Saving the Planet: a Guide for Beta Mummies

Somewhere between David Attenborough’s recent BBC documentary: Climate Change – The Facts, the inspirational Greta Thunburg, and the high-profile protests by Extinction Rebellion, I have found myself pondering the planet and the part that I play on it.

The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book? – Sir David Attenborough

This post is a collection of ideas for Beta Mummies (and Daddies) who want to do something, but don’t really know where to start.  And feel a bit overwhelmed by it all.  And can’t go too crazy because they’re actually incredibly tired and the kids won’t touch sprouted mung beans with a barge pole.

I’ve been reasonably environmentally conscious for a long time – have always been big on recycling, used cloth nappies (most of the time), done a few litter picks and moaned at the amount of packaging on supermarket vegetables.  But in recent months and weeks I’ve felt the need to step up a gear, and cut back on my family’s ecological footprint, at least attempt to do my bit.

As you’d probably expect, I’m a long LONG way from being perfect: I’m not vegan for a start, I own a petrol car, and I still sometimes buy ready meals. But I’m trying to be mindful of the things I buy and do, and, with baby steps, make better decisions.

It occurred to me that there are probably lots of you out there, reading this, who are a bit like me. You lead busy lives, struggling to juggle everything, forever feeling guilty about what you’re not managing to get done, and frankly, feeling bad about the environment as well is not ideal. You want to do what you can, but maybe don’t feel up to doing very much, not right now.  You might be feeling a bit like this:

So, I asked my lovely Facebook and Instagram followers, the awesome Beta Mummy community, for their tips, eco-life hacks and ideas, to share the easy little everyday things that they are all doing that are a bit better for the planet than the default option.  I promised them that if we came up with enough ideas between us then I’d put them all into a blog post for easy reference.  And here it is!

There are loads of little changes we could all make, some of which we might not all have even thought of, that wouldn’t be particularly difficult or expensive or time-consuming to do. It wouldn’t hurt, anyway, would it?  Here goes…

#1     Take a carrier bag (or old bread bag) with you everywhere you go and pick up litter – the kids may refuse to tidy their bedrooms but they seem to love litter-picking for some reason…

#2     Carry a reusable coffee cup with you everywhere you go.  Not an ad, but my favourite one is from Frank Green, it’s compact, looks cool, and doesn’t leak. I haven’t used a disposable coffee cup since I got mine about a year ago now, yay me.  Or – and here’s a novel idea – sit down in a (independent) coffee shop and enjoy your drink from a proper cup.  I do like a coffee shop.

#3     Likewise, carry a reusable water bottle everywhere you go (yes there are a lot of things to carry with you everywhere you go but if you’re a parent you’ll be used to that by now).  I hate it when I forget my lovely steel water bottle and have to buy a drink out.

#4     Buy non-plastic containing tea bags.  Yup, that’s right, lots of tea bags use plastic to seal the tea leaves inside the bags.  But some don’t (and the don’t-ers are increasing all the time), so buy those instead.  Or switch to loose leaf tea, which is rather delicious and looks well posh.

#5     Use cloth nappies – if I can do it, anyone can!  They are harder work than disposables, let’s be honest.  But not as hard as you might think, and when you think that the average baby gets through 4000 – 6000 nappies by the time they’re potty trained – and around EIGHT MILLION nappies are used every single day… that’s just nuts.  What an horrendous amount of plastic – because that’s what they are mainly made of – going to land fill.  Even if you don’t use cloth nappies 100% of the time (I was about 90%) – every little helps.  You can buy them second hand to save money, and they can be used on multiple children so it’ll definitely be cheaper in the long run – win win again!  They also can look super cute.  The choice can be overwhelming at first but there’s lots of help to be found online.  I rate The Nappy Lady for impartial advice.

#6     Use cloth wipes – in a similar vein, disposable baby wipes are another environmental disaster.  Even the flushable ones shouldn’t really be flushed – please don’t.  If you use cloth nappies, it’s a no-brainer to use cloth wipes too as you just chuck them all in the wash together.  Cloth wipes are also far more effective as wiping poo off a baby’s bum, not to mention kinder to their peachy skin.  There are branded cloth wipes, the most famous being Cheeky Wipes, but I used to just use cheap flannels or cut up old towels into little squares.  I admit that I have continued to use baby wipes since the Feral Children were potty trained, though, for wiping sticky faces and hands, wiping table tops and kitchen counters – in fact for doing basically all my (limited) cleaning.  A few months ago, however, I resolved to stop buying them and just use cloths instead.  Old fashioned cloths and flannels that you wash and re-use. It’s not rocket science.

#7     Use a menstrual cup and/or washable pads.  Everyone I know that has ditched tampons in favour of a Moon Cup (many other similar, cheaper brands available) have described it as a “game changer”, and never looked back.  There was a time that I would have thought it was a bit gross, but since having kids my threshold for gross is much higher, and also I’m more accepting, these days, of my body’s functions.  Honestly, give it a go if you’re not yet a convert.  You’ll soon be thinking how weird it is that you ever stuck a cotton wool plug on a string up your fandango.  I’ve never been a fan of pads but I’m told that the washable pads are great too – much more comfy and less sweaty than the regular plasticky ones.

#8     Use beeswax wraps instead of cling film – I love mine, got them for Christmas and use them all the time.

#9     Use washing powder, or eco eggs, instead of individually-wrapped tablets or capsules for your washing.  You don’t need fabric softener, it’s a con.

#10     Recycle carrier bags (when they can no longer be re-used) and any other stretchy bag-type plastic, at supermarkets where they often have a carrier bag recycling point.

#11     Use bars of soap instead of bottles of handwash.  It’s just as good, and cheaper, and plastic-free.  Same applies to shampoo and conditioner.  I have really long, really thick hair and have been using shampoo bars for ages now, they’re great.  I don’t personally get on with conditioner bars, though – but I know plenty of people who do.  I’ve found a shop that will refill my conditioner bottle, instead, so that’s cool.

#12     Ban glitter.  I mean, do I need to say more?!  I’ve always hated glitter, and now being “eco” is the perfect excuse to exile it from my house forever.

#13     Use public transport instead of the car.  Doesn’t always work, depending on where you live and what your options are, but if time isn’t of the essence, kids bloody love a train or bus ride!

#14     Switch to an eco-friendlier supplier for your gas and electric.  There are a few to choose from, including Ecotricity, Octopus and Pure Planet.  I switched about a year ago to Pure Planet, which uses renewable sources (solar/wind/tidal) for electricity, and carbon-offsets its gas.  When I did a comparison I found it was actually cheaper than the (non-renewables) tariff I’d previously been on.  Cheeky little referral link to get us a reward:  Pure Planet.

#15     Switch off appliances at the plug, don’t just put them on standby.  Saves money!

#16     Use bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic.  I don’t personally do this as I have an electric toothbrush, but am going to try bamboo for the kids – I wonder if it will encourage them to clean their teeth?!  An astounding 3.5 BILLION plastic toothbrushes are thrown away every year, most of which end up in landfill.  Nearly every plastic toothbrush that has ever been made, probably still exists somewhere, buried.  How depressing is that?!  If bamboo is a no-go for you (they’re a bit pricey) then at least recycle your toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes with Terracycle & Colgate’s recycling scheme.

#17     Buy loose fruit and veg where you can.  Admittedly difficult if you always shop at the supermarket (especially in Aldi and Lidl, I find), although some of them are starting to realise that people want to avoid single-use plastic.  If you have a proper greengrocer or market near you, and can get there, use it!  It is much more enjoyable shopping that way than in a supermarket, I find – time is the only obstacle.  Veg box delivery is another option – lots of them are plastic-free, seasonal, local and organic.

#18     Stop buying cereal bars!  Until recently I was definitely guilty of this.  I used to buy loads of those individually wrapped bars for the kids, for packed lunches and snacks.  But someone on my Facebook page posted a really easy flapjack recipe and I’ve been making them ever since.  They only take half an hour total to make, and if I make one batch a week, there’s enough to last all week.  Wrapped in beeswax wraps, of course 😉

#19     Don’t iron.  Best tip ever.  I don’t even own an iron.

#20     Use more eco-friendly cleaning products.  The adverts on TV and the likes of Mrs Hinch on Instagram have convinced us that we need to use loads of harsh chemicals in our homes to kill nasty germs that lurk on every surface, trying to make us ill.  Most of them aren’t needed.  There are more planet – and health – friendly options for sale, or you can make your own cleaning products easily and cheaply.  I haven’t actually done this yet as I’m still running down my under-sink stash of Mr Muscle etc, but I plan to attempt to make some cleaning stuff at some point.  A quick Google brings up a plethora of recipes, mostly involving Bicarb and white vinegar, as far as I can tell.

#21     Eat less meat.  I think we all know that we collectively need to reduce the amount of meat we eat.  I personally have no intention of going vegan anytime soon, but I know that I eat more meat than I need to, and have been cutting back.  If nothing else it’s a good idea to reduce beef and lamb consumption, as these are the most energy-intensive meats to produce.

#22     Grow your own.  Channel a bit of wartime spirit and consider growing some fruit or veg in your garden or on your balcony, if you have one.  Even the smallest patch, and the crappest gardener, can manage a few cherry tomatoes or strawberries.  I’m not particularly green-fingered, but I do quite enjoy a potter about in the garden, and the Ferals sometimes get stuck in too, which should be fun but isn’t, particularly.  But it’s the kind of wholesome activity that apparently we should be doing with our kids so why not give it a go.

#23      Continuing from the above, let your garden grow wild! Our native bee population is really struggling, which has severe potential consequences for crop-pollination in the future.  We can all help by planting bee-friendly flowers, and letting areas of our gardens grow a bit wild – basically you should neglect the lawn and let the weeds grow, as dandelions and other native wild flowers are brilliant for our bees.  That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

#24     Buy less.  Just buy less crap that you don’t need.  Do your kids need even more plastic tat?  Do you need that cheap top from Primark?  Do you really need that flamingo-shaped wall light from Home Bargains…?  We have been conditioned to buy buy buy, spend spend spend, and we are all guilty of excessive consumerism.  More than anything, more than any of the little tips listed above, this is the one thing that collectively we all have to address.  I’m not saying we should all live like hermits and wear sack cloths.  All I’m saying is be mindful of what you’re spending your money on.  Buy quality, not quantity.  Consider whether your life will be better having bought the thing you’re looking at.

There are many more things that we all could/should be doing – feel free to mention anything I’ve missed in the comments – but none of us is perfect, and this is a Beta Mummy guide, remember.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and to dismiss everything I’ve just said with a “Well what’s the point?” or a “It’ll make no difference”, but baby steps can gradually gain momentum and together we can make a difference.

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