Happy Earth Week!
I took a little break from my Zero Waste series to write about my sauerkraut obsession and natural colouring (both of which also happen to be zero waste topics!). Now, just on time for Earth Day, I’m ready to share Part 3 of my Zero Waste series, focusing on kids and babies.
According to Unicef, over 130 MILLION babies are born each year world-wide. That is the potential for a lot of extra trash. Listed below are 9 ways to cut down on your environmental impact when it comes to wee ones.
I’ll say it again here, but the goal is to strive for progress, not perfection. Particularly as a parent (i.e. already overdosed with stress, pressure, guilt, busy-ness and chaos), there is no need to add more stress and chaos to our lives, BUT if we can keep a steady pace AND reduce our disposable waste, why not?
Two quick warnings: (1) I apologize: this is another long post.. I just have so much to say on this topic! and (2) As above, this post is not intended to guilt or pressure parents regarding controversial topics. Parenting is full of personal decisions and heaps of pressure. Relax. And do what feels right for you.
1. Cloth Diapers
For those who know me, clearly this had to be item #1 on my list. I can’t say enough how much I loved my cloth diapers (… as much as anyone can ‘love diapering’, anyway…). If you’re picturing those old-school-rags-with-pins-type diapers, think again (i.e. check Google). There is an insane amount of variety when it comes to cloth diapering – and it doesn’t need to be complicated. The pre-fold diapers with pins (or clips) still exist – and are used – but there are also diapers with snaps or velcro, plus various fabrics and covers. We signed up for a diaper loan program when our first was born, allowing us to try a variety of cloth diapers without committing a huge budget towards something we weren’t sure of. I highly recommend a loan program, or informal trials through friends and acquaintances. With so much variety out there, you may as well find the ones you like best! We purchased through the Extraordinary Baby Shoppe in Ottawa, (now called Hintonburg Kids) and used Flip diapers, which include separate inserts and covers. A similar product is available by Mother-ease (had I known of them at the time, I surely would have supported this Canadian-made brand!).
I could yammer on forever on the topic of cloth diapering, but to summarize the benefits:
- Environmental – The average baby goes through over 8000 disposable diapers before they’re potty trained. That’s A LOT of garbage – and worse – that’s a lot of shit. untreated. straight into the landfill. Barf. Cloth diapers on the other hand can be re-used, even for multiple babies. **Please note that I am not at all judging if parents opt to use disposables.
- Financial – This is nuts, but disposables can cost $2500 per child up until potty trained!!! And you have to repeat that cost for each kid! Meanwhile, our cloth diapers (24 all-in-2 diapers) were re-used for both babies and we were able to re-sell them for use by more babies!) The initial investment seems steep at first (about $350 up front), but costing it out over time (let alone multiple babies), is a HUGE savings!
- Comfort and less irritation – There are a lot of chemicals in disposable diapers. So it’s no surprise that cloth diaper babies experience less skin irritation — that goes for wipes too!
- Earlier potty training – Of course this isn’t a guarantee (nothing about parenting is!), but in general, cloth diapered babes are typically potty trained up to a year earlier! (and who doesn’t want to end diapering sooner!?) On this note, even for parents who are using disposables, just think of the impact of potty training earlier — if your child is trained just one week earlier, you’ve already saved about 50 dirty diapers from going to the landfill!!!
- Up-the-back-poops – The *only* time I’ve ever experienced these nauseating incidents was when using disposables (e.g. for travel or emergencies). I saved plenty of cute outfits and avoided countless full-body hose-downs thanks to the elastic in cloth diapers. You are reading this correctly: cloth diapering means *less* traumatic laundry experiences. Believe it.
2. Wipes & bum creams
Similar to my above diapering rant, swapping out chemical-laden disposable wipes for reusable cloths or rags is a simple, budget- and eco-friendly option for baby butt care. We simply kept a small dish of water (regularly changed out) and some cloths (you know those ones you get 500 of at a baby shower?) handy by the change table. Less waste, less skin irritation (and therefore less skin rash products). For ‘diaper rash creams’ we really didn’t need/use any since cloth diapering avoided the chemical irritant issue, but the few times if it was really hot or some other irritation developed, we would simply use whatever natural oil we had on hand, such as coconut oil or olive oil (See Part 2: Toiletries & Household Products).
That’s right. Breastfeeding is not only healthy, natural and free, but it’s also zero waste! The benefits are just bananas. I was incredibly fortunate since nursing came very naturally to me. My boobs were overflowing with milk immediately (yes, even without going into labour, and even post-c-section). I realize that is not the case for all new moms, but for me, I couldn’t imagine the hassles of formula feeding (buying, measuring, mixing, temperature monitoring, etc?!). Again, no judgement to non-breastfeeders, I just know I was very fortunate to be able to nurse anytime, anyplace, no cost, no bottle, no pump, no trash.
4. Food – Homemade baby food & school lunches
From homemade baby food to waste-free kids’ lunches, there is so much waste to be avoided through DIY foods. Everything to do with babies and parenting can be controversial: whether to puree everything or give babies whole foods, whether to avoid highly allergenic foods till a certain age or introduce them early on. No matter which approaches you choose, you can do it all zero waste if you make your own! Instead of buying purees in disposable squeeze tubes and jars, puree your own foods (or give baby a pear to chew on).
When it comes to daycare and school-age foods, I’m so happy that my kids’ school has a ‘no garbage’ lunch policy. The trash from every school meal is simply packed up and sent back home for disposal or recycling. The closest thing my kids have to ‘trash’ in their lunches is olive pits and apple cores, so it’s not a big thing for us, but I think this approach encourages parents to avoid going overboard with packaged foods and drink boxes — I mean, who wants to dig through all that plastic at the end of the day? No thanks! Instead, our kids help us select whole foods (apples, carrots, eggs) or homemade items (such as super-mega omega hummus, root’n’fruit roll-ups, brittle, dried tomatoes ) to be packed into re-usable containers each day. I could write a whole post on school lunches (and perhaps will one day), but for now, you get the point.5. Toys, books and ‘stuff’
Parents today are often suckered into thinking they need to have one (or multiples) of everything for their babies/kids – and that they need to *own* it all. Instead, try looking for a toy lending library. We discovered one in our neighbourhood through the Ontario Early Years Center. Just like a regular library, you simply sign out items (puzzles, ride-ons, walkers, music sets, slides – anything you can think of!), borrow, clean and return. Some friends asked me about the ‘trauma’ to the child when it comes time to return the super fun items and, to be honest, we never experienced any upset over it. I’ve said it many times, but I truly believe children are much more adaptable than adults and sometimes it seems adults unnecessarily project their worries of attachment onto kids.Let me also say that we have a pretty large play room in our house – with many (too many?) toys. And I don’t think we’ve purchased any of the items in there – they’ve either been hand-me-downs, exchanges or found on the curb. And we will continue to pass these items along to the next family as we go. When I think of all the money and waste we’ve saved, it makes me happy.6. Clothing – second-hand and sewing machines
There are a lot of cute baby and kid items out there. Parents, aunts and grandparents are easily tempted to purchase all sorts of new clothes — but at what cost? Not just financial, but also environmental costs due to the fast fashion industry and the never-ending trendiness of kiddie fashion. Early on in my ‘new mom’ phase, I too was convinced that Joe Fresh mini jeans and Old Navy duck boots were a good purchase. Such a good deal, right? But with all the hand-me-downs we (graciously) received, and my growing consciousness about waste and the Story of Stuff, I quickly squashed that habit. Even for myself, I prefer to shop second-hand, so when kids *need* something specific, like size 5 rain boots or 4T snowsuit, it’s easy enough to visit Value Village, check Kijiji or the Buy Nothing Facebook group, or ask a friend. Since we have a boy and a girl, we tend to opt for unisex colours and patterns when possible – so things like rain boots, bike helmets and running shoes can easily be passed on between siblings!
There is also the long-lost concept of mending… sometimes you just need a stitch or two to fix a button or a hole, but at times (particularly with 4 year old boys…) you may need to just hack off some pants at the knees to make shorts (and some bonus rags!). Maybe our new motto should be: buy less, borrow more, fix more.
7. Bedrooms and decor – upcycle!
Again, kid stuff is cute. And always tempting.
But? I think my kids have pretty cute rooms and they hardly cost any money and have largely been sourced second-hand through Kijii, exchanges or pre-loved hand-me-downs.Real life kids’ rooms: messes and all. Trundle beds from Kijiji, second-hand curtains, bedding, road mat, reading light and dressers from friends, up-cycled pallet bookshelves, headboard and coat hooks, and a dollhouse made by great grandpa.
8. Zero waste baby showers and birthday parties
It’s totally possible. For my first pregnancy, I requested hand-me-down gifts, or items sourced from Kijiji, Value Village or some other second-hand format. We got a pre-loved crib and basinet, a Jolly Jumper on loan from a friend, a BOB jogging stroller from Kijiji. My sister even arranged for a thrift shop outing with some of my closest girl friends, who op-shop-hopped around Ottawa with me. It was a blast! Another awesome zero waste shower idea is to provide pre-made meals for the mom-to-be (or order a meal service). Instead of cards, give a pre-loved book with a special note.As for bdays, our household is currently in the middle of birthday season, so I’ve posted on Instagram about zero waste ideas already (totally worthy of a separate blog post). Ultimately, kids are awesome and really don’t seem to have the same expectations as adults. For the past few years, we’ve done both indoor and outdoor parties – at home, no cost, just setting up obstacles or games (think hide-and-seek, tag, musical cushions, scavenger hunts, etc.). We’ve done pinatas filled with garden seeds. We’ve done a homemade pin-the-nose-on-the-Ewok. We’ve offered homemade lemonade and cakes with natural colouring all with re-usable plates, cutlery and cups. We’ve said no gifts (just optional homemade cards) and handed out no loot bags. The results? Complete success! Perhaps a bit unconventional, but that’s how things used to be done and I have yet to see a single kid whine about the lack of dollar store loot.
9. Be the change – set an example
Perhaps the most important point is that the next generation is always watching and learning from us. If we consciously buy less, use less, reuse more and *talk to our kids* about the impacts of these choices, little people will notice and carry on those habits. It’s okay (even good’n’healthy) for kids to experience what could be called ‘boredom’ (or day dreaming, or creativity…). Relax and simplify.
So there you have it – 9 pretty simple things that can reduce waste (and save you money!). As with my other Zero Waste posts, I shared some of my guilty pleasures at the end. For this post, I’ve mentioned my brief flirtation with fast fashion for kids, and my dreadful up-the-back disposable experiences, but I’ve also bought some kid items that I truly felt were good ‘investments’ (or at least a whole lot of fun!):
Balance bikes – We bought Strider bikes for each of our kids – SUCH a great purchase, allowing kids to transition straight onto a bike sans training wheels (for my son, by age 3!!) *and* allowing me to take long walks to the park and grocery store where the kids could actually keep up with my super-fast walking speed….. After 2 years of use, the bikes are still in great shape and have been passed on to friends and family.World map floor mat – okay so this wasn’t the most eco-friendly option out there, but we saw this at a friend’s place and considering our love of travel and sitting on the floor, it seemed like a decent purchase. Now 7 years later, it’s a bit faded but still in our daughter’s room and still good for somersaults and a bit of learning 😉
Thanks for reading — Do you have some zero waste parenting ideas that didn’t make my list? Share them below 🙂