As the mother of four children – all born in the 80s – the myriad of convenience consumer choices for parents were beginning to rear their wasteful heads and leading us into temptation. Nowadays we are more conscious of the impact our waste has on the environment and as a consequence, trying to ensure we don’t add to the damage any more than necessary. This series of three zero waste family articles investigates the pitfalls and asks parents for their suggestions on how they personally try to minimise their impact.
By far the most controversial item of bringing up a baby is nappies. Back in the 80s we used terry nappies in the main, along with disposable liners to catch the solids and flush down the loo. When my twins were born, I suddenly had three babies under the age of 17 months and a total of 72 terry nappies on the go! And believe me there was a real art to folding a terry nappy: for tiny babies, for boys and for girls, as essentially they were just square towels, unlike today’s ready-to-wear models.
To be honest it was more the cost of disposable nappies that made me stick to reusable (it’s estimated that a baby uses 3,920 nappies in their first year alone), but once the twins were born I did succumb to convenience whenever we went on trips away from home.
Hong Kong resident and Project Manager, Fiona, who lives with her husband, three-and-a-half year old toddler and helper, agrees.
“Nappies are by far the most visible sign of waste in babyhood. Our waste would be halved without nappies!” she admits. “I initially planned to be the perfect parent with the intention of being entirely disposable nappy free. However, what worked for us was to use washables at home and on easy outings, and disposables at night and longer outings.
Another tip is as your baby gets older learning to tell when they need to go, and popping them on the potty. It’s good for eliminating the need for nappies fairly early on. Hong Kong’s Susan Norton runs ‘one-two-pee’ service, and is happy to come along and do private consultations. This worked well for us at home, but it was a while before we lost them outside. It’s worth a try and the two-part green and white Ikea potty was pretty useful for this.” Fiona says.
A word of caution here though, some of my contemporaries who tried early potty training had little ones suffer with incontinence, one well into school age, so it doesn’t work for all.
Lisa Odell, founder of Plastic Free Hong Kong, is currently expecting her second baby and a firm advocate of zero waste.
“At one point reusable nappies were the norm, but then along came the convenience of disposable nappies and although I took this route with my son, I will definitely be using reusable with our little one on the way. I feel it’s my responsibility and duty to save the World from the thousands of nappies I would contribute to the landfill if I didn’t. Today, there are so many great options so finding the one that works for you is much more attainable.”
The Facts: The US Environment Protection Agency estimates that using reusable cloth diapers [nappies] prevent around half a tonne of disposable diapers per child from going into US landfills each year, cutting down on the pathogens which experts agree could potentially pollute drinking water.
The manufacture of disposable nappies also uses volatile chemicals, which contaminate the eco-system. In addition, up to 200,000 trees are lost each year to make disposable nappies for babies in the US alone. Even more alarming is that experts estimate that depositing nappies in landfills could take from 200 to 500 years to degrade, creating methane and other toxic gases in the process.
But there’s good news from founder of Baby Tooshy , Gioula Chelten who says: “Reusable cloth diapers are becoming more popular among health and environmentally conscious parents, and reports show that reusable diapers also save families as much as 900 USD per year (7,022 HKD) compared with disposables when the costs of diapers, laundry detergent and energy are taken into account.”
“Hemp cloth diapers are more absorbent than cotton, and hemp is among the most sustainable crops currently in use for fabric production.”
There was no such thing as a baby shower in the UK in the 80s. It was all about the baby rather than the mum and it was thought unlucky to buy gifts before your little one was born (and you knew its gender!). The gifts were practical necessities as mums tended to give up work and money was tight. It’s different today with many mums continuing to work and with rampant commercialism and clever marketing machines it means we are all encouraged and able to buy far more than we need.
So if a baby shower is on the cards, and friends and family buy you gifts once the baby is born, it’s worth ensuring they are aware that you choose to follow the zero waste route and give them the enjoyable challenge of discovering pampering goodies, treats and baby items that do not land you with a pile of packaging to recycle, or worse still, that ends up in Hong Kong’s limited landfill.
Fiona’s company sent her a fruit basket when her son was born. “This was a lovely gesture”, she says, “and we use the basket to keep our mulling cloth collection in.”
The Equipment & The Clothes
I fully agreed with Fiona when she gave us her thoughts on this topic:
“Most British, Australian and American baby books have long lists of what you’ll need for your baby. Most of this is nonsense, and you can tell the houses are far bigger than necessary! You need somewhere to sleep, somewhere to bathe, change nappies, some clothes, stuff to mop up bodily fluids, and that’s about it!”
And so beware of the shops loaded with beautiful tempting treasures, most of these last two minutes and then you have to store them until baby number two comes along, or sell for a fraction of their original value. Yes, I was guilty of having a house that some might think was bigger than necessary – certainly by Hong Kong standards anyway – and when my eldest daughter was born it was filled with the paraphernalia I had been convinced I needed ‘by the experts’.
However, by the time my twin sons arrived I had decluttered and gone minimal; essentially I had two baby bouncers, a pram and two cots. Until they were big enough for the bath, I bathed the babies in the sink, used our crockery, towels and other everyday items to care for them. Trust me, forget any peer pressure and beware those selling treasures, babies neither know or care about these things as long as they are loved, dry and well fed.
With 400 square foot of accommodation – about average for Hong Kong – some of Fiona’s waste reduction is also about not having enough space for too much ‘stuff’. For a baby bath she used a storage box and still uses this in the shower – “good for splashing, playing and washing”. Her cot, changing mat and clothes were handed down from friends.
Lisa adopted the same principle: “Buy or borrow used clothing from friends and family. My circle of girlfriends is great, as we just keep passing around our children’s clothes to each other. Also, here in Hong Kong, there are such a plethora of Facebook Groups dedicated to selling baby items, that finding good quality, cute clothes is pretty easy.”
Watch out for more tips in part two next month when we cover ‘From Toddler to Teen’.
- My three toddlers in the shower base
- Fiona’s gift fruit basket proving useful for storing baby towels
- My twin sons bathing in the sink
- Monkey modelling the baby in Fiona’s IKEA drawer makeshift bath