Kate Fenwick is a waste free warrior and motivational speaker who has worked with the community and councils for over 17 years. As a new mum she advocated for modern cloth nappies and was integral to them becoming mainstream again. She has developed and delivers parenting classes promoting waste free parenting options, and now delivers a variety of sessions on different waste related topics.

The arrival of a new baby, whether you’re a new parent or seasoned pro, has a big impact on your home, your wallet, and the amount of waste you produce. Nappies, wipes, food, packaging – the list goes on, with the majority largely made to be single use.

There are many changes you can make, but remember this is a journey. It has taken me years to get to where I am now, and I’ve done one thing at a time. My household is far more sustainable than it used to be, but we aren’t perfect, we just do the best we can.

As I’m sure you are aware, all the single-use products and packaging end up in landfill. Consider though that the cost of these ‘convenient’ disposable items means you are also throwing money in the landfill.

Let’s look at some ways you can start to reduce what you put in the bin:

Baby shower gifts

People love to help out new parents with baby gifts, but sometimes this can lead to a pile of clothes, toys, and gadgets which you don’t really need.

Sometimes the best thing is to be upfront about your needs and ask for more practical gifts, like gift vouchers to help buy a car seat or buggy. Frozen meals are great to take the pressure off while you adjust to a new way of life.

Buying only what you need

Avoid those ‘check lists’ of things you ‘need’ when you have a baby – most of it is clever marketing to get you shopping. Stick to the necessities to start with, and avoid buying things ‘just in case you might need it’.

If you find you need something else, you can always get it then. Online shopping means you easily can do it from home.

Look at second-hand first

There are plenty of products which don’t need to be bought new and are only used for a short time. Cots are one example, where the cot itself is often in good condition and you can just replace a tired mattress.

Clothing is a big one and is a big contributor to waste and greenhouse gas emissions. They can also be pricey. Many parents and their friends and family love to buy or give clothing as gifts but it’s quickly outgrown. This also means that second-hand baby clothing is often like new, and often costs a fraction as much.

Give cloth nappies a try

Cloth nappies make sense, and cents. Babies can go through hundreds of nappies a month, meaning less in your wallet and much more in your rubbish bin.

My first experience of flat cloth nappies didn’t go well, but a friend put me onto a modern version, which was a game changer. These days you can get cloth nappies with Velcro, no pins and you don’t have to soak them.

We still used disposable nappies when we were out and about or on holiday but viewed them as an occasional convenience rather than the norm.

‘Flushable’ products aren’t flushable

Things like ‘flushable’ liners and wipes, sanitary products, paper towels – anything which isn’t toilet paper – actually isn’t flushable. They are creating havoc for councils around the world, causing blockages in sewers called “fatbergs”.

They need to go in the bin, so are best avoided if possible.

Reusable wipes

These are similar to disposable nappies – money out your wallet and more rubbish in the bin. Reusable cloth wipes are all I ever used and I found they actually work better because they are not as small and flimsy as disposables.

You can even make them by cutting up a soft towel or other appropriate fabric.

Eco-friendly toys

Plastic toys often break easily and can go nowhere but the bin at the end of life. Look for things like wooden teethers and toys or even natural rubbers. It also means your baby isn’t potentially ingesting chewed off plastic.

Babies and young children don’t actually need a lot of toys, so prioritise quality over quantity if possible.

Avoid food pouches

These are another of those convenience items which result in a lot of waste and can be costly. Buying food in bulk or even better, making it yourself, avoids this.

There are lots of options, from plastic containers to reusable pouches and making baby food is actually pretty easy. Munch Cupboard has some great recipes.

Reusable swim nappies

These can be reused hundreds of times, saving you a fortune. There are plenty of cloth nappy companies which offer reusable swim nappies.

Reusable breast pads

I found disposable breast pads began really irritating my skin so looked for reusable alternatives. These days there are lots of options ranging from bamboo to wool, cotton, hemp or fabric blends.

Switching to reusable pads saved me a significant amount of money and, of course, prevented a lot of waste going to landfill.

Where to start?

Even if you just use one cloth nappy a day, you’ll make a difference, and you can build from there. While some might like to jump into the deep end others might prefer to pick one thing on the list to start with. It’s a journey after all.

If you are keen to learn even more, come to one of the various workshops that I run all over NZ and online.