Plastic-Free July in Croydon

Plastic-free life with a toddler

Posted by Kake on 17 July 2014

Plastic-Free July is difficult — no doubt about that. It’s hard enough managing my own use of disposable plastic, but what about people who also have children to care for? Is it possible to do Plastic-Free July with a child?

My excellent friend Janet is one person who can answer this question, since she’s taking the challenge and she has a (similarly excellent) three-year-old daughter. Her post on Day 4 of Plastic-Free July gives a good explanation of one potential pitfall.

I also have some experience in this matter, since I look after my two-year-old nephew once a week.[1] We usually go out and meet friends at soft play during the day, so this involves packing lunch, snacks, and everything else we might need while we’re out.

Toby joins in my cloth nappy photoshoot, July 2014.

Toddler food on the go

One of Toby’s big favourites for food on the go is porridge bites. These are really simple to make — put oats and raisins in a rectangular-bottomed container, add milk, leave to soak for 3 minutes, microwave for 3 minutes, turn out, cut into squares, and leave to cool.[2] Toby’s old enough now that he can help make these, which is a great source of satisfaction for both of us!

Porridge bites in a lock-and-lock container.

Other food we take with us includes bread, chopped fresh fruit, chopped lightly-cooked vegetables, cubes of cheese, and dried fruit. All of these can be acquired plastic-free in Croydon: bread from Coughlans or the Turkish bakeries on London Road; fresh fruit and veg from Surrey Street Market, the greengrocers on London Road, or most supermarkets; cheese from Waitrose; and dried fruit from Weigh & Save.

For washing hands and face, I take a couple of pre-dampened microfibre cloths — two rather than one, since it’s not always easy to find somewhere to rinse them out when we’re away from the house.

I’m aware that the foods listed above don’t include anything crunchy, which isn’t ideal given that I aim to offer Toby a range of different flavours and textures in his diet. Biscuits, breadsticks, and crackers all seem impossible to find without plastic packaging, and since we’re halfway through Plastic-Free July already and I’ve not managed to make time to bake my own, I don’t think that would be a sustainable solution. I’ve also not yet managed to find plastic-free cream cheese, which is a shame since Toby loves it.

The vast majority of the time, Toby drinks tap water rather than juice (as do I), so drinks aren’t usually a problem. He does occasionally ask for squash, which in my sister’s house comes in a plastic bottle. Squash bottled in glass is available — I have no personal recommendations for this, but I’ve heard good things about Rocks orange squash, which is apparently available in either Sainsbury’s or Tescos (or perhaps both).[3]


Toby’s been in washable nappies pretty much since he was born, so he and I are both well-used to them now. If you’ve not seen modern washable nappies, prepare to be amazed! Nappy pins, squares of terrycloth, and separate water-resistant covers have been replaced by all-in-one fitted cloth nappies with an absorbent interior and a water-resistant outer surface.

Washable nappies from Alva and washable towelling wipes from Mama Moomy.

Some cloth nappies are fastened with velcro, and others with poppers; the latter usually have an abundance of poppers, allowing you to adjust them to suit the size and shape of your particular child. The ones we use are from Alva. According to their website these can be adjusted to fit children from 8lb up to 35lb, and Toby’s certainly been in them for well over a year with plenty of room still to grow. They have a pocket inside to stuff with “boosters” if you want more absorbency — we use bamboo boosters from Little Lamb and hemp ones from Easy Peasy — and as shown in the photo above, you can also use a liner which makes it much easier to deal with, shall we say, solid matter.[4]

I can honestly say that in terms of ease-of-use, I’d much rather put a cloth nappy on Toby than a disposable one. They’re simple to readjust — he’s old enough now that he can tell me if it feels too tight — and they’re simple to remove. He also enjoys choosing which one he’d like me to put on him, since they’re all different colours and designs.

It’s worth trying out different brands to find one that fits your child, since all bodies are shaped differently. We went through several brands before settling on this one. (I was particularly sad that Bum Genius turned out to be unsuitable, since I love the name.)

When we go out, I pack our nappy bag with a wipe-clean mat, several cloth wipes, a couple of cloth nappies, a muslin for drying off after wiping with the cloth wipes, and a washable “wet bag” for bringing used nappies home in. The nappy bag also comes from Alva; it’s water-resistant and has two zippable pockets, one large and one small.

Toys and impulse purchases

We’re not yet at the stage where Toby asks to have things bought for him in shops. He understands that we can go to the shop to get things we need, but he’s currently still content to accept my decisions over what we take from the shelves and what we don’t. I’m still thinking through how to proceed once he starts to assert himself a bit more. I’ve always been careful to make sure he knows I take his opinions and desires seriously, so the question is how to support his increasing autonomy without becoming a pushover! But here we start to stray into the more general area of child-rearing rather than the specifics of plastic-free life, so I’ll leave this discussion for a different venue.

Useful links

The Croydon Real Nappy Network is a local voluntary group offering advice and information about acquiring and using cloth nappies. Their website includes information on a £30 voucher scheme to help offset the increased intial cost of using cloth nappies instead of disposables (even though cloth nappies are cheaper in the long run, the initial outlay can make it hard or impossible for some people to get started).

Wendy of Moral Fibres goes into more detail about nappies in her post on washable nappies, including how to deal with washing them.

Finally, the Real Nappy Information Service has plenty of information on washing, drying and much more.

Footnotes and references

  1. This is why I’m out of the house for 13.5 hours on Tuesdays, if anyone was wondering. It involves getting up at 5am and it’s totally worth it.
  2. I also make these for myself when I’m on a long walk, since they’re good for long-lasting energy. During July I’ve been buying plastic-free oats from Lidl and plastic-free raisins from Weigh & Save, and taking small amounts to Toby’s house each week in lock-and-lock containers. When I make them for myself, I use plant milk; this month, this is home-made cashew milk made with plastic-free cashews from Weigh & Save. When I make them with/for Toby, I use the cow’s milk that my sister buys — this comes in plastic bottles, but if I actually lived with my toddler I’d get a doorstop cow’s milk delivery in reusable glass bottles.
  3. The Rocks range uses sugar rather than artificial sweeteners, so to protect your toddler’s teeth you’d need to be more careful than usual about diluting it as much as possible, and offering it with meals rather than between meals.
  4. Poo goes in the loo. Many people use flushable liners to make this part easier! According to Karen Reekie in the Guardian, you’re supposed to flush the faeces from disposable nappies too, for public health reasons, rather than just sticking the whole thing in landfill, so I don’t see this aspect as a downside of cloth nappies as opposed to disposables.

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