Eight simple ways for families to reduce their waste

Young families produce more waste than anyone else - here's what you and your whanau can do to reduce yours.

By Karyn Henger
In a world where global warming has an undeniable impact on weather patterns and ecosystems, and continents are running out of room to put their rubbish, there has become a real urgency to reduce, reuse, recycle.
The mounting waste problem can feel overwhelming but if everyone does something in their daily life to address it then a difference can be made, says Kate Mead from Waste Free With Kate.
Kate, who is also known as The Nappy Lady, runs a blog and website dedicated to inspiring Kiwis to minimise their waste and she'll be a guest speaker at this year's Baby Show Autumn edition - because if there is one time in your life when you'll produce more waste than at any other time, it's when you become a parent.
When you have a baby your waste increases by about 50 per cent, says Kate.
Disposable nappies, disposable wipes, formula tins and all of the packaging that comes with baby products creates a mountain of unusable trash. What can you do to reduce it? Plenty, Kate advises.
Here, Kate talks us through eight ways that families can reduce the amount of waste they produce.
Kate Meads

Minimise your use of disposable nappies

A newborn baby will power through six to 10 nappies a day, and if you do the calculations that's up to 70 pieces of waste a week and 3640 pieces of waste a year.
"Use cloth nappies," Kate states simply. "Even if you only use them at home, and keep the disposables for when you're out and about."
Some would argue that the extra washing created by using cloth nappies negates any positive difference they would make, but Kate, who used cloth nappies with her son 14 years ago, counters: "If your baby did a massive poonami and it was all through their clothes, you'd still put their clothes in the wash with the others after they'd been rinsed, wouldn't you. Just because it's called a nappy does that mean it needs to have a separate wash?"
Kate developed a system where she would empty dirty cloth nappies in the toilet, put them on a rinse cycle in the washing machine and then throw clothes on top for a regular wash cycle.

Say no to disposable wipes

Before disposable wipes hit the market parents used soft cloths and water to clean their babies during nappy changes. Kate suggests returning to these ways, and perhaps just keeping a pack of disposable wipes handy for a really nasty nappy.
Not only is it better for the environment, it is also better for your baby's skin, with research showing that the residue left on a baby's skin from disposable wipes, which contain alcohol and chemicals, can irritate the skin, exacerbate nappy rash and even make your baby more susceptible to developing food allergies.

Repurpose formula tins

Formula tins can be recycled to store nuts/bolts/tools in the shed, crayons/pencils/pens in the craft cupboard, small toys in the kids' bedrooms or utensils in the kitchen. Pinterest is awash with ideas on how to find a second use for formula tins. The truly creative even craft them into useful items like stacking toys, plant holders and biscuit tins.

Shop consciously

When you're shopping for groceries or other items buy in bulk and choose the products that aren't prepackaged or multi-packaged.
In the supermarket, for example, one large bag of chippies or popcorn that you can divide into reusable ziplock bags or containers is much less wasteful than a 10-pack of chippies.
Kate points out that many people drive past their local butcher or fruit and veggie shop to get to their supermarket. Instead of opting for the convenience of a one-stop shop for your groceries, she suggests planning your trip so that you allow yourself time on the way, or on the way home, from the supermarket to stop at the butchers and fruit and veg shop. It's also a great way of supporting local business.
Keep reusable carry bags in the car so that you always have them at the ready.

Make your own baby food

Just three pouches of baby food per day can add up to 21 pouches per week and 546 pouches over a period of six months. A simple solution is to make your own baby food.
When babies start solids, their first foods should be pureed vegetables. Baby food is simple to make (boil, puree, done) and can be stored in the freezer for up to three months in ice cube trays or reusable ziplock bags or containers.

Buy second-hand

Clothing, furniture and all sorts of household items in excellent condition can be found at Hospice and Salvation Army shops around New Zealand. Op shopping can be a lot of fun too.

Use toy libraries

Toy libraries are a hugely under-utilised resource in New Zealand. At toy libraries you can hire toys for a short period of time then return them, saving you from accumulating a mountain of toys that will grow in the corner of your lounge, that your children will never play with.
More exciting for your kids, too, because the toys they have at home are constantly changing.

One focus at a time...

For Kate it all started with cloth nappies. She made a conscious decision to commit to using cloth nappies with her then young son. While she didn't set out to be a waste warrior she realised over time that the more conscious decisions she made about minimising waste, the better she felt. She kept it simple though - one new goal per year.
The following year she switched from disposable feminine hygiene products to using a menstrual cup - in the video, above, you can see an honest review about what they're like to use.
"Then there was the year we got a compost bin; then we put in gardens; then we got a worm farm."
Last year it was no more single use straws and the year before that, no more takeaway coffee cups.
"So we've just made small changes over time to get to the point now where we're quite sustainable.
"One thing I tell people, though, is that you can't get too preachy," she says. "Everybody is in a different situation... I travel a huge amount for work and spend huge amounts of time on planes so I've actually got a high carbon footprint when it comes to my travl. I drive a V8; I'm a petrol head. But at same time I'm very careful in other ways. I'm just making better conscious decisions every day and that's where everyone can do something."