Is it really possible to be a greener parent AND stay sane?
Let’s face it – children are almost as destructive on the environment as they are on your pelvic floor. Kids toy and clothing manufacturers are evil geniuses, endlessly tempting us with cute baby grows and the latest gadgets to make our children cleverer and our parenting easier. Buy-it, break-it, poo-on-it, outgrow-it, chuck-it, buy more stuff. It’s a continuous merry-go-round of consumption and waste. And anything that survives longer than a week is made of unbreakable plastic. This seems like a good idea until you consider the huge plastic pollution problem we’re facing and what happens to it all when you’re finished with it. Then there’s the wonderfully convenient, but planet-destroying, sewer-blocking essentials like baby wipes and nappies to think about. Sheesh. We’re doomed!
I don’t want to blow your mind, but it is possible to live without baby wipes
Believe me, we know that keeping small people clean, fed and watered is hard work. Living without essentials like baby wipes sounds like crazy talk, especially when your child likes to spread marmite with their face. Thankfully there are a growing number of parents demanding more eco-friendly alternatives. Because of that greater demand retailers and manufacturers are catching-on, so alternatives to disposable wipes and nappies are becoming better designed, easier to use and more readily available. And the added bonus is that the eco-friendly alternatives are often kinder to your bank balance, your little ones and the planet. Even so, with so many products out there jumping on the green bandwagon, it’s often a little overwhelming to know where to start. Never fear. If you’re considering what small changes you can make to reduce your impact as a family, we’ve done some of the hard work for you.
How to start being a greener parent
It’s World Environment Day this month so we’ve been searching out most useful green parenting tips from some of those at the forefront of often local-community led projects to reduce the environmental impact of parenting. They’re coming-up with clever new ways to reuse and recycle clothes, toys and baby equipment and reduce family waste. One group local to me, Do It Like a Mother, is a community of women and mothers who are inspiring, supporting and empowering each other in lots of amazing ways – including giving advice on eco-parenting and cloth nappies. And their resident expert in this area – nanny, mother of two, hypnobirthing coach and cloth-nappy queen Steph, has shared her thoughts with me on where to start if you’d like to become a greener family.
What inspired you to live a greener life?
Having my daughter. I’m ashamed to admit it but the environment wasn’t something I’d given much thought to at all before that. When she arrived I thought about what I would be leaving behind for her and started taking more of an interest. The more I found out, the more sure I was that minimising our family’s environmental impact was a huge priority for me as a mum.
What was the biggest change you made to move towards being more environmentally friendly?
We’ve made a lot of choices with this in mind, but deciding to use cloth nappies was probably the one with the most impact. For me it was a no-brainer. Instead of literally throwing money away on a product that ends up in landfill at massive cost to me and the environment I could invest in cloth nappies and use them again and again.
Why use cloth nappies?
It’s estimated that three billion nappies are thrown away annually in the UK. Most of that waste goes into landfill because the packaging and the nappies themselves contain plastic. By the time each child is potty trained, you’re likely to have been through 4-6000 disposable nappies. And each of those nappies is estimated to take 2-500 years to decompose. So the environmental impact of disposables is staggering. Not to mention the financial cost. You’re paying hundreds of pounds every year to buy those nappies and then throw them away. There are a few different bits of research on this, but all seem to agree that even including the cost of washing and drying cloth nappies they work out much cheaper. Plus you can use them for the next child or re-sell them when you’re done.
There’s so much choice – how do you know what to buy?
I spent a long time looking into what might be the best ones to buy and like a lot of people was a bit bamboozled by the choice. In the end I bought a load of pre-loved different styles to try out and then worked out the ones that worked for us. I sold on the ones I didn’t like and invested in more of the ones I did. You can also use your local nappy library to try out some different types.
Steph’s 5 point guide to changing to cloth nappies
1) Find you local cloth nappy library and try out different styles to see which ones work for you. You’ll meet other parents who are using them and they’ll also be able to offer advice. Check out the UK Nappy Network to find your local nappy library.
2) Borrow or buy the following to create your nappy starter kit:
- Approx 20 daytime nappies
- Approx 5 night time nappies (usually 2 part nappies that require a waterproof wrap on the outside)
- A couple of wet bags – a small one for taking out and a big one to build up at home.
- You might need some boosters (large cloth pads you can add to nappies for extra absorbency) and some fleece liners (a piece of fleece cloth that provides an extra layer to prevent stains, although a lot of modern nappies have this built-in.)
- Wipes – we’d advise cloth ones as they’re easy to use and chuck in the wash with the nappies. Probably around 20.
- Join the cloth nappy network online and on social media. There’s a huge network of cloth nappy parents online and on Facebook who can offer help and advice.
- Buy pre-loved bundles to keep the cost down.
- Don’t ask your mum! The cloth nappies of old with pins and lots of smelly buckets of soaking nappies lying around are a thing of the past. Cloth nappies have come a long way. There’s loads of gorgeous prints, different fastenings and styles to play with and they’re much easier to wash and dry.
What’s a nappy library?
It’s like a normal library, except you hire nappies instead of books! And it’s usually run by someone local from their home. Most nappy libraries hold meet-ups and workshops so you can find out how to use them and talk to other parents. They loan out kits so you can hire a bundle of different cloth nappies and try a few styles before investing in your own stash. I run the Southend Cloth Nappy Library. Prices may vary in different locations, but we charge £25 for 4 weeks and for that you get a kit containing around 20 nappies and accessories like wet bags and liners.
How does it work in everyday life? (i.e. what do you do with the poo?)
Once you get your stash of styles that you like and get into a rhythm cloth nappies are really easy to use. You just stick a few clean nappies rolled-up in your nappy bag like you would disposables. If you’re using cloth wipes take a few dry ones to moisten under a tap or pre-wetted ones in a handy container. When it comes to change time, solids can just be flushed straight down the toilet. Dirty nappies are rolled up neatly (with the wipes inside if you’re using cloth ones) and go into a wet-bag. Tip the contents into the wash when you get home. Or keep a larger wet bag at home and gradually build-up a full wash load. The wet bags are specially designed to keep nasty smells inside and the nappies roll into a neat bundle so there’s rarely any smell leakage.
How do you wash them?
Tip dirty nappies and wet bag into the machine. Check individual instructions, but you usually wash at 40 or 60 degrees (depending how old your baby is – up to 3 months is usually 60) and on the longest cycle with an extra rinse. Check your water hardness to see how much detergent you need. Line-dry when possible, or put on a dryer. Daytime nappies usually hang dry in a day. Night time ones can take a bit longer.
What are your other top tips for eco-parenting?
There’s so much information out there if you look, but here are a few suggestions based on things I’ve found really helpful.
- Buy second hand. Children grow out of clothes and toys so quickly it’s crazy buying everything new. Check out local Facebook sell-and-swap sites, charity shops and nearly new sales for bargains.
- Ask for advice and do your research before buying. There’s a lot of marketing around baby ‘essentials’ but you probably don’t need as much as you think. Try talking to friends and family to find out what you really need and will actually use. And borrow things to try before you buy.
- Pass things on. Recycle toys, clothing and baby equipment by passing them on to friends and family or selling-on to others.
- Cycle clothes with friends who have children of a similar age. If you know people who have babies a few months apart you can pass them on from one family to another as they each outgrow things.
- Save things and re-use them with different children. You really don’t need to re-buy new items for each child. If it’s not falling apart, use it again.
- Start a toy share. Get together with a group of friends and buy some more expensive toys between you that you then rotate between families. It helps your bank balance, reduces waste and stops children getting bored.
- Use cloth wipes. Seems mad but they’re so useful. You can use them on bottoms and faces (not at the same time obviously) and they are easy to carry and to wash, saving you money and reducing landfill.
- Use muslins. Again and again and again. I cannot stress how useful these are. They cost a few pounds and they just keep giving. When your babes are small, use them for sick-ups, light covers in hot weather or to lie baby on in the park. When they’re weaning you can use them as bibs and to mop up spills. They’re the best bibs I’ve found by far. And when your children outgrow them they are excellent as household cloths for wiping surfaces and cleaning.
- Set-up a co-op with friends and buy wholesale. You can order products in bulk from wholesalers like Suma and split them between you, reducing plastic waste and your own costs.
- Make your own food once your children start weaning. It’s really not that hard and the pouches are convenient but not recyclable. There’s loads of easy recipes online and info about starter foods that you don’t even have to make, you just pick up, put in a lunchbox and take out.
- Switch to wooden toothbrushes. Plastic ones are awful for the environment. There are lots of wooden versions to choose from. Some companies will even send you a new one every few months and help recycle your old ones.
- Buy some reusable stainless steel drinks bottles and straws to take out and use at home. And take picnics on outings rather than buying when you’re out, to reduce packaging waste.
- Put together a party box. Rather than buying paper plates and cups that are expensive and can’t always be recycled collect a box of plates, bowls and cutlery that you can use amongst friends for children’s parties.
- Only wash your baby in water. You don’t need shampoo and things for small babies, they’re bad for the environment and some of them can irritate baby-soft skin. Consider using soap and shampoo bars yourself rather than endless bottles of shower gel and shampoo. There are lots of great brands out there to try.
- Shop local. Use a veg box service from your local grocer and buy bread locally. See if you can find a zero waste shop nearby.
- Reduce using/eating animal products. This is perhaps one of the biggest impacts you could have as a family to help protect our planet. A study at University of Oxford found food production is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. It showed that animal products are responsible for more than half of food-related greenhouse gas emissions, despite providing only a fifth of the calories we eat and drink. Try adding some vibrant whole food plant-based meals into your family’s diet.
- Go camping for the weekend rather than taking mini breaks abroad.
- Join some of the local community and online environmental advice and support groups. They have lots of great tips and advice as well as recycled stuff up for grabs.
If there was one change you could ask people to make in their parenting to minimise their impact on the environment what would it be?
Switch to cloth nappies and wipes. Definitely. It’s easier than you think and you’ll save your bank balance as well as the planet. Lots of people also find they are kinder to little bums and their children are less prone to things like nappy rash when using cloth. You can mix-and-match too. Obviously using no disposables at all is best if you can, but you can just use cloth nappies most of the time and disposables at night or on holidays. Think of the difference that would make to your landfill contribution and the cost of your weekly shop.
Find out more about cloth nappies and green parenting
Thank you so much to Steph for sharing her wisdom and passion. If you have questions about cloth nappies you can talk to her via the Southend Cloth Nappy Library Facebook page or DILAM instagram feed or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Final word from Happy Nest
We all want to shield our children from bad things in life. I’d say global meltdown was pretty high on my list of bad things so I’m definitely going to be following some of Steph’s advice. Let’s face it, I have enough meltdowns in my life already.
The Happy Nest team.