Sustainable Ethical Nurseries and Kids Rooms 2022

A little lockdown love has resulted in plenty of pandemic pregnancies and the promise of a bounty of bounce-back babies come next January. If that applies to you, congrats! I’ve got pretty much every aspect of parenting covered on this website so if you want to be a planet-positive parent fear not. That’s not to say that I’m knocking sustainable parenting out of the park – far from it – but we keep trying.

I’ve written before about What you Don’t Need to buy Baby, Sustainable Ethical Baby and Maternity Gear, Sustainable Ethical Clothing for Kids, Raising Zero Waste Kids and now we’re going to take a spin around the nursery, and kids room.

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I’m going to start with what should be the most important part of a bedroom, the bed. For our kids we used a moses basket, then a cot and then straight to a single bed with a bed rail. In my opinion toddler beds are a waste of money and resources, but maybe your cot converts to a toddler bed or you can lay your hands on a good one second-hand.

Moses Baskets – These are generally only used for a few months and an be picked up in good condition from friends or family, or second-hand online. See my list of Second Hand Stores in Ireland for leads. If you do get a second hand one it might be wise to change the mattress. See below for more info. If you do want to buy new then I think the moses baskets by Dublin based Sahara are just stunning. The baskets are made by artisans in sub-saharan Africa using naturally dyed elephant grass. The goal of the Ghana born owner of Sahara is to pay artisans 50% of the profits from each sale.

eco toxin-free nursery cot

Cots – I’m so excited to have just found the most stunning sustainable cot and nursery furniture made right here in Ireland. Bunny and Clyde make beautifully designed pieces in FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) certified hardwood, and formaldehyde-free FSC certified birch plywood using glues and finishes that are water and plant-based, non-toxic, solvent free.

If they’re beyond your price range then I suggest is to buy second-hand where possible and then for new, look for a wooden one made from a sustainably managed forest (FSC certified or similar) with a natural oil finish if at all possible.

Bed Frames – The most sustainable bed frame is one that already exists so aim to buy second-hand if you can. Sure with a new mattress a bed frame can be as good as new. My son currently sleeps in a deadly racing car bed that only cost us €60 on If you can’t find something to suit pre-loved I have a list of sustainable ethical beds listed in this article.

If all else fails and you’re stuck with buying on the high-street then opt for a metal bed frame if you can. Metal is long-lasting and infinitely recyclable in most countries. Timber frames are great in theory because the plant absorbs carbon while it grows making it potentially carbon neutral but often the source of the timber is unclear so you may be contributing to the destruction of virgin forests by buying it. Plus it’s often coated with synthetic lacquers and varnishes making it unsuitable for composting and only really fit for landfill or incineration at the end of it’s life.

So it’s no secret that I’m a lover of second-hand, but I do make exceptions; underwear, pyjamas, and mattresses (unless the mattress is very lightly used by someone I know). This is particularly important when it comes to cot mattresses. I bought a new cot mattresses for my firstborn, which her brother slept on too, so I was concerned when I learned how a study in 2002 linked second-hand mattresses to an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Interestingly the original study was criticised by child health experts, whose analysis of the data showed no increased risk in the sharing of mattresses between siblings in smaller families. Still buyer beware.

When it comes to new mattresses it’s very hard for consumers to choose a sustainable option in Ireland. We really doesn’t have a fully circular recycling / disposal system for mattresses so regardless of what the mattress is made of it’ll end up being incinerated at the end of it’s life. Sure the metal components might go for recycling but there is no facility to compost the natural materials or recycle the synthetic materials. Also because practically all mattresses are treated with fire retardant (FR) chemicals they really shouldn’t be composted, or recycled – or even incinerated for that matter. FR chemicals have been a cause of concern for decade now with many now calling for them to be banned as happened in California. Interestingly only Ireland and the UK treat upholstered furniture and mattresses with FR chemicals, continental Europe seems to do fine without it. There are a few mattress makers with products that don’t require FR chemicals and I’ve listed them below.

The other issue with mattresses from a health point of view is volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are chemicals that off-gas from new materials at room temperature and are typically what people describe as that ‘new’ smell from cars and furniture.  VOC’s may cause long-term damage to health, particularly children’s health. Synthetic foams, like those found in most mattresses, tend to give off a lot of VOC’s, so one way to reduce the load is to opt for natural materials instead. That said latex, which is often used as an alternative to foam can cause an allergic reaction in some.

Cot and Kids-sized – Pure Zees is an Irish company that makes mattresses with recycled polyester that dust-mite resistant and anti-microbial without the use of chemicals. Their products have been independently tested and certified as being asthma and allergy friendly by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Their packaging is made from recycled materials and is recyclable.

In the UK Cottonsafe, supplies chemical-free and natural cot and toddler sized mattresses, as does The Little Green Sheep.

Standard Sized Mattresses – You can see a full list of eco mattresses brands in a previous article on Sustainable Ethical Bedrooms, two of which I’m happy to report are completely free of chemicals. One made in the UK and one made in China for an Irish brand.

The question of what to put on your child’s bed is a lot more straightforward. Your choices include second-hand or organic cotton. I’ve given a list of places to source second-hand above so here’s a list of brands of organic cotton bedlinen for babies and kids.

Duvets & Pillows
If you need standard-sized duvets click here but for toddler sized beds here are some brands to consider

  • Natural Sleep (UK) – organic cotton, Kapok or lambswool filling, organic cotton covers,
  • Devon Duvets (UK) – British wool cleaned without chemicals in cotton cover, made in UK,
  • Green Fibres (UK)  – Organic Cotton cover and filling

I mentioned VOC’s above, well those bad boys re-emerge when talking about paint. Most people aren’t aware but standard paint is really just liquid plastic with some pigment in it and as such it emits VOC’s into the atmosphere like any other plastic. Some high-street brands now offer low VOC’s versions but I find I still get flu-like symptoms when we use them. For a list of lung-friendly eco paint brands click this link.

Okay this isn’t one for vegans or vegetarians but some people swear by sheepskin rugs for babies. For other eco options visit my article on Sustainable Ethical Living Rooms

Kids grow out of things so quickly, so think twice before rushing to buy theme accessories linked to the latest kids blockbuster. These date so quickly and become impossible to rehome. Better to buy timeless items that look cute and don’t age as badly. Personally I think paper crafts are a fantastic way to decorate a kids room without breaking the bank or the planet. I am totally in love with the template for a 3D card whale from Balincraft. Imagine that hanging from the ceiling of a kids’ room!

cool kids room decorations

Online marketplaces can be a great place to find accessories for kids rooms. They’re generally in perfect condition and available for very little. I’ve even got a few on my own Pre-loved Homeware page on Adverts.

Another great idea for cute decorations for kids rooms is themed sweet and biscuit tins from post supermarkets. I kid you not! (Like the pun?) I have some beautifully designed and made sweet and biscuit tins from Marks & Spencer adorning my kids’ rooms.  The charity shops are awash with these come January so keep an eye out.

Be careful with storage, it can hide a multitude of sins. If you need more than one toy box you’re in danger of being left with a load of toys that you just won’t be able to rehome in the future. When it comes to toy boxes I’d go for a sturdy wooden wooden but pay particular attention to the closing mechanism. You do not want tiny little fingers being trapped in a badly designed box!

At some stage a book case would be nice, and a floor mounted model that your child can access themselves is ideal. It doesn’t have to be big. We use a large basket on the floor.

storage for kids rooms

In my experience baskets are the best way to store kids stuff. Cardboard boxes break too easily and plastic storage containers fade and can be very quick to crack into sharp pieces when little bodies lean on them. Even if some storage containers do survive they’re generally scuffed too much to rehome meaning most get binned. I find well-made baskets wear the best and last the longest and if they do break you just have to put them on the compost heap or in the brown bin. Naturally Irish made baskets using locally grown materials will be the most sustainable to buy, but they’re often beyond the price range of most parents. They can also be a bit spikey for a kids room so my preference for bedroom storage is water hyacinth. It’s not as robust as wicker or willow but it’s softer and if you’re crafty you can customise it. Plus water hyacinth is an invasive species outside its natural home of the Amazon so if you buy from other places you’ll be helping those countries protect their local biodiversity. Interestingly all baskets are handmade so whichever one you buy you’ll be helping to provide a livelihood for a craftsperson. 

I also really adore these organic cotton fabric pots by UK company Little Leaf Organics

Bedroom furniture wise there really isn’t anything being sold in Ireland as particularly sustainable or ethical so if you can’t buy second-hand aim to buy as locally-made as possible. And if you can, try to get a natural oil or wax finish that you can sand back and re-finish yourself if needs be. I would suggest avoiding kidish wardrobes etc. You’ll be surprised just how quickly they grow out of them and you’ll be faced with rehoming them. I’m also not a big fan of built-in wardrobes. They’re expensive and nine times out of ten they get ripped out and binned after 10-15, and because they’re bespoke there is no chance of rehoming them. Better to invest in a good quality standalone wardrobe that can be restyled or rehomed if needs be.

Blinds or Curtains
There is a catch 22 to blackout blinds in a babies room. Some say that having pitch-black rooms leads to babies who can’t fall asleep elsewhere. I don’t know about that. As a desperately tired parent I tried everything to help my kids sleep longer. Nothing work but that’s a article for a different type of website!

Black-out fabric can be applied to any blind or curtain, but be warned, the light will still seep in around the edge of the blind or curtain. The only product I came across that completely blocked out all light was the Gro Anywhere Blackout Blind. Using this frees you up to choose blinds and curtains without black out lining.

For suggetions on where to buy fabric that is organic or certified as being free of toxins click the link.

I hope you found some of those suggestions helpful. If I missed anything out please let me know in the comments below.

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Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

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