Eco-friendly hacks for busy working parents

As a working parent, time is a precious commodity and convenience is your friend. How can you improve your eco credentials while managing the juggle? 

Here’s some inspiration for ways to cut down your waste footprint without increasing your mental load. 

David Attenborough and his Blue Planet TV series probably did more for the health of the oceans than decades of government legislation. Once the second series aired in 2018, awareness of plastic pollution skyrocketed and the topic darted up the discussion agenda in parliaments and living rooms alike.

Knowing what needs to be done about the environment and having the ability to act on it, though, can feel like two very different things. When you’re a busy working parent, fitting in a trip to the organics store to pick up zero waste groceries in a cardboard box, or walking to every meeting instead of taking the car, feels like an impossible task. To many of us, the mantra ‘Everyone’s fed, no one’s dead’ signifies a successful day filled with achievement. 

Convenience versus the environment

As more parents enter the workforce, the more widespread the challenge. 66.4% of couple families in Australia have both parents working. That number is rising: a decade ago it was 59%. In a quarter of couple families, both parents are working full time. 

It’s fair to say, the commodity that working families probably have the least of is time. To claw this back, we often opt for convenience—which is rarely good for the environment. 

And yet, becoming a parent makes us more environmentally aware. In an April 2008 poll, 91% of respondents said that having a child was the primary motivation for protecting the environment, with the most important reason to recycle being the impact on their children’s future

From working parent to eco-parent

Not only do we want to leave the planet in a better state for our children, but we also want to role model the kinds of behaviours we hope future generations will adopt. 

In the trade-off between convenience and the environment, how can working parents lighten their footprint on the planet, whilst still managing the juggle? 

1. Buy or borrow pre-loved items for your children
There are many benefits to buying kids’ clothes, toys and accessories in a secondhand sale (to find one, search for ‘kids market’ or, in the US, ‘kids consignment sales’). You can get everything you need in one place, at incredible discount prices. There’s no need to traipse around a shopping centre from store to store, paying retail prices. 

I love these sales. I usually find a stallholder with items for a similar aged child, and buy up a bulk of their pre-loved clothes and toys. You can also talk through the items with people that have actually used them, so you’re getting real opinions from other parents.  

When it comes to essential equipment for your kids, to save time or space, try borrowing what you need. Often, friends will offer things they no longer have a use for. Otherwise, look up your local baby hire service (we found this a cheaper option for our child’s car seat, for example, with the added bonus that the company fitted the seat for us). 

There are also some services online that could help you source those all-important things like high chairs, prams and toddler beds. Try Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace for purchasing secondhand items. You can easily browse on your mobile phone while on your commute, and collect by arrangement in the evening or weekend. Alternatively, seek out a service like Kindershare, which connects owners of baby equipment with those who need items on a short-term basis.  

2. Order your groceries to be delivered
Reclaim Saturday mornings and have your groceries delivered to your doorstep! 

In the past, an issue with supermarket delivery was the inability to control how much of it was packaged. Luckily, supermarkets in Australia now deliver without plastic bags, so you can order your grocery shopping online guilt-free… almost. Loose items like bakery bread, fruit and vegetables still come bagged, so try to source those from elsewhere. 

If you can’t make it to a farmers market for fruit and vegetables, many companies—like Ooooby or CERES Fair Food—now offer a similar online delivery service. The beauty is, these companies often use far less packaging and provide fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables without the food miles. Plus, it’s another set-and-forget subscription service for time-poor parents who still want to feed their kids fresh, nutritious meals. 

Another grocery item that deserves a call-out is toilet paper. When you’re struggling with a toddler and five bags of shopping, the last thing you need at the supermarket is to balance a 12-pack of loo roll under your arm. Who Gives a Crap is plastic-free, available for bulk delivery on subscription (one less thing for the mental load) and has some serious social impact credentials to boot.

3. Buy low-packaging takeaways
For those days when only a takeaway will do, opt for fish ‘n’ chips that comes in paper packaging, or pizza in a cardboard box (ask the pizza company not to include the plastic lid support).  

Delivery services are beginning to up their game. Fully reusable packaging? Yes please! Returnr offers a use-and-return packaging service across Australia, and internationally, circular packaging service Loop is enabling consumers to use their favourite products with zero waste. 

In my experience, if you tell a restaurant that you’d like to takeaway with your own Tupperware, they’ll be more than happy to fill up your containers. Heading to a restaurant to pick up your own food may seem like added effort but chances are, you’ll be prioritised ahead of delivery customers so your food reaches the dinner table at the same time. So if you don’t have time to cook dinner, you can feed the family without the single-use plastic footprint. 

4. Switch to cloth nappies
The average baby uses 5,000 nappies in a lifetime. For those that are in disposables, that produces a mountain of waste equivalent to 130 full bin-bags

Cloth nappies are resurging in popularity, but many parents don’t want the inconvenience of cleaning them at home. Thankfully, there are local businesses that will collect and launder your cloth nappies and deliver freshly washed ones. Often they will also loan you the cloth nappy kits, so you don’t have to purchase outright. Over time, you may find that this option costs the same or less than buying disposables, anyway. 

If cloth nappies aren’t convenient all the time, consider mixing and matching reusables with disposables. After all, a step in the right direction is better than nothing at all. 

5. Subscribe to eco-friendly disposables
There are lots of environmentally friendly, home-grown nappy brands out there, such as Ecoriginals in Australia and Kit & Kin in the UK. The best thing is, you can subscribe to home deliveries – so that’s one less bulky item on your supermarket shopping list and one less essential item to remember.   

We’re also excited to learn about DiaperRecycle, an Australian start-up that has come up with a sustainable solution for recycling nappies, and offers a disposable nappy waste collection service.

6. Pick the right wipes
Synthetic wet wipes are a huge environmental problem – they cause more than 90% of sewer blockages and add to the oceans’ plastic problem

If you opt for disposable baby wipes, use natural materials like bamboo or cotton. There are many eco-friendly baby wipe brands on the market. Some, like Ecoriginals and Tooshies by Tom, offer a subscription service.  

Reusable wipes are a phenomenon. They are so much better for the environment, they cost less than disposables in the long term, and you never have to worry about running to the shops to restock in an emergency! You could make your own reusable wipes or invest in a brand like Cheeky Wipes

Parents for the future

There are many ways to reduce your waste footprint; here I’ve shared just a few. If you don’t want to make too many changes at once, try adopting one new habit a month. 

Any progress is great progress, so don’t underestimate the power of your actions. Even the smallest things we do every day can exert enormous influence on those around us. The minute you start adjusting your behaviours, others will follow. 

Your children – and your children’s children – will thank you!  

Written by Tan Allaway. Tan is Head of Content at Circle In and the founder of waste-free project TalkPlastic

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