Plastic-free July got me thinking: plastic-free is a pretty lofty goal, but it’s a great opportunity to review our waste output. The disclaimer is – if I’m going to adopt a new process in my household, it needs to be any one of these three:
Otherwise it may not be a sustainable change for our family.
For context, our family is myself, my partner and our 11 month old daughter living in a 1960s pretty much original home. No pets…yet. I’ll share some of the things we already do towards waste reduction, and some of the things I’d like to adopt. I’m by no means an eco-warrior, but I like to think I’ve made a start. Keen for your feedback and ideas – even if you just want to share what you’ve changed or would like to change.
This got me thinking:
My child(ren) will inherit the earth, so that’s pretty big motivation for me. If we all do a little bit and make some tweaks, we can help to reduce our impact.
We’ve always been using reusable bags part-time at least (when we could remember to keep them in the car). We would use plastic bags as rubbish bags so we would work our way through reusing them. Until at some point we were inundated with plastic bags! So we made sure we each had a set of resuable bags in each car (they’re just old black Pak n Save ones). I saw a discussion recently saying that you would need to use each bag 110 times (or something) to justify the production required to make a reusable bag. So if shopping once a week (52 times a year) for more than a couple of years we’ve achieved that. Although I think arguments like that are nitpicking though…
Unless absolutely necessary, I refuse plastic bags. I can usually put items in the basket under my pram or I don’t mind carrying a few things. I was at the liquor store the other day to get a cheeky Pinot, and asked if the bag was necessary (I didn’t know if there were licensing trust rules or something) and was told I could have a paper bag instead. Excellent! I felt very secretive and 80s!!
Something I don’t do yet which would be a good next step is to get some reusable produce bags. At the moment I buy my fruit and veg loose (and in smaller quantities) and probably drive the poor ladies at Fruit World nuts with my 5 loose apples, 5 loose tomatoes, etc. The lettuce doesn’t need a bag as it gets washed anyway! The only thing is, the best bargains often come on Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic wrap…and I do love a bargain!
Soft plastic recycling
I have only just clicked that the soft plastic recycling stations outside some supermarkets aren’t just for plastic bags! There’s a whole other world of recycling that I’ve only just caught up with. So now I have a plastic bag in the pantry that I can add to then take with me to the supermarket.
I’m not a coffee drinker but I do enjoy the odd hot chocolate. At work, I take my own mug to the café, but I would like to invest in a reusable cup I can keep in the car for when I’m out and about. I like the idea of a glass cup, but it would need to be leak-free and easy to hold when hot. I’ve seen lots about Keep Cups but I’m looking for something a bit prettier.
I thought to myself – that’s easy. I hardly ever get straws. Next thing, the baby’s asleep in the car and I’m hungry so the only thing for it is some drive-thru action…resulting in a straw accompanying my beverage. For straw enthusiasts, you can get stainless steel straws. The cool thing at the moment, is there are a lot more eco businesses starting up with interesting products and consumer demand is allowing competitive and accessible prices.
Reusable/Modern Cloth Nappies and Cloth Wipes
Some would argue this is a lot of extra work, but I disagree. Yes, it’s extra work, but I don’t believe it’s too much more and it helps that I think it’s worth it to save so many plastic nappies and their associated chemicals to landfill. This is not to slate or shame parents who use disposables at all! It’s about what we can each manage in our own situations. I’m lucky enough to have a cousin who inspired me that it could be done – with three children to take care of no less!
After my c section, I gave myself a goal of 3 months before attempting cloth nappies. In the meantime we used cloth wipes. That was an easy decision, as upon first using a baby wipe it seemed to sting my baby and cause some painful cracks. I decided that cloth and water would be far more gentle on a sensitive area and would do a great job at keeping her clean. We use coloured flannels for face/hands and white ones for bum. I just add water (wet with warm water in the winter and straight out of a pump bottle in the summer). It was also great practice for getting into a regular washing routine. A few points below:
- Everything gets a prewash first just nappies and wipes
- Then any other small items can go into the next long wash – bibs, flannels, undies, tea towels
- As long as you have a robust wash routine, you can be sure that everything is clean and sanitary once washed
- I recommend www.cleanclothnappies.com where you can learn all about washing cloth nappies and develop your own tailored wash routine based on your washing machine model, which washing liquid/powder you intend on using and whether the water is hard or soft where you live. They are dedicated mums based in Australia who have developed wash routines based on science and real experiments who have tested most of the cleaning products available on the market. They also have a super supportive Facebook page for troubleshooting. I’ve learned so much from them and am confident that all of our washing is clean.
I could write another article on Cloth Nappies alone if there was any interest. We went to a Waste Free Living seminar with Kate Mead (the nappy lady) which was really helpful as she talked through the benefits and we got to www.wastefreeparenting.co.nz
We do use disposable over night, to give us 1 nappy change over the 11-12 hours because sleep is precious!! There are definitely cloth options for overnight, it just takes the purchase of specific product(s).
Cloth Pads and Menstrual Cup
Ok, this is territory I never thought I’d visit. Ever. Periods can be hard enough without having to change things up and I thought cloth pads and especially menstrual cups would make life more difficult, if not messy!
But like anything above, the change came about in degrees. It’s got to start with whatever you’re comfortable with. After my C-section, I got so sick of plastic-y pads against my skin. Of course they helped with the weeks of post partum bleeding, but I also used one each day to protect my c-section scar from rubbing against my undies/clothes. After being so happy with my child in cloth, I thought: why not me then? I’m generally not a pad person, but on lighter days I preferred a liner so I got some cloth liners to try.
That worked well, washing is super easy, just rinse at the end of the day and chuck in with the wash. Honestly it’s that easy.
Next, I had joined a local cloth pad and menstrual cup discussion page on Facebook. I’ve realised this is how I learn best. Sit and read discussions, questions, recommendations, troubleshooting so I know what I’m getting into. Then a friend mentioned she had tried and it went really well.
I invested $10 in a cup from Nappy Needz, just in case it wasn’t for me. Of course the first couple of days I was a bit self conscious and awkward, but I haven’t looked back. Doing a full-on workout with one was a revelation – no issues at all and so easy. Quite exciting to try something new!
Donate rather than chuck/Borrow rather than buy
Self explanatory really, but just trying to be mindful of this convenience culture some (most) of us have fallen into where it’s just easiest to biff something we don’t want or go out and buy something we need instead of sourcing another way.
What I’d like to do next
I’d love to get into composting. Having a baby means we end up with a lot of food scraps that I believe needn’t go to landfill. http://www.compostcollective.org.nz has been an invaluable resource in getting started. They have really useful quizzes, which then unlock discount coupons for compost bins/bokashi systems. Ideally I’d like to do both.
On that same vein I’d like to start a veggie garden, as a nice spring hobby but also to reduce the need for purchasing some plastic-wrapped bargains.
As always, keen to answer any questions.