8 Parenting Hacks To Help You Raise a Zero Waste Baby
Those tiny baby feet can leave a HUGE eco-footprint, but they don’t have to.
Take a look at this photo:
What do you see?
At one point in life I might have looked at this photo and seen a discount. (Everyone loves a good sale, right?)
These days, all I can see is a mountain of diapers that will eventually be headed to landfill.
If you’re like me, the eco-guilt that can come with becoming a parent can be crushing - and it comes at you in all forms, all day long (thanks, targeted Instagram ads!).
Just today while scrolling through my social media feeds I saw ads for toys that would ‘fast-track your baby’s motor skills!’ - when in reality it was a piece of plastic fresh off an assembly line that will be wrapped in (multiple layers of) packaging and shipped overseas if I were to click ‘order now’.
I see ads for matching holiday Mum and baby pyjamas. While adorable, the reality is that this would (maybe!) be worn a handful of times before being outgrown or out of season.
Loads of blogs with advice on how to raise a ‘green baby’ encourage new parents to purchase clothes and diapers made of natural fibers, exclusively organic formula and food, non-toxic skincare products, non-plastic toys, etc. And while all of these are valuable suggestions, they can be extremely expensive, while doing nothing to address the serious issue of how much waste North American families create. A truly green baby, by contrast, is the one whose lifestyle is least consumerist and most minimalist, whose parents don’t go out and stock up on a mountain of unnecessary new items in order to get it through the first year of life.
With environmental crises making headlines in the news what seems like every day these days, it’s impossible not to think about the world we are leaving for our kids and how the marketing messages we receive on a daily (hourly?) basis make it seem like the only way to raise a child is by leaving a gigantic environmental footprint, but it’s simply not the case.
It doesn’t have to be this way, and one of the greatest satisfactions I’ve found in this first year of being a parent (other than gazing adoringly at Baby Jack’s face, obviously) is the hacks I’ve discovered to not only cut down on that unnecessary waste but also save money in the process.
Before I get into that, take a look at this baby:
Ok, I digress.
Here are my favorite ways to lessen my eco-footprint with a new baby and save money at the same time:
- Never buy new baby clothes - ever.
Seriously, I can’t stress this one enough. When I was first pregnant I imagined myself shopping at all the cute baby stores for tiny outfits but when Jack came along we were fortunate to receive hand-me-downs galore! And the local thrift shop had LOADS of gently used onesies, tiny overalls etc. You name it and I could find it second hand which saved me the guilt of buying something he’d wear a handful of times before growing out of and spared me SO much money. Plus now I have a stash of super cute tiny outfits to pass along to the next friend or family member who needs them, which feels great. Second-hand ensembles for the win! (Pro tip: consider going to consignment shops in the rich part(s) of town -- they tend to have high-end stuff in good condition and at good prices. Same for maternity clothing below!)
- Same goes for maternity clothing.
Given that the part of pregnancy when you’re showing enough to need new clothes is just a few short months of your life, there is no need to overhaul your wardrobe. Second-hand stores are usually stocked with very gently used maternity clothing and if you have friends who’ve recently been pregnant it’s likely that they’ve got a bin they are itching to pass along to you. Have a pair of jeans you love and don’t want to have to stop wearing just because you’re pregnant? My favorite hack:
That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I kept a pair of the stretchy-top maternity pants for days when I could just use the extra room. (Perfect for that family Thanksgiving dinner!)
- Consider cloth diapering or a cloth or compostable diaper service.
A family friend gave us the gift of a year’s subscription for a cloth diaper service and it was hands-down the best gift, ever. Every week a courier comes to our door and drops off a load of freshly-washed cloth diapers and picks up our bag of soiled ones. We call him ‘the diaper fairy’ and I cannot recommend the practice highly enough. Not only is it easier on the planet because it saves hundreds of diapers from going to landfill, but because of the high volume of diapers being washed they can use the highest efficiency washers, lessening the burden that traditional cloth diapering on your energy bill with all the loads of laundry. The best part is that in some neighborhoods with high density of customers bringing the delivery distance down, the cost can be nearly equal to buying disposable!
Not keen on cloth? One of my teammates at work mentioned that he used the EarthBaby compostable diaper service that also does delivery but the diapers are composted and turned into fertilizer in just 14 weeks. Check it out if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area!)
- Ditch disposable wipes and make your own (no crafty skills needed!)
No need to be a seamstress or have any sewing skills whatsoever to make your own baby wipes. We had a few items of clothing lying around that were too worn out to pass along to anyone and we didn’t want them going to landfill so we cut them into squares and now we use them as baby wipes. They get tossed in the laundry with the rest of Jack’s clothes and no single-use wipes get wasted. Those old PJ pants have more life left in them still!
- Have “the talk” with your friends and family.
I’d say this one was actually the most challenging on this whole list for me. Attempting to have a zero-waste baby is one thing when you can control the decisions you make for yourself but it’s a whole new ballgame when you have well-meaning and generous friends and family who want to gift your new little one with things to make them feel loved - and they might not be in the same frame of mind about waste or the eco-footprint of your kid. But it’s worth it to have the potentially awkward conversation to set the expectation ahead of time if you’d prefer folks don’t buy you new things. Greg’s Mom has never used Craigslist or any buy and sell sites before but she braved the world of Facebook Marketplace to find us a second-hand exersaucer since she knew we weren’t keen on ‘new’ toys. I felt so thankful to her for making the effort!
- Breastfeed, if you can.
Now before I say anything about this one, please know that there is NO judgement coming from me if you don’t breastfeed your baby. You do you! I have friends who can’t (or who chose not to) breastfeed and their babies turned out just fine. Fed is best! But if we’re talking zero-waste, breastfeeding is the greenest way to feed your baby. You can avoid a lot of wasteful packaging that comes with buying formula, bottles, bags, nipples, and sterilization gear. You can also save lots of money, anywhere from $1,200 to $3,500 in that first year.
- Save energy and earn money by participating in #OhmHours.
If you haven’t heard of OhmConnect, let me let you in on a little secret. There’s a free service that will actually PAY you to use energy at certain times of the day. If you can commit to running your dishwasher a little later than you normally would or doing laundry during off-peak hours you can earn a few hundred dollars every year and ensure that your home’s energy is coming from the cleanest possible sources. Want to learn more? Check out the website and find out if you’re eligible. (Currently it’s only available to Californians in PG&E, SCE and SDG&E territories.)
- Make your own baby food.
Honestly if Jack could get by on breastmilk alone until he was school-aged, I’d probably do it. Convenient, nutritious and free?! Count me in. To make sure he’s a well-adjusted, healthy kid we did eventually let him in on the secret that other food exists (sigh) but we’re still committed to doing it on the cheap and with as little waste as possible! Instead of spending several dollars per jar of organic puréed fruits and vegetables, we’ve decided we’re better off making our own. Make large batches, store in reusable containers, or freeze in an ice cube tray before transferring to a container. I’m sure some days I will need to rely on those on-the-go food pouches but for any meals we have at home, we’re going homemade all the way.
(If I do go the pouch route at some point, I’m going to try the reusable, refillable type.)
And that’s it! Those are my favorite zero-waste baby hacks that we’ve discovered so far. Got more you’d add to the list? Let us know on Twitter! With Jack being less than six months old we’ve still got a LOT to learn and I’d love any tips that have helped you on your zero-waste journey.