Monday, December 8, 2008

Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater...

Eco-awareness can strike at the most unexpected times. This weekend, I emailed my friends Chris and Denise, who are expecting their first baby in four weeks. I wished them luck – and added, as an afterthought: "PS: Whatever you do, don’t bother buying a baby bath. "Everyone does, but you don’t need one. They are big, ugly and plastic and just get in your way and you’ll never need it."

Chris emailed me back within five minutes: "Thanks for the great advice. Sadly, a large yellow baby bath is one of the first things we bought. I’m already banging my knee on it every time I get out of bed…"

I confess I was just the same when I had my first baby – and probably committed more eco sins that I care to remember. You make your way from shop to shop, clutching a list of ‘must-haves’ that ranges from cumbersome pieces of changing equipment to itty-bitty clothes and mysterious lotions and potions.
The driving force is partly hormones – that famous ‘nesting’ instinct, which hits men as well as women. It turns even the most laid-back shopper into a frenzied consumer, as if your life depends on finding a changing mat with a hopping bunnies motif or a musical mobile that promises to lull babies to sleep. Think panic buying on Christmas Eve to the power of 20.
But it’s not just hormones to blame for this mass spending spree. From the moment that magical line appears on a pregnancy test, you are bombarded with messages that you must spend, spend, spend. This is before your baby has even uttered its first cry, let alone learned to say "I want" (which leads you on whole new adventures in consumer land…).
Yes, there are accessories that make life easier (My Baby Bjorn sling became like a second skin) and products you couldn’t do without (Green Baby’s Petroleum Free Jelly zaps nappy rash – and feels a whole lot better than smearing a byproduct of the oil industry on your baby’s bottom). But there are a truckload of unnecessary things on offer that just clutter up your life.
For me, buying a baby bath was a classic case of us putting consumerism before what really matters when you have a baby. In the end, both my babies were fine - and felt far more safe and reassured - sitting between a parent’s knees in our big bath. What’s more, shelling out for these throwaway items (often made from non-recyclable plastic) not only empties your pockets, it also has an impact on the environment - and your baby certainly isn’t going to thank you for that.
But the good news is there are plenty of ways to be an ecohip parent, without sacrificing style – or the planet. All it takes is rethinking a few ideas, and you’ll all be richer in every sense.
Oh, and don’t let yourself feel guilt about not giving your baby ‘the best’. If you’re parenting with care, love and consideration, that’s the real deal, not buying up half the stock of ToysRUs.

Ecohip’s top 5 ways to be a green parent:
1 New isn’t always best
Suddenly your home will be full of ‘stuff’, from cots to car seats, buggies to baby carriers. Before you shell out, try NCT sales (see for branches), eBay ( Freecycle ( or My Skip ( to give a nearly-new item a new lease of life. If you want to buy new, go for furniture (eg high chairs) made out of sustainably forested wood rather than plastic. The only things you are recommended to always buy new are car seats (there’s no way of knowing if it’s been in an accident) and cot mattresses (there’s a possible link between second-hand cot mattresses and sudden infant death syndrome).
2 Buy feel-good clothes
A lot of high street clothes for babies and children are made out of synthetic fabrics that can trigger allergies, use potentially toxic dyes and are sourced from sweatshops overseas, where workers (often children) are paid a pittance. Go for organic cotton clothes or fairtrade items. Quality items will often last longer (or can be passed on to someone else) than ‘cheap as chips’ brands. Charity shops and nearly-new sales often yield great items that have barely been worn.
3 Play safe
Old-fashioned wooden toys or soft toys made out of organic material get our vote. After all, the first thing a baby does with a toy is put it in their mouth to test its texture. And what would you prefer your baby to chew on: organic wool or a plastic Fimble? When they get to the toddler stage, swap toys between friends or join a toy library to cut down on crowding out your house with huge items that only get played with once.
4 Cook in bulk
Keep shop-bought organic jars and pots of baby food for when you’re on the go. At home, bulk cook favourite veggie and fruit purees, and freeze in ice trays.
5 Pass it on
If you’ve finished with something that was really useful, pass it on to a friend or put it in a nearly new sale (NCT ones are well organised, and you just donate a percentage of the money you make). But I’m not making any promises you’ll be able to get rid of that hulking yellow baby bath…

What was the most unnecessary thing you bought for your baby – or the one thing you couldn’t do without? Let us know…