‘Have you got everything ready for the baby?’ It’s one of those questions that everyone asks expectant parents towards the end of pregnancy. And there seems to be an almost blanket acceptance that not only do babies need a lot of stuff, it’s also going to be really expensive! Then there’s all this pressure to make sure it’s all environmentally friendly too. It’s important to look after the planet, which obviously means the cost is going up even more, because handmade wooden toys and custom-made cots built from reclaimed timber and ethically sourced organic cotton baby grows don’t come cheap…! But what if I told you there are awesome ways to kit out your baby whilst purchasing and parenting in a more sustainable way?
You can reduce waste, respect our planet and make life more cost effective! Well, that’s exactly what I’m going to do, because that’s what this blog is all about. Now I’m not knocking all those lovely things I just mentioned. However, as beautiful as they may be, and as environmentally friendly as they might claim to be, it’s still extra ‘stuff’. Sustainability is about avoiding unnecessary consumption of resources and diverting usable resources away from the waste system. Here we are applying sustainability to parenting.
What’s the waste hierarchy?
The waste hierarchy is about finding ways to make the most of things and avoid throwing them away. We’re going to talk through how it can encourage sustainable parenting choices when equipping yourself for your newborn. I learned about the waste hierarchy from Jen Gale’s inspiring Facebook page Sustainable-ish. Sustainable-ish is all about making small, practical changes that make a big difference. This goes way beyond the 3 R’s; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, that we’re all familiar with. It shows how much further down the list recycling should ideally be. Whilst recycling may be the green alternative to landfill it’s still the waste cycle. There are lots of options to work through first. In this version there are 8 R’s: Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Re-home, Repair, Recycle, Rot.
So how does that translate into buying baby stuff? Let’s focus on trying to keep from using those last 2 Rs if at all possible. We’ll start at the bottom of the triangle and work up.
You may have noticed that the image we have used is of a festive waste hierarchy. It includes rethink: to rethink what families want out of Christmas. Well, we are doing the rethinking right here for preparing for babies. How can we prepare to parent sustainably without buying into overconsumption?
Refuse to buy into un-sustainable parenting
Firstly, don’t buy stuff! Yep, it really is as simple as that. Look at your list of things you ‘need’ for your newborn and consider how much of it you actually need. If you don’t need it within the first few months, you don’t need to buy right now. The highchair, the baby walker, anything else geared towards older babies or toddlers; leave it off for now. Wait and see if you actually need it. Your baby might prefer to cruise around the furniture as they learn to balance so you may not need the baby walker after all. If you do need it, buy it then. This will help you reduce what you buy which saves both money and resources; environmentally and financially sustainable parenting in one!
Before buying something consider “could I use something I already have?” A great example here is instead of buying a plastic baby bath, could you wash your baby in the sink? Instead of buying baby towels, could you use small towels you already own? They’re doing the same job! You don’t need a specific pieces of equipment to wash and dry your baby’s skin. The mindset of requiring specific baby products is so strong that people often don’t question the need for a baby bath! There is nothing sustainable about buying another plastic container for washing a baby in for a few months, when you have dozens of water tight options around the home.
Reduce – Buy less stuff
When reducing what we buy, clothes are a big one. Those cute little outfits are so tempting! Every time I had a baby, I was offered second-hand baby clothes, something which I happily accepted. The thing I found most interesting about this though, was that every single time there were items that still had tags on! Grown out of, before they were even worn. That is the kind of overconsumption we could easily cut back on, creating more sustainable parenting without ever feeling like we’re missing out.
People love to buy gifts for babies too, and they will buy clothes, regardless of whether they’re needed. You can probably safely have only a handful of vests and baby grows before the little one arrives and end up with more than you could ever need by the time family and friends have visited. Babies grow so fast that you don’t need nearly as many clothes as you think! A dozen or so baby grows and vests really is plenty. Cut down on the amounts of bibs and muslins in the same way: half a dozen of each is a great starting point and if you find you need more, buy more as you go.
Reuse by hiring, not buying
If there are things you are only going to need for a short while, consider hiring rather than buying. Owning isn’t everything, and hiring is a more sustainable and efficient use of resources. As long as you can use the item when you need it, is there any need to buy? Side sleeping cribs can be really useful in the early days, but they are also really expensive. Look up companies who hire these such as Tiny Tots Rentals or Rentu and borrow one for a month or 2. This saves money and reduces waste; that’s environmental and financially sustainable parenting!
Newborn cloth nappy packs can also be a hefty investment for short term use, and what happens to those “reusable” nappies once your baby’s bottom is a bit bigger? A set of reusable nappies is a great alternative to disposable nappies. However, the one size fits all types don’t tend to work well for tiny babies. You could rent a newborn set from your local nappy library for the first month. If reusable nappies work well for you then buying a set after they grow out of the newborn size means only investing in one set. You can buy these preloved too!
Sling libraries are sustainable
If you fancy giving babywearing a go then the best way to work out what carrier will actually work for you and your baby is to hire one. This helps you to avoid buyer’s regret; buying something that doesn’t work for you is neither financially or environmentally sustainable parenting. You may have a local sling library, or our very own It’s a Sling Thing online sling library, where you can hire carriers. Your local library may do a free stretchy wrap hire scheme like the one we offer here at CalmFamily. Services like these can give you loads of advice about options for carrying your baby from tiny prem to chunky toddler, and you can be sure you have found the right one before you commit to buying anything.
Borrowing works too
It’s worth asking friends and family if they have things they wouldn’t mind lending you. Items such as Moses baskets and baby blankets often get kept for sentimental reasons, or for second children, but tend to sit unused in the meantime. What if they have another baby though? Well, then you send them back to them for the next baby! Reuse can go on for a really long time! Babies grow so quickly that they almost never wear their clothes or equipment out, not only is sharing resources a path to more sustainable parenting, but it is simply good common sense!
Reuse– reusable rather than disposable for sustainable parenting
Choosing and using reusable items where possible is more sustainable. Rather than a packet or two of disposable nappies every week and copious amounts of baby wipes, cloth nappies and wipes can be a great alternative. It can take a bit of getting used to and there’s a bit more work involved in doing the laundry. If you don’t fancy going all in straightaway, why not buy a few to begin with? You could use reusable nappies at home and disposables out and about, or even just use the wipes to start with.
Reusable breast pads are awesome too. They are so much comfier than the disposable plastic version and they save money too. Whether you’re nursing and using them for months or even years or formula feeding and only using them until your milk dries up they are really worth investing a few pounds in.
If this is a second baby then you probably already own lots of baby items you can reuse. Hand-me-downs are brilliant. Baby clothes and equipment can often be reused many times. If things are starting to look a little tired, you can give them a new lease of life. A Dylon dye will refresh a lot of tiny baby grows and vests for around £7. Sanding down wooden furniture and staining or painting can make it look like new for a few pounds and a bit of elbow grease!
This isn’t on Jen’s hierarchy. and chopping things up that are perfectly usable isn’t ideal if someone else might have used it. However, when something has come to the end of its life as one thing, you can often turn it into something else. This continues using the material of the item, and prolongs its life before becoming waste. So, let’s get creative! OK, this isn’t going to be for everyone, but it really works for some.
Got a bed sheet with a hole in it? Cut it down, hem it and use it for the cot. Old cotton-jersey t-shirts, or pieces of old towel or sheet make great reusable wet-wipes, cut them into small squares, pop them in a box and wet as needed. Fleece jumpers that are too small make amazing reusable nappy liners. Cut them to the size of the nappy and they will help wick away the moisture from baby’s skin. This is very much a part of the old ‘waste not, want not’ school of sustainable parenting; the ways of grandparents and great grandparents, and whilst we wouldn’t want to turn back the clocks to wartime rationing they certainly made full use of what they had! The limit here is your imagination.
Re-home: buy it pre-loved.
Pre-loved, second hand, hand me down, whatever you want to call it, if you need to buy, buy used where possible. There’s not all the packaging so you’re instantly cutting down on waste creation and you’re keeping the item itself from going into the waste system. Plus it’s usually going to help an individual or charity make a little bit of money. Go shopping in charity shops, car boots and nearly new sales: all great places to find a bargain. You can find baby clothes, bedding, blankets, toys, and furniture very cheaply and often in really good condition.
Going to look in person means you get to inspect the items closely and decide whether you really like it. And it’s absolutely fine to be picky, just because you’re choosing used; doesn’t mean you have to choose the first thing you find, the ‘treasure hunting’ aspect is one of the things I find most fun about second hand shopping!
Preloved shopping online
I you’re looking for something specific, shopping online may be less time consuming than trawling the shops. Ebay, Facebook marketplace, Gumtree, Freecycle and Facebook selling groups are really useful for this. Larger furniture items, slings and baby carriers, breast pumps, and sterilisers are a few things that you might find it easier to do a more targeted search for. The ability to make sustainable parenting choices in your pyjamas without leaving the sofa can also be really handy if you’re not feeling up to heading out.
Repair: have a go at fixing it!
As your baby grows, you may well find that things break or wear out, it’s just a part of life. You don’t have to be an expert to do some minor repairs and if the alternative is throwing it away anyway it’s got to be worth a go right?! This can be particularly useful with clothing, now newborns don’t tend to cause too much wear and tear, but crawling babies and stumbling toddlers take the knees out of their clothing on a regular basis in my experience! Whether they’re just looking worn or it’s a full blown hole, have a go at adding a patch or two. Even learning to sew a button back on can make a whole world of difference sometimes!
It doesn’t even need to be that complex, lost a screw from the cot? Buy a new screw rather than a new cot! Can’t find the little toys that attach to the baby gym? Improvise and find others that could clip or tie on.
Rehome…again, the circle of sustainable parenting begins again
And when you are done with baby items, what then? Well then is a great time to rehome them again. Whether through selling as preloved, through giving to family or friends, or by donating to charity shops or baby basics schemes. (Schemes that help to support families on low incomes to provide what they need for their baby.) If your family have finished with them, but they’re still usable then send them on their way to be used again!
Sustainable parenting: not costing the planet needn’t cost the earth!
Phew, that was a bit of a whistle stop tour… But there you have it, all the things you need, nothing you don’t need, eco-friendly and cost effective. Remember you don’t need to do all of these things, just one or two will make a massive impact. It means that a few more things have avoided being sent to recycle or rot. That may be packaging from new items that you didn’t buy, clothes you didn’t throw away, nappies that you washed or furniture that was repaired or rehomed and didn’t end up at the tip, Happy sustainable parenting!
Jeni Atkinson- CalmFamily Derby and Nottingham
Jeni is a wonderful, compassionate and inspiring woman: “Just because our parenting is gentle doesn’t mean it doesn’t make a difference, the way we raise our children will impact how they feel about themselves & the choices they make as they grow up. I want to see things change in their lifetime, I want to fight back against the childist views of our patriarchal society, I want to see a world where children are allowed their own autonomy, that lets them learn for themselves & make their own mistakes. A society where diversity in all its forms is celebrated, where neurodiversity, mental health, sex & sexuality, gender, politics & all these subjects that are shied away from are talked about openly. A society where parents are inspired & supported to make the choices that work from them & their families. Oh & save the planet at the same time!”
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