This is Jacob. He doesn’t know it yet, but he was born into a zero garbage family. Jacob wears cloth diapers, eats homemade food, and plays with mostly hand-me-down toys that will eventually be re-purposed or given away. He doesn’t know any differently. Maybe by the time he has grown up, zero waste will be a common lifestyle choice!
The Challenge of a Zero Waste Pregnancy
By the time I was pregnant, I had already been living without garbage for several years, so most of my shopping and consumption was pretty habitual. But there were a few new challenges like, well, food cravings. I had to face all over again the challenge of denying myself something that always comes in packaging (crunchy things … dear, beloved crunchy things). I got around this the same way that I coped when I started the zero garbage challenge in 2009. I tried new cracker recipes, stocked up on crunchy veggies and dip, and laughed at myself whenever possible.
By far, the biggest challenge at this stage (which continues to this day) was the sudden accumulation of baby stuff. I had to re-donate a lot of hand-me-downs because we wanted to keep the piles to a minimum. If we got a baby gadget that seemed like it would break or need to be thrown away, I almost always donated it. A few exceptions were the baby thermometer, baby Tylenol, and the snot sucker thing (yes, gross, but we’re holding on to it just in case).
Giving Birth, Zero Waste Style
My plan was to have a home birth with a midwife. During my first appointment, I talked about my zero garbage lifestyle and asked whether there might be ways to reduce or eliminate garbage from the birthing process. My midwife was interested and excited to try, and it was not too hard to reduce our waste to almost nothing.
The midwife gave me a list of items to have on hand during the birth, and I went line-by-line on the list and found alternatives – or checked in with the midwife to see if any items could be avoided altogether. For example, instead of disposable plastic sheets, I got a waterproof mattress cover, which I figured could be used later while potty training the little guy. Instead of paper towels and other disposable cloths, I stocked up on lots of towels and rags. A few disposables had to be included, such as latex gloves – but it was really not much.
Ah, but the best-laid plans…
In reality, I labored at home for a very long time and then ended up at the hospital for an emergency c-section. Once our healthy baby and I were finally resting in our room, I mused about all of those great reusable (and unused) birthing supplies sitting in a pile at our house. Fortunately, a friend was planning a home birth a few months later, so I was able to pass the pile along for good use elsewhere.
Meanwhile, our hospital stay generated an endless chain of garbage. I did not collect any of it for our “non-garbage” bags, but I’m sure that anyone who’s been in a hospital can imagine the amount of trash generated during three days in the hospital. And I’m not talking about anything other than medical supplies. I applied my zero garbage principles anywhere I could … meals (no disposable packaging, reusable utensils and napkins, reusable cups), personal care (I had my own toiletries from home, reusable pads, and my own clothes/underclothes so I didn’t have to use any of the disposable hospital gear).
Nonetheless, if I had collected all of the medical garbage from our stay, I envision that it all would have fit into a large (very large) kitchen garbage bag … at least four times more garbage than I have generated since 2009.
Eliminating Waste With a Newborn
During the newborn phase, the main danger zones for garbage are related to food and diapers. I was fortunate to have no trouble breastfeeding, so that eliminated any need for formula, which would have come with packaging. I did use a pump sometimes, so instead of those disposable plastic bags used for freezing milk, I used small canning jars.
And for diapers, we used cloth diapers – mostly Bum Genius – which continue to serve us well. Our wipes are washable, and I made our own diaper cream. I did have to keep an eye on incoming clothes, toys and other baby items that our loving friends and relatives sent to us. If something disposable came into the house, I put it right into the box labeled “donate.”
Raising a Zero Waste Toddler
Once we were past the newborn phase, we were old pros at reusable diapers. We (almost) always plan ahead with lots of reusable wipes and cloths, and plenty of back-up clothes. Baby food is not such a chore, since I already make most of our own food from scratch. Yes, I always have to plan ahead and make sure that we have snacks on hand – but so do parents who throw things away. It turns out that the zero waste baby challenge has not been a very big challenge after all. I simply apply all of the same decision-making and problem-solving from my pre-baby life, and I can find alternatives for almost anything.
Now, I know that sounds simplistic. It’s not that simple because I have been applying everything that I’ve learned from multiple years of living trash free. So what’s simple now comes from years of practice. If you are reading this and you have specific questions about how exactly we overcame a garbage hurdle, please leave your questions in the comments! I love talking about the nitty gritty details, but I can’t assume that everyone finds our step-by-step garbage-free diaper routine quite as intriguing as I do!
Just as I collect my non-garbage (anything that I can’t reuse, recycle or compost), I have kept Jacob’s non-garbage too. Like my non-garbage, his is comprised mostly of little bits of plastic (wrapper from vitamin D drops, band-aids, a bit of plastic packaging from baby Tylenol…). That’s all his non-garbage from the first 18 months of his life. Go, zero garbage baby!
Lead image source: sabianmaggy/Flickr