How to have an eco baby

Today's parents want planet-friendly nappies, organic food and Fairtrade clothing. And green consumer power means it's easier than ever to be an earth mother.

Barker took her new-found passion to the next level by setting up Green Baby, a chain of London shops and a website selling environmentally friendly baby products. But her initial experience is a common one for many new parents. In fact, the Co-op Bank's 2002 Ethical Purchasing Index reported that 70 per cent of parents became more interested in environmental issues following the birth of their baby.

And if a high-street giant like Topshop is reacting to the trend, it must be serious. This month, it launches Mini Topshop, which includes organic Fairtrade cotton baby garments from labels such as People Tree, Hug and Gossypium. "There are a growing number of people out there who are aware of organic cotton and want the best for their babies, so I'm not surprised that Topshop is providing the option," says Safia Minney, founder of People Tree and mother of two.

While an organic cotton baby-gro is a great first step, there are a whole range of other options available to the aspiring green mum or dad.

FOOD

If a new mum is able to breast-feed then it's still the best option, not just for your baby but also for the environment. After all, no harmful chemicals, energy or transportation go into nourishing a baby this way. While Safia Minney breast-fed her children for up to two and a half years, don't worry if you don't have the stamina for that - the World Health Organisation recommends six months, which could still save you some £600 in formula milk and equipment.

When it comes to weaning, most of the a large proportion of ready-made baby food in the supermarkets is now organic. But a report by Which? magazine last month revealed that, despite new labelling rules, many organic products for babies under a year old made by major manufacturers such as Cow & Gate and Heinz were low on some key ingredients. "These big manufacturers jumping on board is what worries me," says Barker. "They could potentially ruin the organic industry by not doing things to the right standard."

Nicola Baird, co-author of Save Cash & Save the Planet and an editor at Friends of the Earth, didn't buy any packaged baby food for her two children. "Apart from anything, babies are so contrary. One day they'll eat half a jar and the next one-and-a-half, and you're supposed to throw them away once they've been opened, so it's a terrible waste." Instead, she invested in a purée machine for processing organic vegetables. "I suggest making the food in large batches and popping it in ice trays. It takes minutes, less time than going to the shops."

NAPPIES

Some 9 million disposable nappies are thrown away every day in the UK, but washable nappies are still a sticky issue for some aspiring green parents. "We've been told we have no time, but with all the technology available now we've far more time than our parents had," says Jill Barker. "I used washable nappies even when I went back to work and it was fine. I was doing a lot of washing anyway, so it wasn't difficult to stick the nappies in."

Still not convinced? Perhaps the savings you could make will do the trick. According to research by the Women's Environmental Network (www.wen.org.uk) you can kit out a baby in real nappies for under £50. The same sum could only buy nine weeks' of disposables. Wary first-time nappy users will be amazed by the Real Nappy support network which offers laundering services (£8-£9 per week), demonstrations and even coffee mornings (Nappachinos) that encourage you to try different brands. The Real Nappy Helpline is on 0845 850 0606.

Even better, you may be able to earn money from using washables. Many local authorities are encouraging parents to use washables through incentive schemes. North London Waste Authority offers a £51 subsidy. Go to the Nappy Finder service at www.realnappycampaign.com/nappyfinder.

CLOTHES

The cost of kitting babies out can be huge - as can the potential waste. Garment pollution was a concern for Safia Minney. She didn't want to expose her children to potentially toxic chemicals in cottons and dyes, so dressed her babies in organic cotton suits. These are now available from websites such as www.peopletree.co.uk, www.gossypium.co.uk and www.greenbaby.co.uk, with a small selection at Topshop. Hug's (www.hug.co.uk) Little Green Radicals organic and Fairtrade baby-gros and T-shirts with slogans like, "Give Peas A Chance" and "Wind Farm" might prove too cute to resist, although they are pricey, at £15-£19.

But second-hand clothing is the cheapest and most sustainable option. "Family members and friends with children can't wait to offload their old things," says Baird. Otherwise, look in charity and exchange shops, check out websites such as www.freecycle.org and eBay, or ask at your local mother and baby group.

TOYS & ENTERTAINMENT

At Green Baby, Barker sells only wooden toys. "We've gone back to how it used to be," she says. "I find toy shops quite scary. How many plastic objects does a little baby need?" She recommends organic cotton toys, "because what's the first thing they do? Put them in their mouths. You want what they put in their mouths to be natural, not plastic."

Minney admits she spent a fortune on wooden Steiner-style toys when her children were born. "They looked beautiful, but the kids never played with them!" Which brings us to Baird's point: babies don't need toys. "Children love household things. Wooden spoons, a silk scarf. See what you've got before you buy anything."

Nature does some of the work for you. "Kids love looking at daffodils and touching leaves, sticks. Your one o'clock and two o'clock clubs [run in parks by local authorities] are great for cheap, creative ideas." Otherwise a toy library is a great invention. Borrowing something for a week means that the novelty factor for your child never ends. Contact your local authority for information.

EQUIPMENT

For tiny things, babies require a lot of stuff - cots, carriers, pushchairs, high-chairs. For those who want to buy new, there are environmentally friendly choices. Green Baby sells Stokke furniture, which uses European beech, recycled metal and non-toxic stains.

With pushchairs, the most ethical option is recycled. Beg and borrow, go to Freecycle, eBay or www.nct.org for more information on National Childbirth Trust nearly new sales. Baird says her godsend was a second-hand baby carrier. "You can wash up with them on and they're fantastic if there's a dad around. They go out with the baby strapped to their chest and everyone smiles sweetly at them."

The only things to avoid second-hand are cot mattresses (some research suggests a link between second-hand cot mattresses and sudden infant death syndrome) and car seats, which can have invisible accident damage.

Save Cash & Save the Planet by Andrea Smith and Nicola Baird, is reprinted by Collins (in association with Friends of the Earth) this month, price £12.99. Real Nappy Week's 10th anniversary is 24-30 April. www.wen.org.uk/rnw; 020-7481 9004

TOYS

Organic cotton toys are better for the baby and the planet. But does your child even need toys at all?

CLOTHES

Baby clothes are quickly outgrown. Borrow from friends and family - or opt for Fairtrade.

NAPPIES

Real nappies are easier than you think, and you'll save money and cut down on landfill.

FOOD

Why buy tins and jars when you can make your own with organic veg?

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