Reducing waste with very young children…

This post has the very real potential to be huge, so let me just cover the basics today and if anyone has any specific questions, feel free to let me know here, or on Twitter.


Happily, my children are past the baby stage.

I found those very early days so difficult – especially with my first. Trying to do anything through the haze of sleep-deprevation was an uphill struggle – even something as basic as feeding myself. Whilst I did use cloth nappies and breastfeed both children, my experience of being too tired to cook and relying solely on ready-meals made me determined to reduce the waste I produced for my second child.

Before I offer up the list of things I learned, I want to add, above all else, how important it is to be kind to yourself in those early days. The information below is based on my own experience – if you don’t feel up to doing any of these things then that’s OK. Your mental health after welcoming a child into your family – via adoption as well as birth – can be stretched to its very limits so I will say it again – BE KIND TO YOURSELF.

That said…

There are numerous ways to reduce waste with very young children.

Reusable nappies
Let’s start with the obvious. Reusable nappies are probably the first thing which spring to mind when you begin to consider reducing child-related rubbish. Full-time cloth can seem daunting, but swapping just one disposable nappy a day for cloth can save 365 nappies a year from landfill – and with a pack of 35 Pampers costing around £8.50 from Tesco, it’d also save you approximately £85.

Whether you opt for terry squares, or a modern all-in-one cloth nappy, there are all sorts of solutions out there. There are cloth nappy libraries all over the UK and most can be found via facebook so you don’t need to heavily invest in one style straight away. Even if you’re not up for cloth nappies, using cloth wipes, old flannels or cut up towels can help cut waste.

I’m not here to discuss bottle vs. breastfeeding. There is absolutely a place for both – either in isolation or in combination. For a whole host of reasons, however, breastfeeding is considerably kinder on the environment. That said, it can be tricky to establish a good breastfeeding relationship – both mum and baby are learning to respond to one anothers’ cues and this takes time. It can help to find a breastfeeding group prior to giving birth so that you already have a support network to help when the time comes. Libraries should have copies of the book ‘The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding‘ by La Leche Leauge, whilst websites such as Kellymom and ABM are a wealth of information. Failing that, there is always another breastfeeding mother on facebook, and plenty of groups dedicated to the art so support is available day and night.

If you do choose to go down the route of bottles – for formula or expressed milk – borrowing a selection from friends can be a good way to figure out which your baby prefers, before investing in a certain set. The same goes for formula, if you want to use this – buying a selection of ready-mixed cartons before settling on a huge tub of powder will help to reduce waste if your baby won’t take to a specific brand.

Utilising existing kitchen equiptment to sterilise is another good way to reduce waste – for example, a microwave steriliser.

Baby food & Eating in the early days
It’s really easy – as I said above – to forget yourself in those early, sleep-deprived days. I relied heavily on ready meals with my first and still feel guilty about it. With my second child, I made sure to batch cook and fill my freezer with homemade meals, but not everyone has that option.  If you feel able, it might be worth asking friends and family to gift you some proper food, rather than baby items you might not need. Jars of dried fruit, foil wrapped chocolates and other easy-to-grab snacks can help stave off the ravenous hunger that comes with breastfeeding – the same ravenous hunger that is rarely assuaged because to do so would involve moving a tiny, sleeping human. Leaving snacks around the house is one way to help meet your/your partner’s own needs during this time.

When baby is ready for solids, jars, pouches and mini snack-packs of baby food usually account for a large proportion of child-based waste. Something as simple as packing a (reusable) bottle of water and a banana or some carrot sticks when you go out can help stave off meltdowns caused by hunger, and prevent you from needing to buy anything that’s individually packaged while you’re out. Feeding Baby the foods you eat is the easiest way to avoid waste at mealtimes, but if you’re really not the most confident cook, then there are loads of crafts on Pinterest which utilise baby food jars. It’s also good to remember that of the pre-packaged foods available, jars are probably the least wasteful – glass can be recycled an infinite number of times, but plastic has only a few cycles before it’s destined for landfill.

Second hand is definitely the way to go here – babies seldom wear clothes out before they’re outgrown so there’s a good chance you can pick up some high quality items. You can even extend the life of poppered tops in one of two ways – either by snipping the crotch off and hemming the bottom to make a t-shirt (or not, if it’s a jersey fabric), or by purchasing vest extenders. Available online, these essentially lengthen the crotch section by adding another slip of fabric. You can also snip feet out of sleepsuits to extend their life by a few months, and skirts can be made to last longer with a little lace sewn around the bottom hem.

The easiest thing you can do though, is to remember that children need fewer clothes than you think. Conventional wisdom says that you need a lot in case of accidents – and in the early days, this is very true – however it’s easy to carry this forward as our babies become toddlers, pre-schoolers and ‘proper’ children. In reality, you only need around four or five tops, three or four sweaters and five or six pairs of trousers, shorts or skirts.

Toys and books
Again, second hand is a wonderful way to buy toys. Aside from the fact that you might be able to pick up some vintage gems from your own childhood – My Little Pony and Optimus Prime, anyone? – it’s easy to find good quality toys, either online or at car-boot sales. Again, conventional wisdom would have you avoid plastic, given that it’s non-biodegradable, but used, good quality plastic playthings are ideal if you plan to have further children or if the toys themselves will span a large age range. Lego is the perfect example of this. Daughter is the third generation to enjoy our enormous box of Danish blocks and I remember playing with the same bricks from the age of four until I was well into my teens.

If you have the budget available, a toy subscription such as Whirli is a great option as this means you don’t have to store any toys which aren’t getting played with. Like a book library, this is a wonderful way to share resources.

As with clothes, it’s easy to think that we need more toys than we do, but creative toys can fill almost any hole. Again, Lego is a perfect example – it can be a castle, a dolls house, a race car… the options are literally limitless. Toy kitchens can be made outdoors from scrap timber and used as mud-laboratories, the birthplace of culinary masterpieces and as a paint palette. Dressing up clothes can be found in charity shops, or from parents’ wardrobes. Craft supplies can be as simple as some beads cut from old costume jewellery or the contents of the recycling box.

Loose parts play is a fantastic and affordable way to fire the imagination. Keeping a collection of things like corks, pine-cones, shells, twigs and feathers is a great start. My absolute favourite things in our loose parts collection are a set of wooden Ikea bowls that I found in a charity shop, some absolutely beautiful chopsticks (similarly sourced) which feature carved animals, and some sea glass that we found on our camping trip to Oban. The children absolutely adore the dried marrowfat peas and dried butter beans we’ve got out at the moment, but the biggest hit in terms of ‘grains’ has been the coffee beans my husband bought and didn’t enjoy – they were played with for months and served as pepples in a dinosaur diorama, food on our toy farm, filling for tin-can instruments, and just about everything else in between. Loose parts make up the bulk of our toys and I doubt I’ve spent more than £40 on all of them over the decade I’ve been a parent.

Our favourite ‘toy’ at the moment is our ‘Story Stones’ – we painted characters, settings and props on some rocks we found in the garden and spend hours making up stories about the combination we pull at random from the bag.

And speaking of stories, books can be found second hand, or at your local library. Doing this can make a huge difference in terms of waste as books cannot be recycled with regular paper due to the glue which binds them.


Like I said at the start, these tips are generally for very young children, though there are a handful which transfer to school-age.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I’d be really keen to hear what your suggestions are – for all stages of childhood.

But, once again – BE KIND TO YOURSELF.  Above all else, remember that those travelling with children need to attend to their own oxygen masks first – we can only do our best.


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