Babies are great, aren’t they? That newborn smell, first smiles, soft skin – what’s not to love? (Well, I guess there’s the screaming and the pooping and teething, but let’s just skip over that for now!) However, adorable as the little tykes are, they do come with an awful lot of STUFF. Nappies and pushchairs and toys, oh my. And as keen readers of our blog will know, consuming STUFF is not good for the planet.
However, if you are a new parent, you might have rather more on your mind than the climate emergency, and understandably so. Fortunately, my lovely friends Polly and Mark – eco-warriors and brand-new parents to be – are testing the waters for you by trying to go as sustainable as possible in the run up to their baby’s arrival. I chatted to them about their plans for avoiding the baby STUFF avalanche.
Polly was initially inspired by the purchase of some organic cotton reusable wipes (such as these), which can be washed, soaked in essential oils and used again. Buying these items caused the pair to start looking into what else might get thrown into landfill when the baby came along.
Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash
Polly said, “I think nappies were probably the main thing I was worried about, just because of the sheer amount of waste that we knew would be produced. I remember finding out how many nappies a newborn goes through in a day and just being mortified that they use one every two hours.”
While babies use fewer nappies as they get older, estimates are they can get through between 4,000 and 7,000 nappies from birth to potty training, depending on how much your progeny likes to poop. With all of these going to landfill, it’s clear that this is not ideal for nature. Nappies might take up to 500 years to biodegrade – so finding reusables that you can use (and re-use) is a great first step to sustainable parenting.
Greenwashing alert: Even the so-called environmentally-friendly disposables on the market tend to get wrapped up tightly when they’re disposed of, meaning that the biodegradable process they’ve been designed for can’t happen.
While reusable nappies might feel daunting if you’re used to seeing your friends and family use disposables, Polly and Mark were lucky enough to have friends who used them for their kids, so they saw that it could be managed… and that some of the reusable nappies are funky and cool-coloured!
Photo by Rob Hayman on Unsplash
As Polly said, parenthood feels so new and daunting that even using disposables would be a learning curve – so why not start with the sustainable option? “What we get used to is what we’ll be used to doing,” she said. “Or so we hope!”
Mark and Polly have decided to use disposables until the baby is big enough for the smallest size of reusables they have bought; not least as they don’t know how big the littl’un will be when they first pop out. But as soon as the baby is big enough, it’ll be into the sustainable system – and this means they already own all the nappies the baby will ever need, before they have arrived.
If you think you’d like to give reusable nappies a try for your young’un, visit the Nappy Lady website and fill in the questionnaire; this is how Polly and Mark worked out which system would work for them. The questionnaire asks about which aspects of nappy-life are most concerning for you (cost, drying time and so on) and then gives you recommendations based on your answers.
Photo by Tembinkosi Sikupela on Unsplash
Of course, there is more to a baby than wipes and nappies! I asked Mark and Polly what else they were considering in their journey to sustainable parenting.
“We bought lots of big things second-hand,” said Polly, “like the baby’s cot, pushchair and the changing unit. We bought all of these things on Facebook Marketplace and saved over a thousand pounds in the process.”
“We’ve also spent next to nothing on clothes,” said Mark. They bought nothing new… “apart from one Aphex Twin Babygro!” (Aphex Twin, for the uninitiated, being a musician who makes insane techno and ambient music. Probably not the sort of tunes you’re gonna be lulling your newborn off to sleep with, even if they are wearing his official merch.)
However, that one new item was £30; in contrast, Polly spent £30 on eBay to buy a sack of second-hand baby clothes, showing the value for money you get with second-hand. People sell baby clothes by the bundle online as their sprogs grow out of things. “There’s a real culture of sharing out there,” Mark said. “We try to reduce, reuse and recycle at home anyway, so this is just an extension of that. We don’t want the baby to come into the world and be part of the throwaway culture.”
Photo by Susan Holt Simpson on Unsplash
In terms of food, once the baby is weaned, Mark is hoping to make food with whizzed up organic veg rather than the disposable pouches on the market. However, he realises that having the time to do this is a luxury that is not available to everyone.
I asked if the pair had had to buy anything new. Polly told me that the breast pump, baby bottle steriliser and a mattress were bought new to be more hygienic, which seems fair enough to me, as a confirmed non-parent!
If you feel concerned about the safety of any second-hand items, such as a car seat, you can of course check the credentials of the person selling it to you. Polly and Mark found that the people selling these items tended to be open, friendly people whom they trusted, so safety was not a concern for them.
In addition to buying reusable or second-hand stuff, green new parents also need to consider utilities. “We’ll have to do a lot more washing and heat the house to be much warmer than we’re used to,” said Polly. One thing new parents who are concerned about this can do is switch to 100% renewable, as we’ve outlined in a previous blog. Mark said they will also try to wash clothes at 30 degrees when they can, although this won’t be possible for everything.
Toys are a tricky one. “We would love to be able to ask people to avoid plastic or buy second-hand,” said Polly… but she suspects that you don’t get much choice about what other people buy for your baby.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
What are Polly and Mark’s top tips for sustainable parenthood?
Polly: “Try to let go of the idea that the baby needs perfect, brand-new things. The baby doesn’t know or care!”
Mark: “Explore your options for buying second-hand, as there are so many people selling good quality things out for next to nothing out there. And we met so many lovely people selling things like this. No one who would sell us a dodgy car seat!”
Once the new baby has outgrown things, Mark and Polly will plan to pass everything they can on, either via Facebook Marketplace/eBay or to other new parents they know to carry on the cycle.
If you’re a recent or new parent, do you have any tips for climate friendly child rearing? If so, post them in the comment box below.