#70: Change starts with us

Why choose cloth nappies
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Read Time:20 Minute, 33 Second
Jenna is a case in point that cloth diapering can prompt a landslide of other eco-oriented changes. Before becoming a mum to her hand-me-down wearing, vegetarian toddler, Jenna didn’t have the passion for protecting the environment she has today. After swapping to a smaller garbage can, becoming more mindful about gift giving, reconsidering her transport options and converting to thrifting as a way of life, amongst many other things, Jenna now regularly shows up on Instagram to bring awareness to our ingrained habits and the importance of changing them. “As consumers we have the power of voting with our dollars, reading the labels, and asking the difficult questions. The more that consumers care about sustainability, the more that large companies will have to change their practices to retain their customers. Together our small actions make a very big difference.”
Welcome, Jenna @ecoconsciousmum 
Tell us a little about yourself, your family, and where you live?

Hi! I’m Jenna. I’m a 25-year-old mum to my 17-month-old son, Percy. We live in Ontario, Canada. Although I have a bachelor’s degree in ancient and medieval studies, I’m currently a stay-at-home mum. I love sharing our less-waste journey on social media and connecting with other like-minded mamas. 

How would you describe the experience of motherhood so far?

Motherhood is, in my opinion, one of the most transformative experiences life has to offer. Having Percy has taught me so much about selflessness, empathy, and love. I’ve never loved another human being in the deep and limitless way that I love him. As challenging as motherhood can be, it is equally as fruitful. I don’t know that I would be as passionate as I am about protecting the environment if it wasn’t for Percy. 

Becoming a mother has led you on a less-waste journey that you share on Instagram and your blog. Can you tell us about that?

Cloth diapering was the catalyst of my less-waste journey. My fiance’s mother had suggested cloth diapering as an option, but what really motivated me was a picture I came across of a cloth diapering exhibit. The image had gone viral on social media a few years ago, and I just happened to stumble upon it. Something about actually seeing the amount of garbage produced by disposable diapers alongside a simple starter pack of 24 cloth diapers was very shocking. I was immediately sold on the idea.

It’s funny looking back, because it’s absolutely not the easiest eco-swap to start with, but it worked for us. Choosing cloth prompted a landslide of other eco-oriented changes for my family. Once you start thinking about where the stuff you throw ‘away’ goes, you really can’t stop. Most people simply don’t know what the everyday things they use are made of, whether they’re actually recyclable, or how long they take to decompose. Once you start to do the digging, it’s hard to stop. 

On your feed, you share lots of tips and ideas for doing better by the Earth. Can you share 3 top tips for new parents keen to reduce waste?

The best way for a person to reduce waste will always be to make the swaps and changes that work best for their family. Reducing waste really comes down to a general mindset shift; it’s a lifestyle that cultivates mindful habits and challenges the way we think about waste. 

  1. Swap disposable products for reusable ones i.e cloth diapers, cloth wipes, reusable menstrual products, reusable water bottles. 
  2. Swap plastic products for natural, compostable ones wherever possible. i.e bamboo toothbrushes, natural fibre clothing, wood or 100% natural rubber toys. 
  3. Choose secondhand first for yourself and your children. If you can buy it used, don’t buy it new! 
One of your recent tips was as simple as having a smaller trash can in your home. Can you tell us why this can be such an effective way to minimise waste?

For the longest time, my family had a giant trash can in our kitchen. We rarely filled it, but I do believe that it was giving us permission to produce more garbage than we needed to. Switching to a smaller garbage pail has really helped us to reduce the single-use waste we bring into our home by providing a very visual and concrete goal. 

I think that there’s something especially attainable about setting tangible goals, something you can actually see in front of you to help you visualize and gauge your success. The smaller garbage can forces me to pay even more attention to what I’m throwing away. We produce one small bag of garbage every 1-2 weeks at this point. 

I find one of the greatest sources of plastic waste in our home comes from the well-intentioned gifts of others. Have you got any advice for gift-giving that is better for the planet?

It’s really important to be mindful when purchasing and giving gifts. I believe that material gifts are generally overrated. Before you give a physical gift, ask yourself ‘why?’. Is this something the recipient actually needs, or is it something that I just want to give? 

Instead of material gifts, consider giving the gift of your time and attention. A trip to the museum, a baking class, a girls day at the spa, a coupon for your babysitting services. Your time, energy, and love are gifts that will generate more memories than any toy or gadget ever could. 

If you really need to give a material gift, consider choosing a pre-loved item. Secondhand gifts are more affordable and often carry more meaning than something purchased brand new. There’s something extra thoughtful about taking the time to find the perfect unique gift from the thrift shop, or passing on items that you once loved but no longer need. Gifts don’t need to be brand new to be good gifts. 

Finally, before giving anything, don’t forget to ask what the recipient actually needs. I find this especially true for the adults in our lives. That friend of yours might need a bill paid or a gift certificate for a haircut much more than they need a mini waffle maker! 

The time it takes to reduce your waste is a great challenge for many families striving to treat the planet in a better way. What advice do you have for them?

There are many ways to reduce waste that aren’t time consuming at all. My advice is to focus on making small changes one at a time. After a while, those changes just become a part of routine and then you can move onto another goal without the process becoming overwhelming. 

Cloth diapering is one of those zero waste ‘swaps’ that can seem very time consuming. If time is tighter than money for a family they could consider purchasing AIO diapers that don’t require stuffing or assembly, using disposable liners, or even hiring a diaper service that provides and cleans the diapers for you. 

In the end, there is no one ‘right’ way to reduce waste. I’m a big advocate of families doing what they can for the planet with the resources at their disposal. Time is one of those resources, and we shouldn’t assume that everyone can spend hours baking homemade snacks or sewing their own clothes. 

Having completed my urban planning thesis in active transport, one message you share that is close to my heart is that to walk more and drive less. How would you describe the environmental benefits of this approach to transport?

It’s so easy to take advantage of our easy access to personal transport. It’s very common where I live to drive a few blocks to get somewhere just to save a few minutes of time. Before I get into a vehicle I always consider other ways of getting to my destination that may have less of an environmental impact. Walking, biking, taking public transport and carpooling are great alternatives. On top of reducing pollution from vehicle emissions, choosing active modes of transport is good for our health, too. Choosing to walk or bike every day as part of your daily commute is a great way to build exercise into your day. 

Delving deeper into your Instagram feed, I see a post in which you encourage your readers to not think secondhand swimwear is gross. Do you think buying second-hand will ever become the norm? 

I think buying secondhand is very trendy right now, with my generation in particular, but it’s definitely not fully normalized. I’ve had my thoughts on secondhand gifting and shopping featured in the SUN and on the blog lovewhatmatters, and the ideas that I presented were seen as radical by a large portion of the readers. This became incredibly clear just by glancing at the comment section. One reader even called me a ‘scrooge’ for giving my son secondhand gifts for Christmas. 

Thrifting is very much a way of life for me, but I realize that it requires a mindset shift for a lot of people. I think the older generations tend to still see secondhand items and thrifting as ‘less than’ or even gross. WhatI see as gross is funding barely disguised slave labour, and an endless production of cheap clothing and dinky toys that will pollute our earth for hundreds of years. 

Luckily, light is starting to be shone on the unethical and unsustainable nature of fast fashion, and I think the more we talk about it the better! We are raising the next generation, if we raise our children to see secondhand shopping as the default option, the economy will hopefully be forced to become more circular in nature. 

Your determination to be more eco conscious, of course, also led to using cloth nappies. Can you share with us the greatest challenge you have faced on your cloth journey to date? 

When we first started cloth diapering we were living in an apartment with no in-suite laundry. There was one coin-operated washing machine for the whole building which contained 6 families (all with young children) in total. I was so determined to cloth diaper that I bought a small portable washing machine for $100 CAD secondhand. I would hook it up to the kitchen sink any time I needed to do a load of diapers. It worked fantastically, the only drawback was that it had to be monitored pretty closely to avoid flooding our apartment when a load was on. 

This is one of the reasons that I truly believe that almost anyone with access to running water can cloth diaper. I certainly could have used our situation as an excuse to just stick with disposables, but I’m so glad that I didn’t. There are many different ways to cloth diaper besides using the typical full-size washer and dryer. From cloth diapering services to hand washing in a bathtub, there are ways to make it work in almost any situation. 

What does your washing situation look like today?

Our washing situation today is much simpler. I never thought I’d be the sort of person to get excited about things like in-suite laundry, but here I am giddy about the fact that I have an actual full size washer in my house. 

As for our routine, we plop the poop into the toilet and then store the dirty diapers in a large wet bag. Every 2-3 days I wash all of the dirty diapers. I start with a simple rinse and spin cycle with no detergent. Next I bulk up the load with rags, tea towels, and any of Percy’s clothing that needs to be washed. I add in Tide original powder detergent, set the washer to ‘warm’, and choose the ‘heavy’ cycle with an extra rinse. Once the cycle is complete I swish test one or two of the prefolds to make sure there isn’t any detergent residue. If all is well, the covers and pockets get hung to dry, and the inserts and prefolds get thrown in the dryer. 

I don’t believe that there’s a magic formula when it comes to wash routines. Some cloth diapering groups advocate for one specific routine, but it’s just not that simple. There are so many factors when it comes to washing cloth diapers: individual preferences, detergent, type of cloth diaper, model and make of washing machine, water hardness … the list goes on! Don’t be afraid to troubleshoot if something isn’t working for you. 

What does your cloth nappy stash look like?

Most of my stash was gifted to me by my fiance’s mother. As a result, I own a lot of Kawaii baby pocket diapers. I had no idea about ethical manufacturing or natural vs synthetic fibres when I was pregnant, so I didn’t know what to ask for and just accepted whatever I was given. I own a few diapers from other brands as well, mostly secondhand or gifted for review. Even though I don’t love or recommend Kawaii Baby the way I do other more reputable brands, they still do the trick. If your only option is cheap diapers, you can still cloth diaper successfully – I am proof of that. 

If I could go back in time and do it all over again I would have opted for secondhand natural fibre prefolds and North American made pockets or covers. I have developed a deep dislike for microfiber and polyester, and have sold or given away most of my synthetic inserts. Cotton prefolds are so easy to find secondhand, and they work amazingly well with pocket diapers. 

How does cloth nappying out and about work for you?

In my opinion, cloth diapering on the go is actually simpler than using disposable diapers while out and about. I pack a dual pocket wet bag with a few pre-stuffed clean diapers in the larger pocket. If my son needs a diaper change the dirty diaper goes straight into the smaller pocket. There’s no need to locate a garbage, I have everything I need with me already! I also take along a travel wipe holder with a few moistened cloth wipes. 

The rest is stuff that every mum packs in a diaper bag: an extra change of clothes, reusable water bottle, snacks, and a changing mat. Cloth diapering on the go can be intimidating at first, but if you have the right tools and mindset, it’s a breeze. 

How have you overcome the criticism and snarky comments you have faced in choosing to use cloth?

If anything, the criticism and snarky comments have only made me more determined to cloth diaper successfully. It’s crazy how many people feel the need to try to dissuade new parents from cloth diapering, even when they have no first-hand experience with it themselves. When I was sharing our plans to cloth diaper, I heard everything from ‘we’ll see how long that lasts’, to comments about how gross cloth diapers are. It’s disappointing, and I can only wonder how many new parents are talked out of cloth diapering by family members who don’t even know what they’re talking about. 

I am very vocal about the success of our cloth diapering journey now, and I always jump to the defence of cloth diapers. I know sometimes it’s best to just ignore the snarky comments, but when they’re littered with myths and misconceptions I always do my best to set the story straight. Cloth diapering isn’t an impossible, disgusting task, and it’s such an injustice that so many people jump to those conclusions. 

What is the most common myth you find yourself responding to when it comes to using cloth nappies?

There are so many misconceptions about cloth diapering, and if you’re planning to cloth diaper you’ve probably heard most of them firsthand! One of the biggest myths I find myself debunking is the idea that cloth diapers are a waste of water. In reality, a single disposable diaper takes 9 gallons of water (and countless other resources) to produce. It’s not a one-time transaction, either. A single baby goes through thousands of diaper changes per year. 

My personal wash routine only uses about 40 gallons of water to wash approximately 20 cloth diapers. If I had an Energy Star certified washer it would be even less! The same number of disposable diapers contain about 180 gallons of embedded water. There’s no competition – cloth is the more sustainable option even when it comes to water consumption. 

It is often argued that cloth nappies are too expensive to even contemplate making the switch. How would you respond to this statement?

The idea that cloth diapering is inherently expensive is another huge myth that I run into often. Cloth diapering doesn’t have to be expensive, but it certainly can be. Many mums like to collect prints, and will buy much more than they actually need. Different types of cloth diapers also have different price points: covers and pockets are generally quite affordable, while AIOs and AI2s are much more expensive. If you want to use cloth diapering as a way to save money, you definitely can. If you want to spend a lot of money in exchange for some extra convenience, you can do that too. 

Buying secondhand, adding cloth diapers to your baby registry, opting for covers and prefolds or flats instead of AIOs, AI2s or pockets, and utilizing materials you have on hand like receiving blankets, FSTs, and old cotton shirts, are all simple ways to cut down on the start-up cost of cloth diapering. If you have a ‘buy nothing’ or ‘garbage me not’ Facebook group in your area you can even hop on there to see if anyone has any diapers to give away for free. 

In just over a year of cloth diapering, I estimate that we’ve saved over $2000 by using cloth diapers and wipes instead of disposables. My cloth diaper stash was largely gifted to me or purchased cheaply secondhand. Cloth can be a great option for families on a budget. 

What can we all do to encourage more families to get into cloth?

It may seem trivial, but I think even just showing up on social media and talking about our cloth diapering journeys as parents really does make a huge difference. Right now it’s all about exposure and normalization. There are still tons of parents out there who don’t even realize that cloth is a viable option. The more people talking about it, posting photos of their adorable cloth bum babies, and discussing the impact of diapering choices on the environment, the more people that will stumble upon the message (like I did!) and potentially take it to heart.

I’m a young mum, so most of my friends don’t even have children yet, but I’ve managed to bring a lot of awareness to cloth diapering in my social circle regardless. I’ve shared my experience using cloth diapers since day one and have had dozens of friends and acquaintances let me know that they now plan to use cloth for their future children because of conversations we’ve had, or pictures I’ve shared on social media. You don’t need to have a huge platform to influence the people around you positively. Keep having those difficult conversations online and in real life, you never know who may be listening, reading, or watching. 

Do you have a favourite quote when it comes to cloth?

I love the phrase ‘laundry not landfill’. It’s the perfect slogan for the cloth community, and really hits the nail on the head. When people tell me that cloth is ‘too much extra work’, I always point out that it’s actually only 2 extra loads of laundry a week. Would you really rather put thousands of pounds of waste into a landfill just to avoid an extra 2 loads of laundry weekly? It really puts it into perspective. We need to stop putting convenience above the wellbeing of our planet. 

What is the greatest message you hope to share with your children about caring for the environment?

I hope to instill a deep respect for our planet and all living things in Percy. Right now I try to spend a lot of time outside in nature with him, reading about animals and the environment, and watching nature documentaries. He’s still a little too young at 17 months for the difficult conversations about animal cruelty, plastic pollution, and other major issues, but for now I think it’s enough to just show him the wonderful things that exist on earth and lead by example. We do our best as a family to lessen our environmental impact. He’s a cloth diapered, hand-me-down wearing, vegetarian toddler. Whether or not he’ll adapt these habits himself, I don’t know, but I’m hopeful that he’ll grow up to be an advocate for the environment. 

It’s easy to buy into the mindset that your individual choices don’t matter. But, do they?

I see this mindset expressed a lot in and around the cloth diapering community. It’s a tempting narrative to buy into. It pushes back against the guilt and pressure that can come with worrying about our own actions. If we pass all of the blame onto governments and major corporations then we don’t have to do the hard work of assessing our own ingrained habits and changing them … but in reality the change has to start with the consumers. 

It’s true that governments and large companies pack the most punch when it comes to climate action, but they aren’t going to make the necessary changes unless we as consumers apply the pressure. Consumers hold a lot of power. We can withhold our money from businesses that operate unethically and unsustainably, we can swap out environmentally harmful disposable products for reusable ones whenever possible, we can speak out on social media, we can vote in a way that favours environmental policy and climate justice. 

I no longer give my money to companies like Tampax, Huggies, Pampers and Ziplock, and I unfollow anyone that partners with or promotes these brands on social media. It’s one thing to use these products out of necessity, it’s another entirely to get paid to promote them. These brands make little to no effort to make their products more sustainable, so I withhold my support from them and any persons associated with them through sponsorships. Instead, I focus on brands that are making disposable necessities like diapers, wipes and menstrual products more accessible and sustainable. We can support these outstanding brands by purchasing or recommending their products, following on social media, and sharing their content. 

As consumers we have the power of voting with our dollars, reading the labels, and asking the difficult questions. The more that consumers care about sustainability, the more that large companies will have to change their practices to retain their customers. Together our small actions make a very big difference.

What is your advice for anyone wondering where to start on their own eco journey?

Start small! Some of the easiest everyday swaps like reusable water bottles and bamboo toothbrushes have the biggest potential impact. One reusable water bottle saves hundreds of plastic water bottles from going to landfill every single year. You don’t have to do everything at once, and not every ‘eco swap’ will work for your family. Don’t let the guilt or overwhelm stop you from making those small changes. Making little changes is far better than making none at all. 

And, finally, how would you describe your journey with cloth in one word?

Rewarding. There is nothing better than seeing my son wearing the same diapers he wore at 6 weeks old. I smile thinking about the thousands of diapers we’ve saved from landfill. Cloth diapering has definitely been a rewarding experience for my family and me.

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