There’s no two ways about it, kids cost a lot of money, and they create a fair bit of waste. The average child uses 4000-6000 disposable nappies pre-potty training, and that doesn’t even begin to cover the waste created by snack packets, broken toys, and ruined clothes. Because those happen, no matter how good you are at making sure they’re wearing bib). But sustainable parenting isn’t an impossible task. There are lots of creative ways to make your child’s early years less waste-heavy, and while some of them require up-front investment (looking at you, cloth nappies), others require pretty much no money at all.
1. Choose your Sustainable Parenting Priorities
Before you read on – you can’t do everything. As much as you might want to, and be motivated to, you can’t. So choose the things you want to prioritise. Sustainable parenting is as much about learning how to make a real impact and assessing your options as it is about resources and output. For some parents, food pouches are a lifesaver – if that’s you, stick with them, and identify other areas you can realistically improve. The same goes for nappies. Cloth nappies are amazing, but sometimes the budget and/or living arrangements you’re in mean disposables just make for more sense. I sound like a broken record, but we cannot buy our way out of the Climate Crisis. Conscious consumerism is a great start, but it isn’t everything, and it isn’t available to everyone. So when you’re reading the ideas below, focus on the ones that will work for you, and forget about the rest.
2. Rent your Baby’s Clothes
I’ve talked about Bundlee a lot in the past, but it’s always worth mentioning again. In the first 24 months of their life, your baby will go through about 7 (!!!) clothes sizes. That’s a lot of clothes, and a lot of clothes that will still be in pretty good condition once they’ve been outgrown. I’m a big fan of shopping secondhand, but it’s actually quite hard to find good-quality pre-loved baby clothes. So alongside the hand-me-downs we’ve received from friends and family, we’ve been renting a capsule wardrobe for Arlo. Each Bundlee comes with 15 seasonal items, and you can even upgrade to a personalised subscription which contains all the fun and sustainable baby brands! We just go with the standard subscription, though, the quality is great and it works for us. If you want to give it a go, you can use my link* to get 50% off your first month – standard referral programme, not an ad!
3. Ditch the Disposables
It’s a sustainable parenting cliché, I know, but cloth nappies really are the future. They do require some investment, as well as easy access to a washing machine and somewhere to line dry them, so they aren’t as accessible as they need to be to make the impact they could. But budget-friendly versions are becoming more and more available, there’s a booming secondhand market, and all-in-one designs are MUCH easier to launder and dry than their more old-school counterparts. Initially sceptical of them, I have to admit that cloth nappying isn’t as hard as I thought it would be! It did take us a little bit of trying to find the right brand for us. Our favourites are BambinoMio All-in-One nappies, closely followed by Boots’ new Little Stories washable nappy*.
4. Redefine what’s Reusable
I’ll admit I’m a complete pushover when it comes to nicely-designed reusable things. We have Liewood lunchboxes* and washable bibs*, as well as a whole load of Frozen-themed S’well products* (which I found on sale!!!). But the terms ‘reusable’ and ‘single use’ have become a bit too popular in the marketing world, and we’re not questioning them enough. Have you ever, in your entire life, met a water bottle that wasn’t refillable? Probably not. So yes, buying stainless steel lunchboxes and all that is great, and they’ll last a long time and make everyone happy. But also, a lot of ‘single use’ packaging can be reused, too. So if you do ever have to go and buy a plastic drinks bottle (anyone else’s kids have some unfathomable obsession with fruit shoots?) remember that you can get quite a lot of use out of it before it goes in the recycling bin.
5. Stop the Toy Overwhelm
I am exactly 0% perfect on this front. Considering how much I told myself my children would have educational, treasurable, pass-through-the-generations toys, we’ve accumulated a whole load of crap. Kids just want what their friends have, and I don’t want to say no to everything all the time. On top of that, my usual solution of buying everything secondhand is a lot harder with toys than it is with clothes, or even furniture. Although I did once buy a whole basket of Sylvanian Families for £40 at a charity shop, which I’m really quite proud of! Pre-loved toys are fantastic, but they have to be just that – pre-loved, not pre-trashed. For Arlo, we’ve been using Whirli a lot, which is a toy rental subscription service. Every month, we send the toys back and choose a few new ones. It keeps him entertained, and the gently used toys in indefinite circulation. We’ve been able to rent some toys that we would never have been able to afford to buy, we’ve been super impressed with the quality, and we can swap toys over as soon as they’re no longer played with frequently… a win on all sides! Want to try it for yourself? You can use my referral code CEAOZY6S for £5 or 15% off (whichever is greater), and I’ll get money off our next bill, too. Again, standard referral programme and not an ad.
Sustainable parenting is totally achievable, and it definitely doesn’t mean you have to buy stainless steel everything. The absolute single most important thing you can do is to talk to your children. Explain why you don’t buy certain things and how you’re trying to reduce household waste. Discuss recycling (and why it isn’t the solution to all our problems!), talk about the impact of waste, and get them interested in the environment. Because in the long run, that’s what will pay off the most.