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Bringing Up Baby (The Sustainable Way): Part 1

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Perhaps you’ve seen our Conscious Consumerism posts that explore how to make environmentally and socially sound living and purchasing decisions. It’s part of our commitment to challenge conspicuous consumption by making buying responsibly the norm. We’ve addressed broad topics like travel and pets and we’ve always managed to handle the volume of product considerations with at least moderate success. Until now.

There are SO MANY baby products that are:

  • Green
  • Organic
  • BPA/ phthalate / VOC / name-your-toxin-free
  • Sustainable
  • Fair Trade

It makes sense – people don’t want to expose super sensitive (and adorable) babies to toxic inputs. Still, it makes us wonder if everyone who insists on “clean” baby products chooses eco-friendly options in other realms. To really create a healthy environment for kids, we can’t confine sustainable choices to directly baby-centric activities. They’ll have to leave that all-natural toxin-free baby bubble sooner or later.

As with all things, though, we have to start somewhere. So below are tips for raising babies more sustainably, though we admit that each section could be a book on its own (Click to Tweet!). Think of reading this blog post as your first step! Part 1 of Bringing Up Baby covers the things you pretty much have to buy new while Part 2 explores options for things you can buy used. Ready? Buckle up your car seat and let’s get started.

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1. Food

Breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for babies and the environment as it eliminates carbon emissions associated with the production, delivery and packaging of formula. It’s also free! Breastfeeding may not be possible for all women though, and it can be difficult even for those who are able. If formula is a must, look for an organic option.    

Squiz

B Corp Squiz makes reusable food pouches perfect for serving up homemade baby food!

When it’s time for solid food you’ll find a variety of green baby food on the market, including several from B Corps:

Of course, you can also make your own baby food and put it in reusable snack pouches like those from B Corp Squiz. There are lots of recipes out there – just talk to the pediatrician before you get cooking. Use ingredients you would choose for increased sustainability yourself – Fair Trade, B Corp, organic, local.

Curbing meat intake also reduces your carbon footprint since the livestock sector generates 14.5% of human induced greenhouse gas emissions. While it’s perfectly healthy to raise kids as vegetarians, don’t ignore kid-specific considerations.

2. Diapers

The debate here is disposables vs. reusable cloth diapers and it can be viewed through several lenses.

Water Use

Cloth diapers win. The water footprint for a single disposable diaper is 144 gallons. The cotton used to make a cloth diaper requires 198 gallons, but that number divided across 50+ uses equals four gallons per diaper. If you use a typical 40-gallon front-load washing machine and wash 20 diapers in a load, a cloth diaper uses six gallons to a disposable’s 144.

Raw Materials

Whether you opt for disposables or cloth, there are more – and less – sustainable options.

Look for organically grown cotton or bamboo or hemp for cloth diapers and search for disposables made of renewable materials like bamboo (Bambo Nature), corn and wheat (Earth’s Best) and FSC-certified sustainably harvested wood pulp (Seventh Generation).

Chemicals

Many disposable diapers use sodium polyacrylate for their absorbency, which can cause irritation and bleeding. You might also find dioxin (a carcinogenic byproduct of paper-bleaching), phthalates (endocrine disruptors), heavy metals and other undesirable chemicals.

B Corp gDiapers makes adorable cloth diapers with disposable inserts, offering a convenient and sustainable hybrid system.

If cloth is a no-go, look to brands like B Corps Babyganics, Seventh Generation and The Honest Company for less dangerous diapers.

Waste

U.S. babies go through 27.4 billion single use diapers every year, making them the third largest single consumer item in landfills. Every baby wearing disposables creates roughly a ton of garbage every two years and it can take hundreds of years for a disposable diaper to decompose. The clincher? Waste-filled diapers are biohazards and should really be emptied of contents before being trashed.

Have you ever seen someone empty a disposable diaper into the toilet? We haven’t, but cloth-diapering doesn’t leave much choice.

It’s Not All or Nothing

Cloth diapers are expensive upfront and to some, they’re kind of gross. Who loves the idea of putting poop in the same washing machine used to clean dishtowels? Luckily, hybrid systems offer alternatives. B Corp gDiapers’ liners can either be flushed or composted. You can also use biodegradable rice paper liners on top of reusable inserts to help dispose of solid contents easily in the toilet.

Still can’t choose? Check out BabyGearLab’s analysis of diapering systems. They analyze the disposables as well as cloth mainstays like Rumparooz, GroVia, Flip, FuzziBunz, Kushies and all the rest.

3. Bathing

Because babies are more sensitive to chemicals, baby-safe hygiene products are key to keeping little ones healthy and clean. Just because it’s safe for you does NOT mean it’s safe for your baby. These B Corps have you covered:

4. Cleaning (things other than the baby)

Babies are especially sensitive to chemicals in household products too, so you must be careful about what you use to clean your home. It’s fairly easy to DIY effective cleaning formulas, which allows you to control ingredients and save money (#winning). MVPs for natural DIY cleaners include:

Avoid unsanctioned mixes whether you’re DIY-ing or combining commercial products. Mixing completely safe ingredients (or not especially safe ingredients) can create toxic byproducts.

B Corp MelioraK makes effective household cleaning products that are simple, safe and easy to make yourself if you feel so inspired :)

B Corp MelioraK makes effective household cleaning products that are simple, safe and easy to make yourself if you feel so inspired 🙂

Several commercially available cleaning products forego the use of harsh chemicals, making them safe for use even if there’s a baby licking the floor. B Corp offerings include

  • Babyganics – Cleaning wipes, detergents and soaps formulated with babies in mind.
  • Dapple – Baby friendly wipes, dish soaps, bathroom cleaners, nursery cleaners and laundry detergents.
  • Ecover – Bottles are made out of Plantplastic and post-consumer recycled plastic. Soaps use naturally-derived ingredients.
  • Meloria K – Laundry detergent and soap are free of environmentally damaging chemicals. Products are all vegan and you can find recipes for their products!
  • Method – Naturally-derived, biodegradable and nontoxic cleaning products. All core products are Cradle to Cradle certified. Some use recycled ocean plastic in their packaging.
  • Seventh Generation – This founding B Corp makes a variety of nontoxic cleaning products.
  • The Honest Company makes safe laundry detergents, dishwashing soaps and more.

Your baby is now sustainably fed, bathed, diapered and cleaned-up-after. Of course the recommendations and products above just skim the surface, but they’re a good indicator of the options out there for the baby products you have to buy new (used diapers? Yuck!). In Bringing Up Baby (The Sustainable Way) Part 2 we’ll get into the possibilities for reducing your impact by buying and passing along all kinds of baby gear.

Do you have a favorite tip or product that we didn’t include? Please share it with us in the comments below. Like we tell the kids, sharing is caring 😉

This post was originally published on July 20th, 2016 and updated on June 24th, 2019.

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