Sustainable

'Stuff'

We live in a society built on convenience. It’s all around us. But if we are to live more sustainably and confront the climate and ecological crises, we can no longer let convenience tempt us – especially when it comes to buying stuff for our children. But being sustainable can seem daunting. There are so many products out there that claim to be good for the planet, but it can be hard to know what’s genuine and what’s not. That is why we have created this page to try and help you make informed decisions which are both good for you and the planet. We will try and cover the key areas which we feel are most important, but please don’t hesitate to ask if there is anything you think we have missed or would like to know more about. 

8 R's

 

I am sure everyone is familiar with the 3 R’s – Reduce, Reuse and, Recycle. But less people will be aware that there are in fact 8 R’s of sustainability. These include Rethink, Refuse, Repurpose, Repair and, Return. Below you can find out what each of the 8 R’s are and how they form the fundamental principles of sustainability. 

RETHINKTo save the planet we all need to think differently. We are creatures of habit meaning we tend to continue doing the behaviours we know well (even when these may not benefit the planet). Rethink means to consider things from a different point of view and adjust our ingrained habits so that they no longer damage our planet.

REFUSE – Everything that we buy has an environmental cost – this could be from the energy required to produce it, emissions from transporting it or from the extraction of resources to make it. Having the ability to refuse buying things that you don’t necessarily need can make a real difference. Next time you’re shopping think about what you are buying and ask yourself, do I really need this?

REDUCE – We can’t eliminate every purchase. However, we can often reduce the amount we consume and waste. For example, we cannot refuse to buy food, but we can ensure that we only buy the amount that we genuinely need (or can store in the freezer) to ensure that no food is wasted.

REUSE – The unfortunate reality is that almost all non-consumable products will be thrown away at some point. Purchases that were once new and exciting eventually contribute to ever-increasing piles of landfill, ocean pollution and depleted resources. Instead of discarding items immediately, consider how they could be reused. Ask yourself, could the item be used for crafts, or could it be sold/ donated to somebody else or a charity? 

REPURPOSEAlso known as upcycling or reconditioning, repurposing means altering something old, so that it can serve as something completely different. Just because an item is no longer useful for the reason you bought it, doesn’t mean it can’t be used for something else. Furthermore, repurposing items can provide a fun, crafty activity for children and can teach them useful DIY skills!

REPAIR – It is obvious that we should endeavour to repair things, but this can often be time consuming. Additionally, buying new products is commonly inexpensive, so it can feel like the easier and more cost-effective option. However, it is crucial that we place the emphasis on the cost to the planet rather than the financial cost of making new. With this is mind, the environmental cost of buying new is much bigger than the amount of money and time saved, since making new items uses up finite resources and pollutes the environment. Therefore, we need to make a conscious effort to repair items whenever possible. Some things we will be able to repair ourselves, whilst others will be too difficult. There are many repair cafes around the country, including Bristol, where you can take everything from clothes, furniture, electronics and electricals and learn how to fix it with their volunteers.

RETURN – Returning or regifting can be a great option when you receive something you don’t want or need, or if you accidentally buy the wrong thing. Often it seems easiest to store away the unwanted item because the effort of returning it outweighs its perceived value. However, by returning that item, you are preventing further resources from being used up to remake it again for others.

RECYCLERecycle is the final stage of the Eight R’s and the last resort. The reason being that the process of recycling requires energy (e.g. for fuel used by collection lorries and for processing the rubbish) and produces green-house gases. These unnecessary emissions could be avoided by practicing the other seven R’s. Materials such as wood, metal, paper, cardboard, e-waste and most plastics can be recycled, however you should check to see exactly which materials can be recycled in your local area since these vary regionally.

Nappies and Wipes

Nappies

Although convenient, the current culture surrounding baby changing is creating mountains of waste. The sustainability charity WRAP estimates that the UK disposes of a whopping 3 billion disposable nappies a year. With a child requiring between 4,000 to 6,000 disposable nappies, before they are potty trained. The main ingredients that are used to produce disposable nappies include plastics (polyethylene, polypropylene and polyester), (bleached) wood pulp and various chemicals (sodium polyacrylate, dioxins and perfumes). It can therefore take up to an astonishing 500 years for a disposable nappy to fully decompose and worse, as the nappy decomposes it breaks down and the plastics, chemicals, not to mention the content of the nappies can seep into the environment. So, what are the alternatives to single-use plastic nappies?

Some brands advertise that their products are ‘biodegradable’, which can make them sound like a far more environmentally friendly than their single-use plastic counterparts. Although these nappies tend to include more environmentally friendly materials, such as bamboo fibers, cornstarch, or wood pulp, none are yet 100% biodegradable. With most brands claiming that only 60-80% of their product is biodegradable. But even here there is a hidden catch – that 60-80% is only biodegradable if it is composted in a specific way. This means that if the biodegradable nappy is taken to landfill then it simply is not going to biodegrade. As Wendy Richards from the advice website The Nappy Lady explains, “Disposables of any sort won’t biodegrade in landfill sites, as landfill sites are managed to keep decomposition as low as possible due to the gases and liquid that leaches out”. So, although it is possible to compost these nappies, there are very limited options available in the UK, as it is not recommended that you do it yourself at home and there are no industrial compost facilities that take nappies. However, various companies have popped up around the world offering a used nappy pick-up and composting service and so it is not unrealistic to assume that we may have one in the UK someday soon.

An option that has come back into fashion is reusable nappies. As the name suggests, reusable nappies can be used many times, with a child only requiring 20 to 30 before they are potty trained. An additional benefit is that they can also be used by siblings. Switching to reusable nappies is estimated to reduce the average household waste of families with babies by 750kg a year – a reduction of around 50%. As nothing goes to landfill, reusable nappies are significantly better when it comes to waste, but the extra energy required to wash and dry them may increase your carbon emissions – although this will depend on where you source your energy from. Although if you are concerned about your energy use you could always air/line dry them away from heat for the most environmentally friendly option.

Most reusable nappies come in two or three parts, with an inner cloth part which provides absorbency and then a waterproof outer wrap (often with cute designs on it). Some reusable nappies also have a removable liner which acts as a barrier to catch any waste – they can either be disposable or washable. You can get different sizes of nappy, but there is also a one-size nappy, which has poppers that you can adjust as your child grows. Cleaning your nappy is relatively simple. When removing the nappy, you need to flush any poo down the toilet and then place it and any reusable liner in a nappy bucket – you do not need to wash the wrap unless dirty or at the end of the day. It is not recommended to soak the nappy before it goes in the bucket, although if it get soiled then it is worth rinsing it through, to prevent any stains from setting. There are lots of brilliant resources and people to help if you are apprehensive about switching to reusable nappies.

Reusable nappies are also likely to be cheaper over the long run compared to disposable ones. Despite the larger up-front costs, you could save up to nearly £1500 (more if you have multiple children) by opting for reusable nappies. If the up-front cost is too prohibitive, there are still lots of options. For example, some councils offer an incentive scheme to try and encourage people to start using reusable nappies. Fill Your Pants have assembled a list of the different schemes offered by councils which you can find here. There is also the option to buy second hand through the Used Nappy Company, which provides a one stop shop for buying and selling real cloth nappies. There are also nappy libraries where you can learn about the different options available, get advice, and hire wipes and nappies.

Check out The Nappy Lady or Fill Your Pants to find a wide range of different reusable nappies.

Wet wipes

We have all used wet wipes in our day to day life, whether to clean our worktops, faces, hands or, our children. We can all agree that they are incredibly convenient. However, nearly all wet wipes contain plastics, making them a major environmental nuisance. They are one of the most common items found on our beaches and make up over 90% of the material that causes sewage blockages – those notorious fatbergs that dominated the news for a while. They cause such a problem because they are often flushed away rather than thrown in the bin. That is why the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) alongside water companies are running a campaign to see wipes clearly labelled as ‘Do not flush’ to stop the damage they cause.

As with nappies, when it comes to wet wipes, your best option is to opt for reusable options and luckily there is a myriad of reusable options available. When choosing reusable wipes, no single material is best, although there are definitely fabrics you should avoid, such as ones made from fleece, microfibre or ‘minky’ as these all contain plastics and will shed microfibers when washed – what’s the point in getting rid of single use wipes if the alternatives still end up polluting our waters with plastic? Cotton is often used, however it requires huge amounts of water and pesticides to grow, although organic cotton does go some way to solve this, it can be quite expensive. Another option is bamboo, which requires little water and pesticides to grow but the process of turning it into soft fabric can be quite water and chemical intensive. This can make it seem it is impossible to be environmentally friendly, but it is important to note that whether you opt for cotton or bamboo, they are both significantly better than single-use options. And if you have already got a nappy bucket for your reusable nappies then washing them couldn’t be easier, you just chuck them in and wash when ready. If you don’t have a nappy bucket then you can learn all about them from The Nappy Lady here.

If you want to be as environmentally friendly as possible, there is always the option to make your own at home. This is something we have been experimenting with in the nurseries and the staff can’t stop raving about them. See our instructions below for how to make plastic free disposable wet wipes and easy reusable wipes.

If as a last resort you have to buy single use wet wipes, by default, you should assume that none of them are flushable despite some claims made by certain brands. You may see that some wipes are labelled as ‘flushable’, however this can be misleading if they do not meet the fine to flush standard. ‘Fine to flush’ is an official standard created by water UK, which aims to identify which wipes can be safely flushed. They tested wet wipes against the conditions found in Britain’s sewers to ensure that they breakdown and do not cause blockages and fatbergs or end up on beaches. When buying wet wipes, you should always keep your eyes open and only buy wipes that display the ‘fine to flush’ logo, but even then it is still better to opt for reusable options to limit your waste. 

Toys

One of the most important ways children learn is through play. Children are born curious and will seek out play opportunities wherever they can. Toys are therefore a vital component of a child’s development. When it comes to toys, most parents know about the importance of selecting age-appropriate toys to avoid choking hazards, but less concern is often given to the environmental impact of toys. This is especially the case for plastic toys.

With their vibrant colours, range of designs and low cost, plastic toys have come to dominate the market. According to one estimate by a plastic trade magazine, they now account for a whopping 90% of the toy market. One of the main environmental concerns with plastic toys is that they are not designed to be recycled. Often built with multiple different materials, it can be almost impossible to separate the parts that can be recycled, from those which cannot. This means that most plastic toys will inevitably make their way into landfills – where they will take hundreds , if not thousands of years to break down, whilst leaching toxins into the environment.

Another issue is the rate that plastic toys are being consumed. One of the reasons for this is that they are everywhere – in gift bags at parties, meals at fast food restaurants, in cereal boxes etc. Children grow fast and their interests and abilities can shift just as quickly. This can result in them quickly losing interest and the toys finding their way into the bin. One poll by the British Heart Foundation found that nearly a quarter of all parents admit to throwing away toys whilst they are in perfect working condition. The same poll also found that on average, children have four toys that they have never played with.

But it’s not just the environmental impact of plastic toys that is of concern. Research has highlighted how some of the chemicals used in plastic toys could be harmful to human health. Although the full extent of the health effects of plastic toys are not yet fully known, one common group of chemicals, called phthalates – which are used to soften toys – have been linked to asthma, breast cancer, and other health issues. 

Luckily there is a growing number of brands supplying eco-friendly and chemical free toys made from sustainable wood and recycled materials. Below you can find a list of some of the best sustainable toy brands we could find. Whilst out and about shopping, there are a few key things to look for when buying sustainable toys. Eco friendly toys are most often made from wood, but it is important to keep a look out for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) label to ensure the wood is sustainably sourced. Eco friendly toys are not just made of wood though. There are a range of other great sustainable materials, including organic cotton and wool or natural rubber which is non-toxic, breathable, and biodegradable.

Another thing you could do is to cut back on the number of toys you buy. This doesn’t mean that your children have to go without. Instead of buying new toys, why not try swapping toys among family and friends, using toy libraries, or buying second hand. This will mean that your child gets the excitement of having new toys without having to spend money buying brand new ones. Another great option is the Toy Box Club, which delivers a box of gender neutral, age-appropriate toys, books, and puzzles to your door. At the end of each month, they collect your toy box and swap it for a new one with a different set of toys. The old box is then thoroughly cleaned and sent out to another family.

Janitorial and Personal Care

Household cleaning

We have become accustomed to using harsh chemicals and detergents to clean our home. Although they may do a good job, they may be having a negative effect on our health and the health of the planet. Cleaning products have been identified as one of the main sources of indoor air pollution, contributing to air pollution inside being between two to five times higher than outdoors, and given that we spend more than 90% of our time indoors this is a major concern. One of the main contributors to bad air pollution is Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which is an ingredient in many household cleaners. When used, these VOCs evaporate and react with nitrogen oxides to form ground-level ozone, that negatively affect our health – including asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Many detergents also contain phosphorous and nitrogen-based compounds, and although they are not harmful to people, they can build up in our waterways (lakes, rivers and the sea) and cause a process known as Eutrophication – an excess of nutrients in water, that leads to the growth of plants/ algae that deplete the oxygen supply and can be damaging for wildlife.

It’s really not surprising that these chemicals we use to clean our home are damaging, given that most of them come with COSHH warnings on the back stating that they are, ‘Hazardous’, ‘Corrosive’, ‘Irritant’, ‘Harmful’ or ‘Toxic’. Luckily, there are plenty of environmentally friendly and natural options available, which are just as effective for all of those dirty jobs. Click on the logos below to find out about the different brands and to see their full range of products.

On top of the of toxic ingredients used, most cleaning products tend to come in durable single use plastics bottles or containers. These containers are designed for multiple uses but tend to be thrown out once the original contents have been depleted, contributing further to the plastic problem. There are lots of fantastic solutions to reducing the plastic waste that results from household cleaners. Most notable are bulk buying, liquid refills, and concentrates.

Many brands offer the option to bulk buy a product, in sizes ranging from 2L to 20L, essentially allowing you to ‘refill at home’. Although it doesn’t completely eliminate the use of plastic, a recent report by Which? the consumer choice company, found that using large bottles of household cleaners can reduce the amount of plastic needed by up to 47%, as well as reducing the space needed for transporting. Buying bulk also has the added bonus of being a cheaper way to buy household cleaners. Many of the bulk containers have the added bonus of being made from recycled plastic, such as Ecoleaf and Bio D, whilst Greenscents uses biopolymer bottles made from sugar cane waste. Greenscents are also the only brand mentioned that allows their containers to be returned and reused.

There has also been a growing interest in products you can refill. Many brands offer the option to refill either reusable plastic or glass bottles at a network of refill stations dotted around the country or through a postal service. Brands that offer liquid refills at various stockists, include Miniml, SESI and Fill refill. Check out the zero waste shop in Oldbury, Severn Weigh (click the logo below to visit their website), for a local refill shop. Other brands offer concentrated refills. Concentrated products have a major advantage in that they do not require vast amounts of water, the main ingredient in most cleaning products, to be transported around – reducing the amount of packaging and saving on carbon emissions. Which? found that concentrated products used more than 75% less plastic packaging and 97% less water. Brands that offer concentrated refills include Smol and Splosh. Splosh supplies refill pouches with enough concentrate to fill up three bottles, saving 85% on plastic waste, even more if you send it back to them, allowing them to refill the pouches or upcycle them.

Personal cleaning

Unlike in the kitchen, where most of us regularly recycle, the story in the bathroom is different with half of people saying they simply throw their bathroom waste in the bin. Some items are easily recyclable, such as shampoo and shower gel bottles, however others, such as razors, toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes are much harder.  Below you can find out all the easy swaps you can make, to reduce your waste and make your bathroom more sustainable. When becoming more sustainable, it can often seem like the best thing to do is to throw away your old items and replace them with brand new sustainable alternatives. Although this may be tempting, it is important to ensure that you do not throw away any items before they have been used to their fullest extent, so as to avoid any unnecessary waste – only make the swaps when you’re ready to.

 

Soap and Shampoo

One of the most essential items in our bathrooms, is our soaps and shampoos. It is easy to have multiple single use plastic bottles in the bathroom for body wash, shampoos, and conditioners, but do we even need all this plastic? The simple answer is no, because luckily, they are one of the easiest items to switch and make plastic free and sustainable. Most of us will, hopefully, be familiar with soap bars; however, you might not be as aware that there are also shampoo bars made of natural ingredients, which work just like soap bars, except for your hair. And its not just shampoo, there are also plenty of natural conditioner bars as well. There are lots of advantages of using shampoo and conditioner bars, beyond the reduction in plastic use. For example, many are made with only natural ingredients and so avoid harsh chemicals such as parabens, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS or SLES) and, synthetic fragrances which can all damage your hair. You can read more about all the benefits of shampoo and conditioner bars here. Make sure to try a few different brands and varieties before settling to ensure you find the best one for you. There is also a fantastic range of shampoo bars designed for kids, which come in a variety of different shapes and flavours – such as the Danny Dinosaur soap bar or the great selection offered by Rowdy Kind. If shampoo bars really aren’t for you, then a number of brands are now offering in store refills or refill pouches, which use significantly less plastic than buying a brand-new bottle. Faith in Nature and  the Body Shop have refill stations nationwide, whilst big name brands, such as Herbal Essences, Pantene, Head and Shoulders and Aussie, all offer refillable packs, which you can pick up from Boots and other stores.

Dental care

When it comes to dental hygiene it is important not to compromise, however, do we really need tons of plastic items to keep our teeth clean and healthy? The simple answer is no and there are plenty of eco-friendly alternatives for everything from toothbrushes to floss and even mouthwash, all of which will ensure a healthy mouth. Most dentists recommend that we should swap our toothbrush every 3 months. Meaning in the UK alone up to 264 million toothbrushes could be thrown away every year. This is because most toothbrushes are made of several different types of plastic, not to mention the nylon bristles – making them a real challenge to recycle. However, there are a range of eco-friendly alternatives available. The most common of which are bamboo toothbrushes, which are biodegradable once the nylon bristles are removed. It is also possible now to get bamboo toothbrushes with replaceable heads to further reduce your waste. For those who use electric toothbrushes, many brands also now offer bamboo or recyclable toothbrush heads. Once you’ve finished with your old manual toothbrush, rather than throwing it away, why not try and reuse it. There are many jobs that an old toothbrush may be perfect for, such as cleaning car parts, the bottom of shoes or even the side of keys on a keyboard.

Toothbrushes aren’t the only issue; toothbrush tubes are also difficult to recycle because they combine multiple materials. Many toothpaste tubes for example will contain a thin layer of aluminium to help keep the toothpaste tasting fresh – however this is a nightmare for recycling centres and so most councils recommend throwing them in the bin. There are a growing number of alternatives popping up, including recyclable aluminium tubes, toothpaste tablets which foam up when used, glass jars, as well as the worlds first refillable toothpaste tube offered by BOCA.

It’s also important not to forget to floss. As you’ve probably guessed by now, most dental products tend to be made from plastic and floss is no exception. Luckily there are now several options for eco dental floss made from plant-based fibres which are compostable. There are also several refillable options as well. And for those who prefer floss sticks or interdental brushes, there are now bamboo alternatives.

When you have finished with your old dental care products, a new scheme will help you dispose of them. Colgate and hello Oral Care have teamed up with Terracycle, to offer a free recycling programme for any brand of toothbrush, toothpaste tube or dental floss container – all you have to do is take your oral health products to a registered drop-off point.

Lastly is mouthwash and there are two main plastic free options. The first comes in a fully recyclable aluminium bottle mouthwash and the second, which avoids unnecessary waste and water, is mouthwash tablets (such as the ones from georganics) – all you have to do is stick them in a little bit of water and then treat them like you would normal mouthwash.  

Shaving

Safety razors are a great alternative to single use plastic razors or razors with replace heads, which can produce huge amounts of plastic waste that is difficult to recycle. If you haven’t used a safety razor before and feel a bit intimidated by the ide, you can check out this great beginner’s guide to help get you started. At the moment, most councils will not recycle the steel blades from safety razors, however you can get ‘blade banks’ allow you to store years’ worth of used blades easily and safely, before taking it to a recycling center. And for a plastic free alternative to shaving foam, there are now also plenty of shaving bars available.

Plastic free period

By changing the period products we use, it is possible to vastly reduce our plastic waste. Conventional pads and tampons are predominantly made of plastic (they can be made up of up to 90% plastic) and harsh chemicals which persist in landfill for years after a single use. In the UK a staggering 4.3 billion sanitary products are used each year, producing a huge amount of waste – 200,000 tonnes a year. What’s worse, everyday 2.5 million tampons, 700,000 panty liners and 1.4 million sanitary towels are flushed down the toilet every day – a key contributor to sewage blockages. Sanitary products can also make their way into our waterways and onto our beaches. In their annual beach watch survey, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) found an average of 23 sanitary towels and nine tampon applicators for each kilometre of coast. You can use the period waste calculator from DAME to find out how much plastic waste you could save by switching to a plastic-free alternative.

Unlike all other products designed to soak up blood, sanitary products are the only ones that have added fragrances. Not only does this add to the stigma surrounding menstruation, but it can also be dangerous. Synthetic fragrances can be made of a mixture of ingredients that can include any of over 3,000 chemicals – many of which the manufacturers do not have to disclose. Some of these chemicals are carcinogens, allergens, irritants, and endocrine-disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are of special concern as they have been linked to breast cancer, infertility and many other reproductive diseases and disorders such as endometriosis. Tampons have also been linked to Toxic shock syndrome, which can be life threatening.

Luckily, there is a fantastic selection of plastic free alternatives available and there is something that will suite everyone. From organic tampons, pads and liners which are just like those from the big brands, but without the nasty chemicals or all the plastic, to menstrual cups, re-usable pads or period pants which are designed for multiple uses. Check out City to Sea’s brilliant FAQ page if you have any questions or concerns. But it is not just the planet that plastic-free sanitary products will help. Switching to a menstrual cup could also help you save an estimated 94% of your lifetime spend compared to disposables.

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