turn grow out of things, all that 'stuff' quickly becomes redundant. Households become swamped in baby things that weary parents just want rid of. In effect, it all becomes rubbish destined for landfill if certain steps are not taken.
With people everywhere tuning in to the importance and seriousness of caring for the environment, parents too are doing their bit. And the most effective place to start is often the hardest - by cutting out disposable nappies.
As new parents try to get a grasp on caring for a baby, quick and easy conveniences like disposable nappies and baby wipes make those early days a little less stressful. But these nappies and wipes are proving incredibly damaging to the environment.
Earlier this year RTÉ aired a show, One Day: How Ireland Cleans Up, about Ireland's waste production and the clean-up that goes with it. Amongst other things, it revealed that in just one day we throw away one million nappies and wash 700,000 machine loads of clothes. These staggering figures are making parents take notice of the impact their parenting choices are having on the environment. With the protection and safety of their children the number one priority - including leaving them a healthy earth to live in - greener, cleaner parenting is a growing trend. It's a win win for everyone: eco-friendly parenting is a great way to save money, keep your children healthy and chemical-free, and of course ensure a healthy planet for future generations.
There are a number of ways to introduce green parenting into your routine. From washable nappies, to second-hand toys and clothes, every step taken is worthwhile. For Pat and her husband Stephen, they began with a 'household rubbish audit'. "We started looking for realistic sustainable alternatives for all that rubbish that was surrounding us. The mission was clear - we needed to produce less waste, avoiding disposables and non-recyclable items," says Pat. And with a baby in the house, this included saying farewell to disposable nappies.
"For us, the hardest part was giving reusable nappies a go, for two reasons: time was an issue, and we weren't sure about how well they would wash. But they wash spectacularly well and it only takes two minutes to offload them," says Pat.
Pat, mother to two boys - Thomas (5) and Conor (1) - went a step further than most and set up her own company, Reuzi.ie, a one-stop shop to help families achieve more sustainable living. "I remembered when we first started trying to reduce our waste, sourcing all the bits and bobs that help to make this lifestyle possible was rather challenging, my experience as a customer wasn't great. I was buying a few things online and others at markets or from friends of friends. The whole experience was horribly fragmented. I thought wouldn't it be great if that process was streamlined in the form of a helpful, well priced, one-stop zero waste shop? And so Reuzi was born," Pat says.
Parenting a tiny baby not only has the potential to produce a lot of waste, it can also contribute to polluting the waters. Babies spit up on clothes (theirs and yours), they soil themselves, so the washing in a household increases dramatically. Add to that washing reusable nappies, and suddenly your machine is working over-time. One way to lessen the damaging impact of washes on the water environment is to switch to a phosphate-free laundry detergent. If bought in concentrated form, it will also reduce packaging.
Be sure not to let the washing put you off reusable nappies or even wipes, says Siobhan Elsom, founder of earthmother.ie, a site that supplies everything a modern eco-family might need. And it's through this site that Siobhan has noticed an increase in interest in all things reusable.
"Definitely in the last year or two, as word of mouth spreads, and parents realise that they are so easy to use, there has been an increase in demand for reusable nappies. And reusable wipes go hand in hand with cloth nappies - but now there are also disposable wipes like Jackson Reece available that will biodegrade when composted, so there's something for everyone."
Like Pat, Siobhan knew early on she would raise her family in a green environment. "I've always been a bit of the hippy amongst my friends, but I became far more aware of natural alternatives when I was pregnant for the first time. I have three kids - Conall (11), Cian (9), and Ciara (7) - and all of them were in bumGenius cloth nappies. You will be putting on extra washes, but that's all - it's usually a wash every two to three days, hang them out to dry, and they're ready to go again."
The sleepless nights that come with a new baby have most parents reaching for coffee whenever they can throughout the day. An obvious change here is to ditch the disposable cups and get yourself a keep-cup. Siobhan has noticed other ways in which parents are making green decisions.
"Parents are embracing products that are more sustainable instead of single-use throwaway stuff. So as well as nappies, our sales of stainless steel water bottles for kids and adults have skyrocketed, as well as reusable coffee cups, steel straws, bamboo toothbrushes, menstrual cups, cleaning products and even reusable sandwich wraps," says Siobhan.
In addition to chemical-free household goods, in the summer months parents could consider switching to a chemical-free sunscreen. The sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone can affect hormones and allergies in humans, according to the EWG (Environmental Working Group), and is also believed to pose a threat to the ocean environment as it's been found to cause coral bleaching and coral death. Hawaii has even recently banned the sunscreen ingredient to protect its waters. A good chemical-free alternative is a sunscreen that contains zinc oxide, a mineral that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
As parents take whatever steps they can to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute less to landfill, their kids are already ahead of the game.
"Kids these days are coming home with a lot more information on why it is so important to look after our planet and it's our responsibility to ride that wave," says Pat. "Parents are up for the challenge and I constantly have customers of mine seeking advice on several different areas - from school lunchboxes to nappies, from where to shop package-free dry goods to where to find plastic-free bandages."
5 Tips for Zero Waste Parenting
By switching disposable nappies with reusable cloth nappies and wipes, you’ll reduce waste and eliminate landfill. Swap harmful chemical-laden
laundry detergents with eco-friendly alternatives to reduce the pollution in water.
Instead of buying individually packaged items of baby food and snacks, make your own baby meals and store them in reusable glass containers. Cooking fresh food in bulk like this is healthier and also money-saving.
Instead of plastic toys with lights and musical buttons — which will end up in landfill — aim for wood-crafted puzzles and toys, and felt materials.
As babies get bigger, it’s not just clothes that they grow out of. Think toys, books, cribs, baby aids like bath seats and walkers. Instead of buying all these things for friends, see what you can pass on to new parents.
Make recycling easy, accessible and the norm in your home. Teach your kids early on how to organise items into different recycling bins.