It might seem like mission impossible to have a zero waste baby. With well-meaning friends and family all around you telling you that you absolutely will not be able to survive parenthood with a long list of “essentials.” I looked back at the list a close friend gave me when I was pregnant with Maxime and think, how on earth could I have thought all this was necessary?
Luckily, I didn’t fall for it and preferred to see what I would need and buy at that time. Three babies later, I now see that there are only a small number of items truly needed and many of those can be procured from friends, second hand shops or second hand websites. We have sold or donated almost everything we have used for our kids and look for second hand options whenever possible. Kids grow so fast and change their needs so quickly, when selecting second hand and/or more durable items, we significantly reduce the waste produced throughout their childhoods.
Here are some of the top switches when considering how to raise a “zero waste” baby:
1. CLOTH DIAPERS
This is by far the best way to reduce waste being sent to a landfill due to baby. I (like many) was hesitant (even scared) of the idea of using cloth diapers. I knew it would be better for the environment, but it just seemed like so much work. For that reason, I waited until my third before a dear friend finally convinced me. Now I look back and wish I had given it a try earlier!
- 10 million disposable diapers are sent to landfills or incinerators each day in Italy alone!
- In three years, one baby uses 10 trees of diapers
- In one year, 3.4 billion gallons of fuel oil will be used to manufacture disposable diapers.
- Disposables generate over 3.5 million tons of waste each year.
- Diapers can take 500 years to decompose. Biodegradable diapers are absolutely better but still end up in landfills.
- Disposables require 60 times the amount of solid waste that reusables do.
- They also use 20 times the amount of raw materials, such as crude oil, compared to cloth diapers.
Each baby who uses disposables will burn through more than 300 pounds of wood, 20 pounds of chlorine and 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks
If you ever doubt that one person can make a significant difference for the environment when there are billions of people on the planet, switching to cloth diapers is a great way to start.
Another huge benefit of cloth diapering is the amount of money you will save! They do require a small investment upfront but no matter how you calculate, even using only for a single child you will save a significant amount of money (at least EUR 500 for your first child and much more for additional children).
This is one of the little-known benefits of cloth diapering but extremely important. We are so careful with what we put on baby but are unknowingly exposing our babies to harmful materials and chemicals included in traditional disposable diapers, the most prevalent being reproductive (fertility) issues:
- Phthalates: Phthalates (BPA) are believed to be endocrine disruptors and have been phased out of baby gear that children chew on but are still used in diapers and skin care products. They’ve even been shown to have a negative effect on the male reproductive system.
- Sodium Polyacrylate: Creates and aggravates diaper rash
- Tributyl Tin: Another chemical causing endocrine disruption. Also, it does not degrade, it stays in our environment.
- Dioxins: They are a cancer-causing agent and are released into the environment into the food chain which means we are all exposed to them. They are also linked to developmental and reproductive issues.
Also, studies have shown disposable diapers being linked to decreased sperm count in boys and worsening asthma in babies or children.
Scary? I'd say so!
I didn’t believe this one. Potty training has been one of my least favorite parts of parenting and lasted seemingly forever. But I was proved wrong. My cloth diaper wearing Noah miraculously stopped needing diapers (except nights) at 2 years old and many children start even earlier.
“I DON’T HAVE TIME AND AREN’T THEY GROSS?”
First, the laundry. When you have babies, you are inevitably doing a lot of laundry. An extra load every few days really does not change that much! As long as you have the right number of diapers, the washing of diapers is not a significant burden. As with many zero waste changes, adjusting your routine and slowly adapting is all it takes.
Let’s talk about the ick factor. Wait, I have to touch pee and poop!?!? Well, get ready. If you’re having kids, you’re going to be doing that anyways! I feel like I’ve become immune to anything “gross” with kids. But actually, there is not that much touching going on. Only a tiny bit more than with disposable diapers really. With poop, you just dump the diaper so the majority falls off in the toilet. Then rinse quickly under COLD water (hot water promotes staining) and store in a wet bag or container until washing. Also, there’s always the option of using diaper liners (ideally compostable or reusable). In that case you really don’t touch anything! Just remove and flush down the toilet (if flushable) or dump and store for washing.
GIVE IT A TRY
There are more and more people using cloth diapers. Find a friend or a pannolinoteca near you offering some diapers to try. This way the risk is low and you’ll be able to see if they’re for you before making the investment. Plus, they are extremely easy to resell on facebook and other marketplaces. Why not give them a try?
There are many more things to discuss if you’re really evaluating giving diapers a try as there are many different kinds and brands and every parent, caretaker and baby is different. A post with more on that as well as diaper maintenance tips and FAQ coming soon!
Regardless of whether you switch to cloth diapers, using reusable cloth wipes is an easy and meaningful switch to make. Cloth wipes are more cost-effective, create less waste in the landfill, and help you avoid the use of irritating soaps and chemicals on your baby's delicate bottom. For the record, cloth does a MUCH better job at cleaning poopy bums than a disposable baby wipe.
3. SECOND HAND CLOTHING
Another extremely impactful action with baby is choosing second hand clothes. It may be tempting at first to buy all new adorable matching clothes with your newborn. But think about the quantity of clothes that are needed over their lives as they quickly outgrow their clothes. The environmental impact of the fashion industry is no secret and baby clothing is not an exception.
The fabric of the new clothes may be treated with chemicals and other agents, harsh for delicate baby skin. Baby clothes can be a significant investment as well and choosing second hand also saves money. Ask around for second hand baby clothes from friends or relatives with older children. You’ll be surprised how happy they will be to give away their baby things! Alternatively, we also use second hand websites such as Armadio Verde for my oldest where you also earn points for donating old clothes!
4. BOTTLES AND CUPS
As I’ve mentioned before, we began our “zero waste journey” while our kids were babies. So I have experienced parenting without the zero waste mentality as well and cringe when I think of the quantity of bottles and cups we have gone through over the years. Luckily, I was able to breastfeed (the ideal zero waste option when possible) so needed less bottles in the beginning, but quickly fell victim to the idea that baby needed all the kinds of cups to learn how to drink.
First you need baby bottles, then sippy cups, maybe straw cups, non-spill cups, and whatever other kinds of creative baby learning cups they come up with. And what about the materials? Baby bottles are mostly made of plastic these days. While Bisphenol A (BPA) became widely known as one potentially hazardous chemical used in plastic baby bottles and cups, plastic leaching chemicals into food and drinks didn't end with the broad adoption of BPA-Free plastic formulations. Some recent studies suggest that even the BPA-Free plastics may pose a health risk to babies as they leach hormone-like chemicals.
So what’s the alternative? Going back a few generations, we could use glass which is a safe option. But for many, that means quite a few broken bottles. Noah had a favorite game of launching his bottle into the air to see what would happen. We did switch to glass as soon as the boys reached about 2 years old as the risk of breaking decreased. However, you’d still need different bottles/cups as baby grows.
Our favorite is now the Pura stainless steel bottle. They grow with baby as you can start with a baby nipple, change to sipper, then to straw and finally to a sport top (which we’re now using for Noah who is 2 ½ ). They are the only bottle on the market that is 100% plastic-free (attachments are all medical-grade silicone). They are also available in an insulated version for when on the go to keep liquids (or food) hot or cold. Plus, they are indestructible, which was essential for my bottle throwing Noah 😊
Babies are messy. From spitting up to spills to messy faces, we always had a pile of reusable cotton cloths sitting around. Avoid the temptation to clean up those messes with paper towels and reach for a cloth instead.
6. MAKE YOUR OWN BABY FOOD
I was able to adopt this one even before being a zero-waster, simply due to the less than ideal ingredients in pre-packaged baby food. With the right organization, this is achievable even for the busiest parents. I generally steamed and blended food, froze using ice trays and then transferred to labelled silicone bags or glass containers for storage. No special equipment necessary other than something to steam, a blender and ice trays.
When small, babies have very few needs in terms of toys. Their parents’ faces and their own hands are often all they need. You can offer wooden teething toys which are much safer for baby to chew on than cheap, imported plastic. As baby grows, opt for higher quality, plastic-free toys and look for second hand when possible to give those toys a new life.
8. SKIN CARE
Baby does not need all the special delicate baby skincare products the marketing tries to sell us. Babies’ skin is delicate and most of the time water alone is enough. When using soap, use only very delicate and natural soaps such as Marseille soap or a small spoon of rice starch or corn starch. For moisturizing, sweet almond oil is perfect and is often sold in glass containers.
This is a tricky one. Friends and family LOVE to give clothes and toys to your little ones! While their generosity is a wonderful thing, it can result in an overwhelming number of clothes, toys, and gadgets that you really don't need. Hint at wanting more practical gifts, such as gift certificates, financial contributions toward a single larger item, or free babysitting.
Talk to your children about the choices you are making. They look up to us and mirror our actions more than we realize. When we explain why we chose one quality toy over multiple cheap/breakable ones, they will make similar choices in their future.
What have been your most meaningful zero waste choices for baby?