As the subject on everybody’s mind, Lemon Magazine looks at what sustainability means for a family. Is living an eco-life really, well, sustainable?
By Lauren Murdoch-Smith
One of the only things I remember from my NCT (National Childbirth Trust) antenatal classes was how to clean your new-born after a meconium bowel movement. We were instructed only to use cotton balls and warm water, which surprisingly I managed to do with both my babies, considering how sticky that movement is. I think they replicated it with Marmite in the NCT class, so you can imagine how difficult it is to get a clean bottom with just cotton wool. I seem to remember that it took roughly a week or so for the cotton-ball-nappy-cleaning stage to become tiring, especially in the middle of the night when you have to fetch warm water, you’re sleep deprived and easily irritated. My friend who had had a baby six months prior to me having my son recalled a middle-of-the-night situation where, after an epic nappy explosion, an up-the-back vest-ruined scenario, she and her husband decided there and then, after 10 minutes of unsuccessfully dabbing at their baby’s back and bottom, that it was time to ditch the cotton balls and crack open the baby wipes. I think it took me a couple weeks to crack too. While I had yet to experience a situation quite like that, for me it happened when I started going out more and I was presented with nappy changes where only wipes would do. It’s not even like cotton balls are particularly eco-friendly with all the pesticides reportedly associated with them. And as I’ve discovered, once you start looking into everything you’re using, you discover most things have some negative environmental impact.
Back to baby wipes. I believe most parents wince at the amount of wipes they run through, but they can be absolute mealtime/nappy/sick-cleaning saviours. While it’s difficult to argue with the fact they’re the most convenient option, I’m sure most of us have seen the grim “Fatbergs” forming in our sewers and have read the statistics. According to Water UK, wet wipes made up more than 90% of sewer blockages in 2017. More worryingly, Friends of the Earth commissioned a report that discovered everyday habits such as wet wipe usage are responsible for some of the plastics that are making their way into our seas and oceans. As much as this shocks us, however, the harsh reality is that most of us are on a budget and although we might want to make the right choice, financial constraints prevent us from being able to. There are some wet wipe brands that Friends of the Earth have identified as an alternative if you’re looking to reduce your plastic waste, but the key message is, whatever you do, just don’t flush the wipes. Natracare are classed as brown compost and take 12 months or less to break down, whilst Kind by Nature’s wipes disappear after six weeks in a “static aerated compost pile” or in just eight days in a sewage farm, provided they don’t get stuck in a pipe en route.
The other big problem of course is nappies. Terry cloth might be kinder to your baby and the environment, but the reality is not so kind on parents. My mother-in-law used them on all three of her boys but she doesn’t glamorise them, saying it meant potty training happened a lot sooner. This makes sense and is a good incentive to get that often painful transition over earlier. According to WRAP (www.wrap.org.uk), the UK throws away around three billion disposable nappies each year, making up between 2%-3% of all household waste. That’s an estimated 4000-6000 nappies for each baby by the time they are potty trained. While those figures are quite staggering, is the alternative any better? From a brief scan of mum blogs, reusable nappies just can’t be relied upon to be leak free, and the initial outlay is expensive. However, there are now more disposable nappy brands offering more eco-friendly choices. Beaming Baby, Kit & Kin (who also make biodegradable nappy bags), Naty by Nature and Bamboo Nature are all biodegradable nappies that offer an eco-alternative to regular disposable nappies. These companies claim their nappies take five to six years to break down, versus the 500 years that traditional nappies can take, and the good news is they’re relatively good value.
Although it’s nappies and wipes that make the headlines, there are many other family lifestyle choices that should make us think twice about our habits. Bloom and Blossom beauty brand founders Julia Yule and Christina Moss have built a business with sustainability which starts at home at its core. “Sustainability is an important and necessary action for us, and we know that by acting now we can embed values and practices which can grow with us as both a family and a business. We are raising children whose daily dialogue includes the importance of nurturing our planet, highlighting new ways to recycle, reuse and reduce. Our children know the fundamental basics of what needs recycling and how. They know not to ask for or buy foods that are individually wrapped. They know to turn the tap off when they are brushing their teeth. They understand why the lights should be turned off when they leave a room. They know food waste should be composted. They know we must find ways to live more sustainably in order to put our planet first,” they explain. “We are compassionate entrepreneurs and want to ensure Bloom and Blossom does good in this world. For example, we only work with suppliers and partners who are committed to the same environmental causes that we are.” The key message is clear: by making more informed choices, you make small but significant changes to your lifestyle that have a positive impact on the planet. It might be switching your regular baby wipes to a biodegradable brand or making an effort to cut back on using them or choosing a children’s skincare brand that uses environmentally friendly ingredients that work for your children’s skin, but which are also kinder to the water system. There’s a small, easy change for everyone.
As parents, guilt is a familiar feeling and futureproofing the planet is becoming one of the biggest concerns facing families today. But becoming completely eco as a family is not easy. Most essentials come with their own environmental impact, from food to clothing, and it’s difficult to escape the global footprint our daily habits incur. Julia and Christina make commitments to small changes with their families that ultimately make a difference. “Like eating seasonally, which helps reduce the carbon footprint from shipping. Which means no strawberries in February!” This is advice we could all follow.
As a family of four, we’ve become more aware of our environmental impact and have started to make small changes and try to be more conscious of our choices. We now have our milk delivered by Milk and More (www.milkandmore.co.uk), a traditional milkman delivery service that’s available nationwide. They offer a wide range of milk choices and other fresh produce you can request up to 9pm the night before delivery. It not only means we never run out of milk, which means fewer short trips in the car to the shop, but as they are packaged in reusable glass bottles, our plastic bottle consumption has been reduced dramatically. Although it’s a small and easy change, it still makes a difference. Other small changes you can make include biodegradable options for everyday items such as plasters, from brands like Patch (https://patchstrips.eu/en/), who make plastic-free, bamboo alternatives with fun designs. There’s also the really easy swap to reusable water bottles, a change everyone in the family can do and which is easy for children who are used to reusing water cups. Make an effort to pass on unwanted toys to nurseries, clothes to baby-specific charity shops and simply try to buy less.
Just as compositing kitchen waste and recycling have become a way of life for most households, the nation’s attention has now turned to bathroom waste. According to TerraCycle, the UK recycles 90% of kitchen waste, but only 50% of bathroom waste. TerraCycle has concluded from their data that recycling bathroom waste was seen as simply too inconvenient for many people. With recycling becoming a huge topic thanks to the efforts of experts such as TerraCycle, it’s now up to families to address their daily essentials and habits that contribute to wide-spread environmental problems. I’ve decided to approach the rather daunting minefield that is sustainability by being more mindful of our choices as a family in the hope that my children will learn from us and that it becomes a way of life, rather than an afterthought. I hope that our efforts to be a better version of ourselves will be the beginning of an ongoing journey to become a more planet-friendly family.