Each person's lifestyle can either have a beneficial or detrimental impact on the environment. The environmental impact most babies have, before they are even at an age where they can consent to their lifestyle, is enormous. I started 'Sort it Out Sustainably' to empower, encourage and guide new mothers to live in a home that is simple and joyful, while being as sustainable as she can so the next generation can grow up in a better world. So let's bust some ideas around what we should be using for our babies and talk about some less wasteful substitutes to use instead.
Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way. 3.7 billion nappies go into landfill each year within Australia and New Zealand alone. This makes up about 5% of the total landfill mass... Even though we only wear nappies for 2 years of our lives! Traditional disposable nappies are made from plastics and synthetic materials that take HUNDREDS of years to break down.
The Alternative to disposables is washing cloth nappies. Wait! What about the water? Well, surprisingly disposable use more water produce than it takes to wash cloth nappies. Modern cloth nappies (MCNc) can be better fitting on your bub and they look super cute too. Many parents report that while using cloth nappies their baby has never gotten a nappies rash and the oh-so devastating poo 'blowouts' are far less likely to happen. You can buy bundles of MCNs second hand to start off with while you learn why type of nappy you prefer before investing in some new ones. To wash them, I recommend checking out 'Clean Cloth Nappies' for learning a wash routine that works and then find an eco detergent that works with nappies.
The majority of baby wipes contain non-biodegradable plastic. Let's just take a moment to make sure we all know never to flush baby wipes down the toilet. A lot of people are still doing this and in the sewerage system, they combine with fats, oils, and greases to form blockages known as fatbergs... Yuck!
Baby wipes are used just once and thrown away. And you go through so many with a baby! Over 5000 a year Apparently. They also come in plastic packaging and sometimes contain nasties.
The alternative to baby wipes is cloth wipes. You can buy them online, use thin washcloths, have them made, or better yet... make them your self with old clothes. I paid $30 to have 60 made and I think they will last me for years washing them in with the nappies. Just spray them with water and use.
Oh the joy of leaky nipples! I like to remind myself to be thankful rather than burdened by milk leakages because it reminds me by body is making lots of nourishing milk for my bubba. Generally women will go through boxes of disposable breast pads that slip into your bra and soak up leaking milk. Some of of these are made from similar synthetic materials as nappies. Some of these are made from cotton and we all know (well not all of us) the damaging environmental effects of conventional cotton farming.
Instead, you can use reusable breast pads. There are some quality ones that have waterproof backing and there are cheaper ones that you can buy in larger quantities usually made from something like bamboo. The cheap ones are great to reuse as make up removing pads later down the track. I recommend getting a small wet bag to keep in your handbag so you can store the used ones in, if you need to change them while out.
With babies growing out of clothes every few weeks to few months, I don't even want to do the maths on how many new clothes are created for just one child if buying new. When they might only wear each item a handful of times, letting baby clothes be used by many babies makes sense.
You might get some hand-me-downs from people in your circle or you can buy some from op shops, gumtree, Facebook Marketplace or perhaps garage sales. There are even some dedicated Buy and Sell groups on Facebook for baby and children's clothes. You buying a few large bundles really cheap.
I didn't even have a baby shower and people came from everywhere delivering me baby gifts. My mum's friends, a childhood friend's grandmother, the lady we delivered our compost to, all gave us things for our baby. I was lucky that for the most part what people gave me were things I could put to use. I didn't need any of them but use them with gratitude for those people who were grateful. Enough to gift them to me. It's not an uncommon story for people to end up with piles of unwanted gifts for their baby often destined for landfill, especially after a baby shower.
What you can do to reduce the amount of unwanted gifts you receive is to think differently about your baby shower. The obvious 'solution' is to not have one but then you miss out on the celebration. I recommend kindly communicating with your loved ones that you either don't want gifts, want only second hand or natural gifts, or point them directly to a registry of things you will truly use.
We get advertised a million and one different products to use on our baby. Not only do these come in (usually not recyclable) plastic packaging, but they are also can contain harmful or unnatural ingredients, despite being made for babies' sensitive skin.
Just think simply. I don't even have a baby wash because either already use a natural gentle body wash for myself that is fine for babies too. I haven't needed to use anything but coconut oil on my son's skin yet. No nappy creams, moisturiser, or any of what is marketed to us.
I am so thankful for the freedom for my husband to feed the baby if I need to do something else. I also love the security of having some milk stored in the freezer if for some reason i am unable to breastfeed for a few days. However, breastmilk storage bags are one use and then in the bin.
Alternatively, you can use breast milk storage containers that can be refused. You can also boil ice cube trays to sterilise and use them to maybe cute little milk cubes that you can put into the bottle.
It can be totally OVERWHELMING the number of gadgets that are supposed to make our life easier as parents or benefit our baby. Wipe warmers, baby food makers, sound machines, mattress pads, nightlights, room thermometers, baby baths, diaper genies, sanitising machines, and the list goes on. If you buy everything on the lists of baby must-haves you could spend literally tens of thousands of dollars and then not end up using half the stuff.
My advice is to wait. Just get the necessities and then when you actually experience a problem that could be solved by a gadget, make the purchase then. If our parents or grandparents lived without it, then you probably can too is a good rule of thumb.
No, I am not suggesting you never give your baby food. But rather what is sold as baby food is a bit wasteful. Once its time to introduce solids (or rather mushy solids) to your baby it can be really tempting to buy a bunch of those food in tube style or canned baby foods. Imagine what a years worth of those looks like in landfills.
You can make your own versions of those foods by blending or mashing food they will enjoy. You can even buy silicone pouches that are reusable versions of the disposable food in a tube things. That's not to mention all the foods your practically toothless bay can enjoy as is, like avocado, banana, mash potatoes, etc.
Well, there's my suggestions for 9 alternatives to unsustainable baby items. Even if you do just some of these, you are kickstarting your journey as an eco-conscious parent in a fantastic way. If you are still pregnant, it is not too late to grab a FREE digital copy of my 'Ultimate Guide to a Sustainable Pregnancy' found here.