When Leah Simeone needed nursing tops, quickly, she knew exactly who to call.
A month after the birth of her second child, Hannah, Leah was fed up with her few, worn-out tops, and with shoving towels up her shirt to deal with leaking milk.
“I put a call out to my local Freecycle group, and to my Moms’ Facebook group, to see if anyone had nursing clothes they were no longer using,” says Leah. “Within two hours, two different people got back to me, with crazy-generous offers. One woman brought over 14 tops, the other 18, including a dress — more than enough to get me through the entire time I’ll be nursing. I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Leah’s already planning on passing on the items she won’t use to other moms — paying forward the favour, and the clothing. It’s all part of her ongoing effort to reduce the amount of waste she and her young family produce. The 34-year-old has always had a bit of a green streak. “I grew up on a farm, which probably explains some of it,” she says. As a law student, she had a side gig upcycling wastepaper into notebooks, and she volunteered for Ecojustice, an environmental law charity.
But what propelled her down the “rabbit hole” of the #zerowaste movement were arguably two of the world’s cutest things: babies and puppies.
It began in 2014, when Leah and her husband, David, got their dog, Spock.“When you have a puppy, and you walk it along suburban streets, you have to notice just how much litter is on the ground because the puppy tries to eat all of it,” says Leah, now a family lawyer in Port Credit, Ontario. “There was so much crap there, so much plastic — and I didn’t want to add more to that.”Leah began researching ways to minimize her use of plastic.
Two weeks after she and David got the puppy, they found out she was pregnant. Her research took on an extra fervour, fuelled by what she now calls “first-pregnancy paranoia”: that oh-so-familiar anxiety so many moms-to-be experience around trying to make sure they give their kids the very best shot at health and happiness, in utero and beyond.
“I did what so many zero-waste moms do, which is to go way too deep down that rabbit hole of research and anxiety, and then slowly come back and find my equilibrium,” she says, as Levi, now three, cuddles up next to her. Baby Hannah, now five weeks old, sleeps in her arms. “It was a lot of pressure to stay on top of things. I was stressed all the time. I’d screw up once, and it would kill my day. I got a bit preachy, trying to convince people that I was right — which never works. I was using cloth diapers, which were great, but I tried DIY recipes for laundry detergent that just didn’t work.”
Today, Leah is much more pragmatic and relaxed about her approach to low-waste living. As she says on her website, Get Unpackaged, “this is not a zero-waste blog but one about how I’m learning to reduce my environmental impact in a practical way that works for me and my family.” The blog, and her Instagram feed of the same name, she explains, are platforms to “share the small, easy things I’ve learned … to simplify my transition into an increasingly minimal, low-waste, and sustainable (but very full-filled) lifestyle.” She prefers to talk about low or less rather than no waste: “because let’s face it, I’m not perfect, and odds are neither are you.”
Case in point: during her second pregnancy, Leah was always hungry, and had nearly insatiable cravings for McDonald’s — cravings she occasionally satisfied. She did her best to minimize the fast-food packaging: she brought her own straw, asked for her smoothie in her reusable cup, and her sandwich wrapped in a cloth napkin. Some workers were more receptive to her requests than others. A couple of waitresses at a different local restaurant now know not to bring her straws. “And they’ve told me they now go out of their way to avoid automatically handing out straws because of our conversations.”
Those kinds of conversations are an unexpected and highly welcome bonus to Leah’s low-waste approach. She’s built a great online community, but also strengthened connections right in her own backyard — literally.
For example, one of the moms who donated her nursing tops lived just down the street. “I kind of knew her,” says Leah, “and she has kids a bit older than my kids, so as it turns out, she’s donated a few things to us. “And I said, ‘You know, you’ve saved my life every day here. Why don’t you come over for a swim sometime?’ She came over with her kids just the other day and brought me some flowers from her garden. And it was great.”
The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Join us on Facebook.