eco-friendly family
Living with cloth

#44: Progress, not perfection

This week, we interview a New Zealand mother who, after realising her family couldn’t keep living the disposable lifestyle they had been, created a community to share simple eco tips that are easy, fun, can save you money and, most importantly, help you to live more sustainably. The Great Eco Journey was born, with the motto ‘progress, not perfection’.

Juliet shares with us the simple eco solutions she has found for around the home, how she is faring on her ‘buy nothing new for a year’ challenge, and how she threw a children’s birthday party with only one item going to landfill. She also sums up her children’s time in cloth nappies with the prudent advice that reusables aren’t a lot of work, but they are a bit of work – work that is completely justified with the financial and environmental benefits you will reap in return.

Welcome, Juliet @thegreatecojourney

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your family, where you live and what you love about where you live? 

I’m Juliet, and along with Jon, we have three kids – Brady (8 – football-mad), Eve (5 – sparkle mad) and Charlotte (2 – just plain-mad). We live in Auckland, New Zealand. I love pretty much everything about New Zealand; it’s my home, where my roots and whanau (family) are, and it’s also pretty damn beautiful! As for my city, I could probably take it or leave it, it’s a city, like other cities, and I’d probably prefer to be in the countryside or by the sea. In saying that though, it is where we have built our own little community, friends and home, so leaving would be very difficult! We are not Green Gurus, or Tree-Huggers. We don’t wear tie dye and we are not vegan. BUT we have seen, first-hand, how making small, sustainable choices, can add up to make a big difference!

You created the Great Eco Journey to share simple eco tips that are easy, fun, can save you money and, most importantly, help you to live more sustainably? Can you share from where the inspiration for your mission came?

About two and a half years ago, we literally had a light-bulb moment when watching a random Youtube video of the litter-infested sea! We realised that we couldn’t keep living the disposable lifestyle that we had; using something once, throwing it away, wheeling the rubbish bin out to the curbside once a week and promptly forgetting about it. So we started making some changes, just one at a time. We quickly discovered that not only was it easy, but we (ok, maybe more ‘me’ than ‘we’) were also really enjoying the challenge, as well as saving money. Most of all though, the very small changes that we were making were really adding up. So we created the Great Eco Journey. Simple eco-tips that are easy, fun, can save you money and most importantly, help you to live more sustainably.

What’s your ultimate goal for the Great Eco Journey? 

I’m honestly not sure. So far, it has just continued to grow and evolve organically. It has taken new directions that I never initially planned for, but that have been audience-driven and have felt right! All I really want to do is encourage other people to make small changes, one step at a time. My motto is PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION. Next year we plan to do something a little crazy. We are going to spend the year travelling the world (covid-permitting), AND we are aiming to do it waste-free!

What has been your greatest discovery on your family’s eco journey to date?

I think the moment when, after only three months of making gradual changes, I realised that our family had halved the amount of waste that we were producing in our house!

From where does your eco inspiration come?

A lot of it comes from looking back at how my parents, but even more-so, my grandparents and great grandparents did things. I feel like somewhere along the way we lost the balance; convenience trumped everything else, and we just need to back-track a bit to find the place where we have the equilibrium of convenience and appreciation for our resources. We need to slow down! Oh, and Instagram, of course.

Before moving onto your experiences with cloth nappies specifically, let’s talk about how your eco choices have impacted on other parts of your life and share some tips for how others can make progress on their own eco journeys.

What eco changes have you made within the kitchen environment, and which has been your favourite and why?

So many! I’ll see how many I can list in a minute – loose leaf tea and tea strainer instead of tea bags, beeswax wraps instead of cling film, silicone baking tray instead of baking paper, eco-friendly dish-cloths, bamboo dish brush, making our own bread, butter instead of spread in a plastic container, old fabric cloths instead of paper towels, bento lunch boxes, soap shaker, DIY multipurpose cleaner, no plastic straws, glass baby bottles, refilling jars from bulk store, composting. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but in terms of reducing waste, composting has been a game changer! Did you know that food waste makes up around 30-40% of household waste!!??

What simple solutions have you found for making the bathroom a more sustainable area of your home, and what is your number one recommendation for others hoping to make better choices in this department?

I’ve actually just done a TV interview and article on this. Here’s the link rather than boring you with another list.

You believe we could all be more environmentally friendly by doing less laundry and paying less for water and electricity. How can we achieve this and what are the benefits?

I should probably fess up straight away and say that I do a LOT of laundry! I generally do a load a day, maybe with one day off a week. BUT that is for five people. But these are the things that I do to lighten my load on the environment:

  • line drying – we don’t own a dryer so there is no temptation!
  • stainless steel clothes pegs – last for life!
  • more eco-friendly laundry powder/liquid, or even make your own!
  • full loads as much as possible.
  • vast majority cold washes.
  • spot wash when I can, rather than was a whole garment.

This year, you are on a challenge to buy nothing new for a whole year? Can you tell us more about that challenge and how you are progressing to date?

I have to be really honest: this isn’t the ‘challenge’ that it would have been a few years ago for me. You see, my way of consuming fashion has changed so much. I spent my teens and twenties with a pretty mainstream shopping mentality: on trend, a bargain if possible, and on a ‘want’, rather than ‘need’ basis. No thought whatsoever went into what my purchases were made of, how they were made, or who made them. But my thirties brought with them a new environmental awareness, firstly focused on waste, but quickly spreading to the climate, pollution and people. There was no more ignoring the industry that takes a huge toll on all of those things: the fashion industry.

When my Grandma was my age, there were two fashion seasons: Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter. Any guesses as to how many there are now? FIFTY-TWO! That’s right, the fast fashion industry currently churns out a whopping 52 “micro-seasons” per year! They are bringing out new collections of clothes every single week! These items are worn an average of seven times. ‘What’s wrong with that’ you may ask? When that amount is being consumed at such a high rate, that much is also being thrown out at a high rate … every day tonnes and tonnes of discarded clothes are being dumped in landfill! The fashion industry also has a lot to answer for in terms of the pollution created from its production methods and materials, and that’s not even getting started on the living and working conditions of the garment workers who are creating these clothes!

I am a far more conscious consumer when it comes to fashion now. I wear what I have, and look after it, I shop second hand, I’ve even dabbled in renting outfits for special occasions. The few items of new clothing that I do purchase, I do so consciously, researching, looking for quality, ethical transparency, supporting smaller, more local brands. And guess what? I love my wardrobe more now, than I did back then. And I save a bucket-load of money.

I’m at the halfway point of my challenge now, and the only occasional temptation had come from some fabulous outfits that I saw on ethical-fashion bloggers that I follow, but I figured that if I still couldn’t stop thinking about those outfits in a years’ time, then maybe I’d treat myself.

Now, I’m not suggesting you have to give up shopping for a year, or only purchase ethical, sustainable, fair trade, organic, biodegradable apparel. But to consider being more conscious when it comes to fashion, consider using what you have, shopping second hand, supporting ethical, local fashion brands. The motto I love is ‘Buy Less, Choose Well, make it last’.

One area of parenting that is notorious for producing a lot of waste is children’s birthday parties. Can you share some thoughts on how parents can create simple, fun, low-stress events without the bulging rubbish bag to go with it?

Ooh, this is another one that’s close to my heart! Hands up who is guilty of holding open a great big rubbish sack and proudly declaring: ‘Just chuck it all in here!’? I have been there, and I must confess that there is something mildly satisfying about being able to contain the entire remnants of a party in one bag, tying it up and throwing it in the wheelie bin. But we have come quite a long way since then, and have now become pretty adept at throwing our kids’ parties without the crap! In fact, for our daughter’s last party, we only sent one item to landfill! Here are my top tips: 

  • Invites: Go homemade or send them out online. We used Paperless Post, or you could simply send out an email.
  • Decorations: On the morning of the party, we collected wild flowers to fill jars down the middle of the table, we also used a hole punch to make leaf-confetti. In lieu of balloons, we bought some colourful paper lanterns, with the plan to keep them to reuse again and again. I also made a very long string of floral fabric bunting. A couple of other low-waste decorating ideas are shells, flags or bunting made out of old/second-hand picture books, origami balloons, a photo board, homemade banners or reusable solar powered fairy lights.
  • Table: For something a bit special, we bought vintage plates from second-hand shops; ours cost an average of $1 each and we will keep them for future use. Alternatively, save time and money by just using what you have and asking a friend to bring some extras. Little reusable glass milk bottles are great for drinks, and if you want to use straws then opt for paper ones that you can compost. Use or make fabric napkins – we just cut the extra bunting fabric up with pinking shears. If you want to cover the table, opt for a fabric tablecloth. We found that not only was our tableware zero-waste, but it was actually really pretty!
  • Food:  Keep it simple. Kids want to play more than eat – popcorn, berries/ fruit/ melon, bulk store snacks, mini corn on cob, bakes biscuits and treats. Even the cake can be low-waste! We bought all the dry ingredients as well as the vanilla essence, jellybeans and sprinkles from a bulk store, the egg carton and butter wrapper were compostable, leaving only the milk bottle for the recycling bin. Remember your beeswax candles too. And be sure to have a compost bin handy for the food scraps.
  • Goodie bags: For us, the treasure hunt prize was the party favour. Each child got a little fabric-wrapped parcel. Inside was a homemade lip balm, a small jar of lollies (from the bulk store) and a little unicorn soap. They were also all pretty chuffed with their painted rocks! There is really no need to do party favours; within five minutes of leaving, the kids won’t remember if they got one or not! But if you are searching for inspiration, avoid the $2 shop and go for something simple but quality – homemade playdough, a strawberry seedling in a tin can, a small book or a bag of marbles. Or get crafty and have the kids make something as a party activity; they could create a fairy garden, be-dazzle their own crowns or unicorn horns; decorate a flower pot; make a superhero mask; or create a kaleidoscope!

You can read more about our oh-so-nearly zero-waste birthday party for my daughter here.

Playtime is another part of raising children that often attracts a lot of waste. How can parents limit waste without being the mean mum or dad?

Absolutely, kids can be absolute crap-magnets when it comes to toys! Here are my favourite ideas for play ideas that aren’t plastic-packed and destined to be in landfill after a few days:

  • go for quality over quantity.
  • consider second hand.
  • hand-me-downs.
  • kids’ only markets.
  • toy library.
  • handmade/crafts.
  • look for natural materials that are long-lasting and ethically made.
  • avoid glitter!

When a baby joins a family, you write that a household’s waste increases by 52%. What other advice do you have for new parents hoping to minimise waste?

Well, disposable nappies have to be the biggest cause of that waste, so cloth nappies for sure! Even just using one cloth nappy per day can save 310kgs of waste and $465 (NZD). Second-hand cloth nappies are a great way of keeping the set-up costs down. Reusable swim nappies are amazing too! You can buy or make your own cloth wipes. There is so much good quality, second-hand baby gear out there too.

As sustainability increasingly becomes incorporated into marketing strategies, it brings the challenge of understanding the vocabulary that comes with it. Can you share some tips on navigating the world of eco terminology and jargon? 

Be aware! Be sceptical! Ask questions! Don’t be a sucker (like I have been in the past) and fall into the trap of buying something with a cute green leaf on it without researching further. Chances are, you’re not being eco-friendly, you’re just being ripped off! Green washing is when an organisation misleadingly promotes their products and services in an environmentally friendly way, when in reality the product or service has few or no environmental benefits. So why do they do it? For money of course! According to a report by Nielsen, 66% of global consumers say they’re willing to pay more for sustainable brands (Nielsen, 2015). This is great, right? Well, in theory, yes. The problem is that it has led to what I call ‘green-lies’ by companies to meet this demand and willingness to spend more. It is estimated that as much as 98% of apparently green products are actually a form of green-washing. (Faizal, 2019). Support companies who are fully transparent and 100% committed to being eco-friendly.

Now, onto nappies. Our interviewees on this blog regularly share their reasons for choosing reusable and they align well with yours – save the planet, save money, super cute babies – so, let’s concentrate on some of the obstacles that often discourage families from opting for cloth. If we can share our tips and solutions for overcoming some of the most common concerns that come with using cloth nappies then, hopefully, we can encourage more families to choose reusable.

How would you respond to the concern that cloth nappies will stink?

If your cloth nappies stink, then you’re probably doing something wrong. I learnt this the hard way! I had to play around a bit with the way I washed them, and with the way I stored the dirty ones. We had them in a bucket with a lid, which contained the smell, until you took the lid off. Then the stench was pretty epic! I have since learnt about ‘dry-pailing’ and would definitely recommend you look it up.

What advice can you offer for families concerned about cloth nappies leaking?

You DO need to change them a bit more frequently (I found about every three hours) to avoid leaking. I never found a cloth nappy that could last the whole night, and I’m not interested in waking a sleeping baby to change their nappy. I did discover a local brand Little and Brave Nappies, that make fully home compostable nappies, so we used these overnight, and also for long car journeys.

How can we overcome the obstacle that washing cloth nappies is going to be a lot of work?

For me, cloth nappies meant an extra load of nappies every 4-5 days. There was no extra time spent scrubbing or rinsing, just that one load, and then stuffing the nappies once they’re dry – which I found was a nice job to do while blobbing in front of the TV. So basically, washing cloth nappies is not a LOT of work, but it is a BIT of work. For me, this work is completely justified with the money you save and the environmental benefits.

What would you say to families who choose not to use cloth nappies because they are too inconvenient?

Try using one a day and see how you go! You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

And, finally, please share any other words of advice you feel would be of benefit to the readers of Make Laundry Not Lan  dfill:

I think I’ve shared too much information already! Check our my Instagram, Facebook or website for lots of easy, fun, cost-effective tips to live and work more sustainably.


In brief

Number of bums in cloth. 3, but none right now.

Time in cloth. 8 years in total, 2-3 years per kid.

Number of nappies. I’ve built them up over the years, I started with around 8 and ended with about 18 in total.

Full or part time. Part time for my first two, full time (except nights – when I used a fully compostible nappy) with my third.

Nappy style. Mostly Bambino Mio, plus a few others that I’ve bought/ acquired along the way.

Stuff or snap. Mostly stuff.

Pre-stuff or lay as you go. I always tried to pre-stuff but sometimes life got in the way!

Line or tumble dry. Line (we don’t have a tumble dryer). Occasionally, the heated towel rail overnight when I desperately needed a couple dry!

Favourite cloth related product. The disposable liners were a great way to ease me into it while starting out with cloth nappies, then as I got more savvy I ditched them (as they’re NOT a great option environmentally, but better than a full disposable nappy).

Describe your journey with cloth in one word. Incremental!

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