David McCann Mon 09 Sep 2019
Cathy Gorman is a Project Officer with Eco-Schools
Since last week was Zero Waste Week I thought I would share a few things I’ve been doing in my day to day life to reduce waste, especially plastic waste. As with most people I have become increasingly aware of single use plastic in my life. I am Eco-Schools Officer with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful but more recently I became Mum to the amazing Amelia! Anyone that’s ever seen a baby knows they come with a lot of “stuff”, and a lot of that stuff is made to be disposable, for added convenience. I’m going to go through my changing bag so you can see some of the changes we’ve made to reduce our waste production:
•Nappies. Nappies were the biggest source of single use plastic that I could see on the horizon so I started to look into alternatives before Amelia arrived. My mum always bemoaned terry towels from when I was a baby, trying and abandoning them within a short space of time – having a newborn is hard enough without learning the art of towel origami and the stress of safety pins after all! But things have moved on since then. Nowadays reusable/cloth nappies come in a variety of styles ranging from the classic terry towels to all in ones, which are the same shape and structure as disposables. I found lots of websites with reviews and came to realise that different styles suit different babies (and parents!) so I didn’t want to dive right in without trying some first. Some googling revealed that there is a Nappy Library in NI, where you can hire kits with a range of brands and types for a month. So that’s exactly what I did! There’s a wealth of knowledge and an amazing online community to support you if you’re thinking about making a change to reusables. That’s not to say we didn’t use any disposables, the first week we did as I decided I had enough to get my head around but we started to slowly swap in the hired reusables, figuring out which type we preferred. Once we had an idea I looked online and found a pre-loved nappy group on Facebook, where I managed to snag a stash of the type we liked for an absolute bargain! Extra eco-points for buying pre-loved ;)
An argument against reusable nappies is the energy needed for the increased amount of washing you’ll have to do. This is something you have to weigh up for yourself, I decided that the extra washing, done mostly at 30o , had a lower environmental impact than the tonnes of plastic waste being sent to landfill. From my research cloth nappies also seem to be better for babies’ skin.
•Baby wipes. I’ve never liked wipes, they're thin and slippery, never mind the obvious environmental and cost implications. So as soon as we were home from hospital we started using fabric wipes. I dare you to try them and not prefer them! They come in a range of materials (cotton, bamboo or microfiber) and colours. My husband got a little bit obsessed and we now have a stash of all 3 types so we should never have to buy wipes again! I’ve found them to be a lot more effective than baby wipes, needing fewer to do the same job. They will last us well beyond her baby years, into being a mucky toddler and beyond. When out and about I have wet bags in my changing bag to put used wipes and nappies in, and once home they go into a tub before being washed every other day.
•Also in my changing bag is my bamboo cutlery set (which was a brilliant gift at the Eco-schools NOM in Cork!) And my collapsible coffee mug – I hate being out and not having a re-usable mug with me when I need one so this means I always have one with me for emergency caffeine! (Find me a new parent that doesn’t need emergency caffeine!).
•Not in the changing bag, but as a result of doing so much more washing we have recently purchased a Guppy bag, which catches the microplastic fibres released in the washing machine. This was actually my husband’s idea, although it was me driving the nappies and wipes he has been fully converted to reducing waste wherever we can!
When I was pregnant and telling people I planned to use reusable nappies and wipes I got a lot of funny looks and comments, even from like minded people. People can be a bit funny at the thought of having to be so hands on with poo but thankfully it’s not a literal issue. Changing any nappy involves getting close to poo but once you get into a routine and habit we’ve found it really isn’t a problem. You do have to be a bit more organised when using reusable nappies and wipes and stay on top of the washing so you don’t run out but you don’t have to be all or nothing with it, even having one or two nappies will make a considerable difference to the number of nappies being sent to landfill, but don’t be surprised if you get hooked by all the cute patterns!
The main thing I’ve taken from this is to reach out, ask questions and just give things a go! The worst that will happen is that you don’t love the alternatives, the best is that you’ll save a lot of waste from being produced!
“We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Anne-Marie Bonneau