A single mum who says she is on a “mission to save the planet” says she has saved £1,500 by swapping her children’s nappies for more suitable alternatives.
When stay-at-home mum Sara Dallat, 24, had her daughters Maggie, one, and Elena, eight months, she became conscious of the damage plastic was doing to the planet and worried about the future for her children.
Sara, of Coleraine, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, is making her home plastic free and wants people to follow her lead and do their bit – however big or small – to help the environment.
She said: “When I became a parent, I realised that the damage people were causing to the planet wasn’t just impacting my future, it was impacting my children’s future too.
“I don’t think people realise that if we don’t start looking after the planet now then it’ll be a disaster for everyone. It will be a catastrophe for the natural world. First the animals will go, then people will follow.”
Sara added: “I’ve definitely saved money being more eco-friendly. I’m just getting what I need, and I’m not overbuying or stock piling.
“Especially in terms of stuff for the girls – with nappies alone I must’ve saved £1,500 in two years by using reusable cloth versions.”
And Sara, who separated from her children’s father, says people can start small.
She said: “Everyone needs to be accountable – even in the tiniest way – even if it’s seeing a piece of litter and picking it up. There’s no point saying, ‘It’s not my litter,’ because it’s your planet and it needs looking after.
“Picking up that one piece of rubbish will have a positive impact in some way. You might not see that sea animal you stopped from getting caught in rubbish, but just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean you haven’t helped.
“I just want to do my bit, and encourage others to do the same, so my daughters and the next generation and the one after that can grow up and enjoy this beautiful planet that we live on.”
Sara vowed to address her use of plastic after giving birth to Maggie in September 2018, when she started reducing her household waste.
“To me it was a no-brainer,” she said. “I wanted to raise my children in an environmentally-friendly way. I was a first-time mum with no experience of using normal single-use disposable nappies, so I went straight in for cloth versions. They come in all sorts of funky colours and patterns and one size fits all.”
She continued: “The nappies I’ve got vary from £4.99 up to £17 and have fitted Maggie since she was a baby right up until she was potty trained. Literally all you do is chuck them in the washing machine, hang them out to dry and use them time and time again.”
With disposable nappies costing up to just £17 to be used time and time again, Sara says it has also meant large savings for the family.
She added: “As a single mum of two, I don’t have time to quickly pop to the shop if I run out of something. So, having reusable nappies is more convenient for me, too.”
As well as being mindful of what she buys, Sara has tried to make her house plastic free, saying: “I started by trying to have a plastic-free bathroom. It’s actually the easiest place to go completely zero waste. You don’t have to do it all at once – it’s all about small changes. I waited until our plastic toothbrushes ran out – so as not to waste them – then replaced them with bamboo versions.”
She added: “When my plastic shampoo and conditioner containers ran out, I replaced them with bars and did the same with body wash and hand soap. Our body scrubs are made from organic materials and for toilet paper I have a subscription to Who Gives A Crap? They use recycled, sustainable materials and donate some of their profit towards helping to build toilets in developing countries.”
Sara has even made an effort to ensure her towels and storage items are all thoughtfully sourced.
She said: “Bathroom towels are difficult to find in charity shops, so we’ve actually got about five towels from my mum’s house that I took when I moved out – and they last forever.
“Then our bathroom bin is wicker and we don’t use any plastic liners. If my online shopping does arrive in plastic bags, we reuse them. It’s just about finding a purpose for everything.
“I dye my hair quite a lot and I’ve found this brand that does almost everything plastic free – it comes with a bamboo mixing bowl and an aluminium cap.”
She added: “The dye container is plastic, but once I’ve used it, I rinse it out and fill it with rice and it makes a great rattle for my little girl.”
Sara has even swapped traditional sanitary towels in favour of a Saalt Cup – a reusable soft silicone cup worn internally like a tampon, that collects, rather than absorbs menstrual blood.
Not only is it better for the environment, but at £25 per cup – which is meant to last for about a decade – compared to £3 for a packet of 18 tampons, it could save a fortune.
Sara said: “I just buy my cup from Amazon and all you just empty the cup down the loo, wash it and reuse it. And, as you will only need about five or six cups in a lifetime, it saves so much money.”
Now that her bathroom is plastic-free, Sara is keen for the kitchen of her three bed semi-detached home to follow suit.
“I try only to use cleaning products with natural ingredients, like oil and vinegar,” she said. “Our cutlery is from charity shops, because who really cares if they have a pretty fork? And all our plates come from a local ceramic company.”
And when it comes to food, she takes her own containers to her local refill store.
She said: “We take our own containers and buy things loose like porridge oats, oil and washing powder. This also means we only buy what we need, rather than getting a family size box of Coco Pops, which is too big for us.”
Sara also makes sure she buys vegetables, meat and milk from local producers and shops.
“There’s a farm near us which has just started doing refillable milk – so, just like the refill store, you bring you own container and they fill it up for you,” she said.
“For meat, I always go to the local farmer or butcher, because that way you’re putting money back into your local economy and your meat’s not been transported from far away, so you save on air travel and reduce the carbon footprint.”
Dressing herself and her daughters in ethically-sourced clothes is also important to the eco-mum.
She said: “Fast fashion is a huge problem for the planet. I only buy clothes made from organic cotton, so you can trace where it comes from and know that people in the factories are being treated well and paid a fair wage.
“The material is also a lot better for Maggie’s sensitive skin than cheap supermarket clothes. It can end up being a bit pricey, but there’s a huge secondhand market for these clothes.”
She added: “I get all my clothes and the girls’ clothes from eBay or Facebook marketplace – a T-shirt can cost £2 or £3 and skirts or trousers can cost £5 or £6.
“And the clothes last so much longer. Maggie has her favourite T-shirt and trousers that she’s worn to death and I’ve washed them every day. Yes, they have a few stains, but she’s a child, so that doesn’t matter, and they still look great.”
Sara admits that, while she is doing her best to help the environment, she is still far from perfect.
She said: “I need a car to get around, so I can’t give that up and I need the convenience of using a lightweight plastic pram. Also, with the girls’ toys, I’d rather buy a big hunk of plastic from a charity shop than a brand new wooden toy they don’t use.”
She added: “At least when the toy is secondhand it’s been loved already, and it can be loved again. This journey of awareness is about finding what fits with your family and what works for your life – it’s not a one size fits all sort of thing.”
After spending increased time at home and having time for reflection when the world was put on pause by the Covid-19 lockdown, Sara thinks people have become more thoughtful and should start looking for ways to do their bit for the environment.
She said: “People are at home a lot more, so they can just start looking at little habits or things that they can easily change. You don’t have to it all at once. If you chucked all your plastic out at once, it would actually be detrimental to the planet.
“It’s all about making small changes that work for you and your family – whether that’s swapping your toilet roll or, rather than throwing plastic away, finding a new use for it. Sometimes the smallest change can have the biggest impact.”