In this world of carbon counting, it turns out that the smallest feet can have the biggest footprint. The thought dawned on me recently as I watched a friend wrap up her child's used diaper and place it in a trashcan, already half-filled with shiny, plastic lumps. Her sink brimmed with miniature glass jars she'd washed and planned to recycle. I thought about how much waste a single meal had made: the most basic elements of a baby's life--food and poop--are generating billions of units of waste each year.
If I spent my life juggling a baby, a washcloth, a bottle, diapers and a job, I'd surely want to make things as easy as possible. In fact, disposable diapers and pre-made baby food are rightly credited with helping to liberate the modern woman. Fortunately, some of those products have advanced beyond mere convenience, making it possible to raise children and enjoy a career without leaving a heap of dirty Luvs and single-use jars or bottles in the wake of such success.
I have stumbled upon two products that can fundamentally change the 'ins and outs' of an infant's environmental impact. Let's begin with the in--food. Clearly, breastfeeding is the most natural, ecological choice for your child... up to a point. Until recently, it seemed that there were two options for mobile mothers: to puree fruits and veggies and cart them along in cumbersome containers, or to purchase pre-pureed baby food in small (but surprisingly dense) glass jars.
More likely than not, most parents won't choose to rely on baby food of their own making at all times--Women's Lib aside. Yet the glass-jar option seems egregious: few moms or dads I know enjoy the prospect of carrying a 10-20 pound child on one hip and an equally dense bag of baby food jars on the other. Even more incredible is that in mere minutes, each of those glass and tin bottles will end up in the garbage or recycling bin.
I did some research and discovered a company that was at once inspiring and enviable: a concept so simple, I wondered why I wasn't the one who'd invented it. NurturMe dehydrates some of the best foods for babies and presents them in serving-sized pouches that weigh virtually nothing. In fact, a box of 8 packets weighs less than a single glass jar of baby food. All a mom or dad has to do is add water, breast milk or formula and stir. The contents become a delicious, concentrated puree of organic fruits or vegetables. How do I know this? I tried it. Yes, I actually procured some NurturMe and tasted it myself (with water) before I started recommending them to friends, or friends' babies, as it were.
On the other end of the spectrum are recently introduced biodegradable diapers called gDiapers. Traditional disposable diapers can take up to 300 years to decompose, while these take only 50-150 days. Without getting too much into the obvious inconveniences of cloth diapers, I'll say that their environmental impact is pretty menacing as well: the amount of water it takes to really get each one clean is enough to render them wasteful. And let's not forget the fact that virtually no parent wants to clean refuse twice: first from the skin, then from the cloth. Disposable diapers are a quintessential part of the advancement of our society and should be embraced--as long as they dispose of themselves.
The gDiaper is a middle ground: a diaper that is part re-useable; part disposable. gDiapers come with several insert options that can be flushed down the toilet, where human waste is designed to go. The remainder of the diaper is used again and again, so that only a small piece is ever thrown away. In fact, the gDiaper inserts break down so naturally that they can be composted and used to fertilize non-edible plants. (But only when wet.) Not surprisingly, they are made without plastic, elemental chlorine, latex or perfume.
Many modern mothers and fathers have added ecological responsibility to their list of accomplishments. Unlike some industries that create convenience at a stunning ecological cost, there are baby products out there that can maximize a parent's efficiency, while minimizing his or her impact on the environment. NurturMe and gDiaper are two businesses that set the stage for an ecologically-minded millennial generation. Hopefully they'll figure out what to do with all of those Huggies bobbing in the sea...