Whether you are a first time Mummy or Daddy or are experiencing parenthood for the second or third time, looking after a baby is all consuming and whilst it is a magical time, caring a newborn can also be exhausting! However, you can still be your best eco self whilst caring for small children, it just takes a little thought and planning. Anything you can do to cut back on plastic usage and overall waste is better than before and models the way for the next generation!
Not sure where to begin? Here are my top 5 eco swaps for new parents.
1 .Toys, Clothes and Baby Equipment
I would personally find it impossible to cut out all plastic toys from my children's lives! On the other hand, cheap plastic tat is simply a waste of money as it ends up breaking and being thrown away, where it then ends up in landfill. I dread to think how much plastic landfill waste is made up of discarded toys. To reduce your plastic toy footprint, there are a few things you can do:
-Make a list for family and friends when it's birthday time. On it include wooden toys, gift vouchers, experiences and money for the children's piggy banks. One of my 5-year old daughter's most prized possessions is a fabric sparkly sequin bag she asked for last Christmas. It has had so much more use than some of the plastic toys she was gifted.
-Shop preloved- my 3-year old son absolutely loves our local charity shop! (And so do I!)
-Opt for wooden toys. We have lots of wooden toys from push alongs, building blocks and drums to our much loved wooden play kitchen. We also have a handmade mud kitchen in the garden which my Dad and husband put together one weekend out of old pallets. Check out Pinterest for ideas! (Note: they are not builders and it looks fantastic!) Once you use your imagination, the sky is the limit!
For clothes and equipment, check out Ebay, local Facebook selling sites, charity shops, and nearly new sales. All offer excellent quality second hand items. If friends and family members offer you hand me downs, take them and say thank you! Babies grow at an extraordinary rate, so are in their clothes for approx 3 months before they outgrow them. This means that second hand items are almost always nearly new and will have plenty of life left in them. You can buy baby bundles for a few pounds on Ebay. When you are finished with them, sell them on or donate to charity.
Equipment-wise, you can pick up buggies, Moses baskets and play mats all second hand, which will do just as good a job as brand new items. (Note: If buying second hand cots or Moses baskets, it's worth buying your own new mattresses.) If you are having a baby shower, why not ask for handmade gifts, bunting for the nursery, money or vouchers for a pre-baby spa day!
2. Bathroom products
Bathrooms can be absolutely full of unnecessary plastic bottles. Mine used to be, but with a few tweaks, we have cut back on loads of plastic waste. Instead of bottles of children's bubble bath, we swapped to bubble wands from www.lush.com.
They last ages and smell fantastic! To my children's delight, we also swapped out liquid soap in a plastic bottle to a chocolate flavour shampoo bar by Lamazuna. We also got rid of our plastic sponges and swapped to linen and cotton versions. Shampoo bars and sponges are available at: www.plasticconsciousmama.co.uk/shop.
3. Drink bottles and Cups
We never leave the house without Mummy's reusable coffee cup or the children's metal water bottles from www.kleankanteen.co.uk. As they are metal, they are more sustainable than plastic and do not contain any of the nasty BPAs found in plastic alternatives. We also try to sit down rather than take out at cafes so we can have drinks in reusable cups. Don't get me wrong, my children love a plastic bottle of juice as much as the next child, but it's all about reducing consumption wherever possible. The amount of disposable coffee cups I have saved from landfill since starting my plastic conscious journey is amazing!
4. Nappies and wipes
This is perhaps the most obvious one, and the one people seem to struggle with the most. I didn't switch to reusable nappies until the birth of my third baby, but I really wish I had swapped sooner! 8 million disposable nappies are sent to UK landfill EVERY DAY. 8 million! With each nappy taking an eye watering 400-500 years to break down, it's never been a better time to make a switch to cloth nappies.
People always ask me whether or not washing reusable nappies is eco friendly because of all the water, the short answer is yes! The process of making disposables uses an astronomical amount of water - according to Baba and Boo, washing three loads of nappies a week uses about 200 litres of water whereas manufacturing enough single-use nappies for a week uses 1,550 litres.
Cloth nappies really aren't that scary to switch to. Once you have your stash of nappies (around 15-20), washing them just becomes a part of your normal routine. My advice is to start small, why not trial cloth nappies before making a permanent commitment, or agree to use them during the day until they become more familiar? Many councils offer money off or free nappy schemes. Why? Because it is in their interest to reduce waste, particularly the smelly nappy kind! There are lots of online preloved nappy sites and groups on Facebook. I would definitely recommend giving them a try before you dismiss the idea of trialling cloth nappies. Like me, you may surprise yourself!
One of my most favourite swaps was to ditch disposable wipes for washable cloth wipes. I cannot emphasise enough how much I love this swap, mainly because I was SO sceptical about it to begin with. After a few of my friends telling me how much nicer cloth wipes were I dubiously decided to make the leap myself and have never looked back. I had to try them to believe them!
To get set up. I spent just under £40 on an all in one kit from www.cheekywipes.com. The kits have everything you need to get started - 25 wipes, 2 containers (for clean and mucky wipes), essential oil and 2 out and about wet bags for wipe storage (clean and mucky.) The system makes it so easy and you will soon discover that you use far less cloth wipes than disposables - yes even for messy poos! Each day, I pop used wipes in the wash with my usual load of washing. If there are poo wipes, you can either give them a rinse under the tap first or save them up in a mesh bag and do a special nappy and wipe wash. I like to wash my soiled cloth wipes at 60 degrees, but 40 also does the trick if they have just been used for sticky hands and faces. If this swap seems unrealistic, why not do it in stages, first transition with one pack of back up disposables alongside your cloth wipes until you are ready for a complete switch. If you need any further convincing, why not calculate how much you spend on disposable wipes in one year? £3 per week adds up to £156 a year - a lot more than £40!
5. Host Eco-Friendly Birthday Parties
Children's birthday parties can create a ridiculous amount of unnecessary plastic waste. Plastic cups, plates and cutlery can all be easily swapped for paper and wooden versions. Cheap paper bags can also be bought online to replace plastic loot party bags. Sustainable wooden party bag fillers can also be found online. Even better, than party bags, why not buy a pack of books to divvy up?
When choosing sweets, think about those that come in cardboard tubes or boxes rather than plastic bags. All these swaps are eco-friendly, easily recyclable as well as being cost effective.
It's also worth investigating whether or not there are companies who offer eco-friendly parties in your area. In Hertfordshire, you can hire reusable plastic cups and plates from The Little Green Party Company (check them out on Instagram.) They deliver to your door and take away all the dirty plates afterwards. Zero waste and super easy!
Eco-parenting needn't be much different from any other kind of parenting. With just a few mindful swaps, you could save yourself money whilst helping the planet at the same time. One of my favourite quotes goes something along the lines of :
"The world needs lots of people making a few swaps, rather than a few people making lots of swaps."
It's far better to work your way up to something that will last and become a habit rather than setting yourself unrealistic expectations. My advice is to start small, make swaps where you can, one at a time and be kind to yourself. Aim to be better than before and just keep going! We can all make a difference if we try.
For more eco advice, tips and ideas check out my blog and plastic-free online shop at www.plasticconsciousmama.co.uk.
You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.