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Babies, Children, Families, Whole Family

Green Parenting Tips To Help the Environment

green parenting tips

green parenting tips

This week is Climate Week and in recognition of this I thought I’d share some green parenting tips.  The great thing about these tips is that as well as helping the planet, you’ll save yourself some money too.

The following green parenting tips are by no means prescriptive.  The thing I’ve learned most about being a parent is that you have to do whatever works for you.  These things work for us – maybe some of them might work for you too, but if they don’t then that’s ok!  It is hard being a parent, and sometimes it feels that others are judging you on your parenting decisions (breast vs. bottle; dummy vs. non-dummy; the list is never ending) so the last thing I’d want is for anyone to feel like they’re being judged just because your kid wears disposable nappies or has a thing for plastic dolls!

1.  Accept Help

The first of my green parenting tips is to get a head start and start being a green parent before you’ve given birth!  Put pride to the side and accept any offers of help.  When I was pregnant a friend gave me a load of her old maternity clothes, which was a total life saver, because who wants to buy new clothes that you can only wear for a few months?  Other friends gave us their old car-seat, moses basket, steriliser, sheets and toys.  My sister gave us a massive bag of clothes from zero months to age three that my niece had long since grown out of.

We were amazed and so grateful for all of the help and items given to us.  Babies grow so fast, and for the first year especially, babies grow out of their clothes in months, so most of the things were in mint condition.  We’ve also saved all of our daughter’s things that she’s grown out of – either for another baby or to give to friends, depending on what the future brings us.

If you don’t have any friends or family with older babies/toddlers/kids then mine Freecycle and the freebies section of Gumtree for people giving away baby things they no longer need.  You’ll be surprised at what you can find on there!

bumgenius review

Some of our washable nappies

2.  Reuse As Much As You Can

We used washable nappies, and now we’re in the middle of potty training I’m currently using washable training pants.  It’s good for the environment, and even though the initial investment is high (we spent £200 on washable nappies) you do end up saving a heap of money as buying disposable nappies and disposable training pants for at least two and a half years soon adds up to somewhere in the thousands, especially if you have more than one child.

I loved using washable nappies, it wasn’t a hassle in the slightest – it was just a case of putting everything in the washing machine and then hanging it up to dry.  No late night dashes in the rain to the shops to buy nappies because we’d ran out, or carrying home bulky packs of nappies, or stinky bins full of discarded nappies – we just put a wash on every time we started to run low.  So convenient!

3.  Resist Cheap Tat

Now that we’re at the toddler stage, we’ve got to the point that whenever we go to the shop my daughter asks for a little plastic pocket money toy.  The thing is 9 times out of 10 the toy lasts two minutes before a) she gets bored of them and b) they break or get lost down the back of the sofa.  This means you end up with a mountain of plastic rubbish.  Instead, say no – this saves plastic and saves you money.  At the moment I find promising a trip to the park instead works miracles at diffusing a fraught temper, or perhaps a snack!

4.  Buy Secondhand Where Possible

I recently bought my daughter’s bed secondhand, and try and buy secondhand clothes as much as possible, either in charity shops or through eBay (some eBay top tips here!).  Children grow so quickly and things like clothes may only be worn a few times before being given to the charity shop or sold online.  It helps stop perfectly fine items going to landfill and saves money.

car free living

Getting about with my daughter  on the bus, in the Ergo baby carrier ( 7 weeks).

5.  Do You Need a Car?

Cars are expensive.  You buy a car, you have to insure it, you have to pay vehicle excise duty, you have to pay for fuel and oil, you have to pay for replacement tyres, you have to pay for repairs, you have to pay it’s yearly MOT, you have to pay for parking, you may have to pay to park your car outside your house.  And then it depreciates in value.  On top of that they’re bad for the environment.

Even though we live fairly rurally, with access to very limited local amenities, we don’t have a car.  Kids are fairly portable – up until the age of 18 months I predominantly used our Ergobaby carrier* to get about (absolutely invaluable if you travel mainly on buses).   With baby carriers or slings you can go anywhere and don’t have to worry about there not being a space on the bus for your pram.  Now my daughter’s older and mostly walking, though still in need of a nap, I use a small umbrella buggy that folds up at the flick of a lever for quick and easy bus access.

This works for us as I do most of my food shopping online (although I’m looking for ways to change this) so I don’t have to worry about carrying bags of shopping home and having to deal with toddler and folding a buggy.  Using reusable nappies means I don’t have to carry bags of big bulky bags of nappies home either.

Season tickets are often cheaper than paying for each trip individually.  In Edinburgh you can get unlimited bus travel for £51 a month.  Kids under five travel free.  £51 is less than one whole tank of petrol, and you don’t have all the other car costs to worry about.

I’m not going to lie, sometimes there have been inconsolable crying fits on the bus, much to the dismay of some passengers, which has been difficult.  However, mostly it’s been fine, and I strongly believe that taking the bus has been good for us.  I have made some really good friends on the bus that I wouldn’t have met whilst travelling alone in a car.  My daughter is learning from a young age about acceptable behaviour on the bus.  She’s also learning about how to interact with a wide range of different people, and about manners – without being prompted she always says “thank you” to the driver as we get off the bus!

It also means we take advantage of all the great things happening locally – meaning we support our community and get to know our neighbours.  Rather than driving to a softplay centre, I instead go to the toddler group in our village – my daughter gets to run around for two hours playing with other kids, and I get to meet local mums and dads.  I shop in our local shop to supplement our fortnightly supermarket delivery.  We spend a lot of time playing in the garden, so I know all of our neighbours now.

If you’re not particularly into the idea of the bus, or aren’t quite ready to give up a car completely then there is another option.  If you live in a large town or city you might have a car club near you.  The City Car Club* is an amazing pay-per-hour UK wide car club, that I’ve used a lot for work.  It costs from £4.95 an hour (that’s including fuel and everything!), and is super convenient.  You can even hire a car just by going up to a free one on the street, as long as it’s not booked out, for when you really need a car right that second! They even hire vans by the hour, for you know, if you have to pick up a Gumtree or eBay purchase, or are moving house!    If you’re not a frequent car user, maybe just at the weekend say, then you’d probably save a heap of money ditching your car and joining a car club.

6.  Don’t Eat Processed Food

We’re trying to eat as little processed food as possible – batch cooking instead.  Chilis, soups, curries, dahls, pasta sauces, etc, you name it and it’s probably in our freezer, or the requisite parts are in our fridge ready to be cooked up!  It’s not always that easy, especially after a long day at work, or a day of keeping a toddler entertained and keeping the house vaguely tidy, so we do slip up occasionally, especially when we’ve exhausted our supply of frozen meals.  But batch cooking your own meals from scratch cuts down on food packaging, cuts costs and is healthier for you too.

7.  Eat Less Meat

My partner and I are both long term vegetarians (no meat or fish for us).  We don’t want to force our views on our daughter, and we’d rather she made her own mind up when she’s older, so a couple of times a week we’ll cook some meat or fish for her, which she eats alongside whatever we’re eating.  It’s only once or twice a week: certainly not every day.  Eating meat isn’t the best for the environment, and it’s expensive to buy, so even if you don’t want to go vegetarian completely, then cutting down on the number of days that you eat meat is a good approach.  The Meat Free Monday twitter stream always has some good recipe suggestions if you’re struggling for ideas.

baby led weaning

Early attempts at boiled egg (6 months)

8.  Eat All Together

As soon as we started introducing solid food to our daughter at six months old, we made a point of all eating the same things.  Up until the age of one babies shouldn’t have salt in their food (so no gravy, soy sauce or stock cubes), and honey should never be given to a baby under one in any form – cooked or uncooked.  To get round this we either cooked one meal then seasoned our food separately, or cooked the same thing in separate pots, omitting salty items such as stock from our daughter’s pot.  After the age of one it’s less of a problem, and as we cook a lot of our meals from scratch we know that there is not much salt in our food.

As she has been introduced to most types of food from an early age, my daughter pretty much eats what we eat, with only a very few exceptions.  Mexican bean chilli?  Spicy lentil dahl?  Vegetable curry and rice?  All devoured in minutes.  Pasta and garlic bread?  Her favourite.

This approach helps reduce food waste; leftovers easily become lunch; batch cooking saves time and money; and I don’t have to cook separate meals every night, also cutting costs.

9.  Drink Water

My daughter gets juice only as a special treat when we’re out.  It’s sugary and bad for your teeth; it costs money; comes in plastic bottles or cartons; and has to be transported across the country.  Water is free and comes from the tap.  We don’t bother with expensive water filters or coolers, or any of that plastic stuff – just straight out of the tap for us.  When compared to water in other countries, such as parts of Africa, the water is squeaky clean in the UK.

10.  Do You Need A Big House?

We currently live in a 1.5 bedroomed maisonette.  We are currently looking to move to something a little bigger, but by bigger we mean maybe 2 bedrooms and a box room for my partner and I to work in, and pursue our hobbies in.

We don’t need a four bedroomed house.  Bigger houses need more furniture, and require more energy and money to heat.  I always think it’s a bit daft to heat a big house that you don’t need.  Living in a small space means you tend to acquire less junk!    I hate it when you watch property programmes and the house hunters say they need a spare bedroom for guests.  Unless you have overnight guests over every weekend othen you probably don’t need a guest bedroom.  When we have guests over they sleep on our sofa bed in the living room, and when we say at someone’s house I don’t expect anything more than a sofa or an airbed on the living room floor.

I love the Small & Cool posts on Apartment Therapy – such good inspiration for living small!

green parenting tips

Outdoor play is the best kind of play (18 months)!

11.  Make All That You Can

The last of my green parenting tips is to make all that you can.  I’m not particularly crafty (I have my moments but I wouldn’t call myself a crafting wizard) so I don’t make my own clothes or anything like that, but something I am good at is making our own fun without having to resort to buying plastic toys.  A walk in the park, jumping in puddles (a particular favourite), a walk along the beach, animal spotting, feeding the ducks, making things from junk, etc, are all fun things to do with your kids that don’t require making any purchases.  Your child also benefits from spending quality time with you and having fun experiences.  Hattie at Free Your Kids has a ton of good ideas in her archive of how to make your own fun with kids.

I’ve probably missed a load of ideas on how to be a green parent – share your green parenting tips in the comments below!

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Babies, Families

Eco Friendly Disposable Nappies

eco friendly disposable nappies

eco friendly disposable nappies

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One of my early posts on Moral Fibres was my experience of using reusable/washable nappies on my daughter.  At that point we were using 100% reusables, but at around the 18 month old mark we found that, despite our best efforts with booster pads, using reusables over night was no longer working.

With no other real solutions (waking up in the night to change nappies is not an option!) we switched to using a disposable overnight, which we also use now during bouts of bad nappy rash (particularly during teething!).  I’ve been using the more eco friendly disposable nappies on the market.  They are a little more expensive than other nappies, but as we only use one pack of nappies a month I don’t mind the little extra spend.

I really love my BumGenius washable nappies, but if reusables don’t work for you or you’re not into the idea of them then I thought I’d do a round-up of the eco friendly disposable nappies available in the UK.

Before I start, I do have some things to point out about eco friendly disposable nappies.  My main gripe them is that they say they are biodegradable, however due to the way landfill works, nothing truly biodegrades in landfill.  Oxygen is required for biodegradable matter to break down yet most landfill sites are so tightly packed that they do not let much or any air in, so any biodegradation that does take place does so very slowly, or it is mummified.  Add to this the fact that biodegradable items in landfill release a considerable amount of the greenhouse gas methane, making biodegradable nappies not the best for the environment.

You might be tempted to compost nappies labelled as biodegradable instead.  Yet according to recyclenow you cannot compost biodegradable nappies in a compost bin as it poses a health risk.

Other sources say you can compost a biodegradable nappy at home as long as you don’t compost soiled nappies, so it’s confusing to know what to do.  Even if you can compost nappies, then if you are using disposables full-time, or even using them part-time like us, then you’d need a pretty massive composter to hold that many nappies over a sustained period, as well as the mixed waste that composters require.  I’d also imagine nappies taking quite a long time to decompose in a standard composter, so you might end up with a mountain before long.

However, I’m not completely down on disposable nappies.  The plus points with eco friendly disposable nappies are that they are typically made with far fewer chemicals than other nappies, which is good for the environment and your baby’s skin.  They also tend to made from more renewable resources, and made more ethically (Proctor & Gamble, who make Pampers, are well-known for animal testing, and perhaps more lesser known – poor workers’ rights, as well as using non-renewable resources).  So here is my run-down of the eco friendly disposable nappies available in the UK:

Eco Friendly Disposable Nappies Guide:

are naty nature care nappies eco-friendly

Moltex Oko –  Moltex say their production process is eco friendly and that their nappies are made with more than 50% renewable resources from controlled cultivation.  The nappies are also chlorine free, and contains no perfumes and minimal amounts of absorbent gels.  Apparently two parts of the nappy are also biodegradable – the inner fluff and the backsheet, if you feel inclined to separate them.

Bambo Nature – Danish made Bambo nappies top the Ethical Consumer’s league table of disposable nappies, and is the only nappy to be independently accredited – by the Nordic Swan eco label.  Bambo Nature has an absorbent starch core, rather than a chemical based core, and avoids perfumes and other such chemicals, including chlorine.  The nappies are 80% biodegradable, and according to their website the wood is derived from sustainable forestry

Naty Nature Care Nappies – Swedish made Naty nappies are made from 70% natural materials, and are also 100% GM, chlorine and fragrance free.   Although not gel-free, they claim to be based on biodegradable materials, and the nappy itself is 70% biodegradable.  We personally use Naty nappies, and can verify that we don’t get any leaks overnight, which is the ultimate test for a nappy!

Beaming Baby – Beaming Baby claim their chlorine free nappies contain 30% less chemicals than standard disposable nappies.  The absorbent layer inside the nappy does contain gel, but is primarily made from very finely shredded paper, which has the consistency of cotton wool.  The nappies are 65% biodegradable.

Tushies – Tushies are the only nappy to use absolutely no gel at all, relying on wood pulp and cotton for absorbency.  As such they are thicker than most disposable nappies on the market, but without any chemical gels. Tushies are 50% biodegradable.

Sainsbury’s also make an own-brand eco friendly disposable nappy, but I’m not sure what they mean by this as there is no information on the website apart from a tiny picture that you can’t enlarge.  If anyone knows any further details about these nappies then do let me know!

The other alternative if you didn’t want to go down the all washable or all disposable route is gNappies – which intriguingly are a reusable/disposable hybrid.  gNappies feature washable covers with disposable inserts.  The inserts are biodegradable, and can be placed in a home composter (not soiled ones).  gNappies say an insert can break down in typically 50-150 days.  The inserts are much smaller than conventional nappies however if you’re getting through around 5-7 inserts a day (around 40 a week) then depending on the size of your compost bin then it may be that your composter may fill quicker than you can make compost.

My opinion?  It’s difficult to know what the best option is.  If you don’t use washable nappies and don’t want the extra spend of buying eco friendly disposable nappies all the time then I wouldn’t worry about using non eco friendly labelled nappies.  I know washables aren’t for everyone, and budgets don’t often stretch to more expensive nappies which have at best a tiny added advantage over other nappies.

As parents, there are a million other things to feel guilty about without worrying about which nappies you use, and there are plenty of other more beneficial ways in which you can help the environment (just read the Moral Fibres archive for some inspiration!). However, if you use washable nappies and are looking for a nappy just for night-time use then the eco friendly disposable nappies fit the bill.