Zero Waste Baby

Since reading Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste book about 6 months ago I do my darndest to limit my family’s waste, but I can’t yet boast 100% in every area. However one zone which we do pretty well in is our baby… and that’s because after a few adjustments it’s actually really easy!



Babies are brought into the world in a sea of disposables. Nappies and wipes are an obvious example, though there’s pretty much a throw out option for everything. Bibs, breast pads, change mats, place mats, bed liners, dummy’s, bottle liners (BOTTLE LINERS!?)… you name it. If you can dream it up it’s probably out there waiting for you to buy it and throw it out.

Most of these ‘convenience’ products are made with chemicals that are harmful not just to the environment – both in the production of them and once they reach the landfill, but also to baby’s skin which is much more absorbent than ours and therefore a lot more susceptible to absorbing toxic chemicals – even more so if they’re premature.

And then there’s the products… don’t get me started on the products.

The long list of ‘Johnson’s Baby Moisture Wash’ ingredients include two types of Parabens which are known to mimic estrogen and can act as potential endochrine (hormone) system disruptors, PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate – a human skin toxicant and allergen, and Cocamidopropyl Betaine which has been associated with irritation, allergies and contact dermatitis.

And that is the tip of the iceberg. What. The. Actual. Fuck.



Hours after my daughter Olive was born she began struggling with some very serious health problems which landed us in hospital on and off for the first few months of her life. Obviously that’s not the good news… please read on.

My partner and I had already stocked up on a few different types of reusable nappies which I had bought secondhand to test before we bought a full stash, but once we were in hospital watching our newborn baby fight for her life naturally everything else went out the window.

Once things had settled down and we were home and edging towards feeling human again, my partner suggested we give the reusables another shot. I had become attached to the convenience of the disposable nappies, wipes and change mats supplied by the hospital and resisted the idea, but he persevered and we began switching up our system.

Fairly quickly we we’re sub-ing out every disposable item for a reusable one. The disposable change mats became those classic old-school cloth nappies our mums and grandmas used, laid out over the change pad to catch the inevitable poonami that happened any time Olive had a free bum and a spare minute. The disposable wipes became a pile of the same cloth nappies, which I cut into squares and sat next to a container of soapy water. In fact now that I think about it if you or anyone you know is having a baby, get some of those nappies. They are singlehandedly the most helpful, versatile, necessary baby item ever. Bar none.

These days this is what our nappy system looks like:


We have a different set of nappies for daytime and nighttime both of which we use with washable liners, and keep a soaking bucket in the bathroom. In the kitchen we have bibs and cloths for wiping messy hands/face and cleaning up the high chair carnage. When we go out we make sure to take a couple of said cloths for any messes that may (will) occur.

For soap I use Dr Bronner’s which I buy in bulk, and for bum cream I make it (sounds hard… it’s not) using this amazing recipe. Equally you could use good old coconut oil. I swear by the antimicrobial clay recipe because Olive had a bad case of candida/thrush for months and used to get a horrible rash after pretty much every poo. I started using this recipe and I kid you not, she hasn’t had a rash since*. It’s also magic for rashes/irritation anywhere else on the body. I once applied it to a mystery rash on her face and it was gone within a few minutes, plus she looked like she had a 5 o’clock shadow. Amusing and effective! Win win!

Aside from the obvious benefit of eliminating the risk of any toxins leaching into your babies system/the environment, there is also the plain fact that going this route will save you money. Big time. It’s estimated that a typical family spends between $2000 and $3000 per baby for two years on disposable nappies, while a typical stash of cloth nappies will cost around $600 and last for more than one child – though you need to factor in the cost of doing an extra load of washing every 1-2 days which I can’t be bothered doing right now because it’s late and my baby-shaped alarm clock doesn’t have a snooze button. I think bum cream now costs me about $2 a jar.

We both have big families so for clothes, shoes, toys, books etc. we’re pretty covered with hand-me-downs or gifts, which we pass on once Olive has grown out of them. Anything else we might need I hit Trademe or second hand shops, where you can find amazing things for dirt cheap – sometimes brand new. Sometimes I’ll cave and buy something new, though if I do I’ll always try to keep any packaging to a minimum and support businesses that are local and/or environmentally conscious.

Olive looooooves food, and we make it for her at home with local organic/spray free produce, the majority of which we get from the market using my own bags and containers every Sunday. We don’t eat processed food so I’m happy to give her whatever we’re eating adapted slightly so it’s more manageable for her tiny baby-hands. If I’m going out I’ll chuck whatever I’ve made in a glass container and bring it with, or if we’re at a cafe and I can order her something there I’ll do that. She is still on the boob, which is obviously ideal in the zero waste department, but equally good would be formula (preferably in a glass bottle) as long as you recycle the container.

If you weren’t used to it perhaps this way of living would sound like a bit of extra work and I’m not gonna lie – it is, but for me the benefits far outweigh any extra time spent. Olive’s illness was what woke me up to this way of living – I wanted to support her compromised system in any way I humanly could. Aside from the satisfaction of knowing I’m not contributing unnecessary rubbish into landfills, I know I’m not inadvertently adding any excess toxins into her body. That, to me, is better than gold.


My partner and I work in the film industry and are lucky enough to be able to tag team, with one person at work and one at home full-time. Not everyone can (or wants to) do it this way and there are certain everyday scenarios (daycare, travelling etc.) that obviously would make this way of life more difficult.

First and foremost I’m an advocate of doing what works for you and your baby. When we were in hospital I got a very real lesson in the fact that being able to spend energy and time thinking about this stuff is a privilege, and no person has the right to judge another person for the way they choose to care for their child.

These are the choices I make, and I’m sharing them on the off-chance that they might provide a useful insight for anyone else considering this approach. Also I spend way too much time thinking about this shit and frankly I need to get it off my chest before I explode!

*That wasn’t all we did for the candida, hopefully I’ll post on that at some point when I’m not busy doing a nappy load…


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