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Raising an Eco-Friendly Baby

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007; 1:00 PM

How big is your baby's carbon footprint? Diapers, outgrown clothing and last year's toys that have been pushed aside can add up quickly.

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Join Washington Post staff writer Mary Ellen Slayter, the mother of a 10-month-old, and Trish Riley, the author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Living" for a discussion about raising a "green" baby.

A transcript follows.

Read more in: Greening Up Baby, and get specific tips about food, diapers, travel, toys and soothers, clothes and the nursery.

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Mary Ellen Slayter: Good afternoon! Trish Riley will be joining me to talk about the various green baby products now being marketed to parents with young children. Which ones are worth the extra money? Given the higher price tags on this stuff, is it possible to be eco-conscious and still pay mortgages and daycare bills in this area?

My husband and I have been struggling with these choices ourselves since our daughter was born 10 months ago. For us, it's meant cloth diapering, minimizing the amount of stuff we bought new, and putting all our gently used hand-me-downs back into circulation among our friends with younger babies.

I have resisted the urge to buy a bigger vehicle, even though my back protests every time I have to lift my now-23-pound daughter out of the center of the back seat of a 92 Acura.

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Arlington, Va.: I don't get it. All this fussing around with organic baby food and cloth diapers is only going to make your life marginally "greener." Aim at the big stuff instead, even if it's dull and unglamorous (and not visible to others).

Add insulation to your house, replace old appliances with more efficient ones, get energy-saving windows, buy fluorescent bulbs, etc. Or even better- don't live in a giant, energy-sucking house. Drive a more efficient car- you really don't need a SUV just because you have a baby. (and you don't need to shell out the big bucks for a hybrid to get a more efficient car)

If you "green" your life in the big ways, you don't have to fuss about the things are are really marginal, like diapers and toys and baby food. (Of course, if you opt for the extra insulation instead of using the latest "green" baby product, no one will _know_ how wonderful and environmentally conscious you are.)

Mary Ellen Slayter: Why assume we have to choose? I think the people who are most interested in "green" baby stuff are the same people who are also shopping for Energy Star windows. I know that was true in my case, at least.

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Springfield, Va.: When my son was born (4 yrs ago), I wanted to be "green" and tried to go the cloth diaper route. Woulda worked, but no diaper services existed at the time. I would have spent my sleep-deprived days hanging over the washing machine up to my ears in wet poopy hunks of cloth. Ick! And everyone does Pullups these days when potty training, so plastic pants are hard to come by too. I also realized that organic, earth-friendly formula, baby food, cleaners, sheets, clothes, etc, etc cost at least 3 to 4 times as much as normal, earth-unfriendly stuff. Sorry, but as long as my 4 yr old knows how to recycle, and visits the farmers market with me to choose fresh veggies, I feel like I'm doing my part.

Mary Ellen Slayter: And every little bit helps!

I'm not really big on "products" in general (as you might have guessed from the story.)

A couple of things, though:

Cloth diapers aren't actually a ton of work, in my experience. It doesn't seem any worse than disposables to me, which we use when traveling. It's just a couple of extra loads of laundry a week.

Second, the price premium for the organic stuff isn't 3 to 4 times as much. More like 20 to 50 percent, I think. It can be hard to tell since the organic stuff is also often of higher quality, which is a separate manufacturing issue.

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Alexandria, Va.: Great articles.

Some other suggestions:

Diapering alternative: Gdiapers (www.gdiapers.com)

Free stuff (including baby gear): www.freecycle.org to find a group near you

A bartering site/consumer alternative: www.zwaggle.com

And one frustration: as far as safety and convenience, you can't beat a mini-van, but they're certainly not the thriftiest mpg choice.

Any idea why Toyota hasn't begun selling their hybrid mini-van in the US? Given the increasing price of gas, I can only speculate that it would be a big seller for the family crowd (and an SUV alternative).

Mary Ellen Slayter: Several people have written me about gdiapers. I didn't include them in the story because they don't strike me as very frugal. The starter packs are $17-$26, and then you pay $15 for a week's worth of refills for the liners.

Even the environmental benefit seems a bit dubious to me. Washing cloth diapers uses a lot less water than flushing those liners. Assuming you need 8 diapers/liners a day and have a low-flow toilet, you'll use 76.8 gallons of water flushing those down the drain in a week. A good front-load washing machine can wash a week's worth of diapers in two load with about 50 gallons of water. A diaper service is even more efficient.

The exception to my general skepticism about gdiapers: the people who wrote me to say they successfully composted the wet ones.

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Rockville, Md.: I like the idea of making my own baby food; it does seem incredibly easy. How long can the food be stored for once made? How much should I give to my kid?

Trish Riley: Use the same rule of thumb about food freshness as you'd use for foods you make for yourself; fresh foods usually remain good for a few days but are best right off the vine. You can taste and smell the food to check but whenever in doubt - throw it out!

Trish Riley: Let your doctor guide you on portion sizes.

Mary Ellen Slayter: We just fed Rini off of our plates, for the most part.

I know people who freeze baby food in ice trays and say that's about the right portion size.

As for how much to feed your kid, I think that's up to him or her, not us!

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Cribs, D.C.: Is it safe to buy a used crib?

Mary Ellen Slayter: It is, but you have to be cautious. Check the model against recall lists, and make sure you have ALL the parts and the manufacturer's instructions.

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Southern Maryland: For greening at its simplest, we just bought less stuff.

No changing table. No daily use of baby wipes (soap & water). No multiple outfits to be outgrown in a few months. One parent told me to buy the same brand of white socks. No more looking for matching socks if they all are white a true timesaver. I used a sling so no stroller. Every change of season, I packed up her baby clothes and gave them to a mom at daycare. Toys were simple and few. We did not buy cutesy baby shoes for a non-walking child. We bought a flexible shower head to give quick showers for convenience and to save water aka hosing down.

Trish Riley: These are all great ideas - becoming a more responsible consumer is a huge part of going green! Good for you and your baby!

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New Jersey: As great as cloth diapers are for the environment, it's just too much for a working mother. Yes, it's just an "extra" few load of laundry, but it also involves a lot more cleaning and prep time. It also involves a lot more planning when you go out or have people watch the baby. If you have a diaper service, it's great. However, I just don't think most moms (and dads) have that much extra time. Additionally, most daycares will not accept cloth diapers due to the extra work and sanitation rules. With more kids in daycare now than ever before, it's a huge problem for those who want to use cloth diapers.

I do think more people could make their own baby food if they took the time but I'm not sure if that will ever happen as long as it's "easier" to buy disposable diapers, food, and new clothes. You can't find the plastic pants for potty training or for cloth diapers and it does cost more--of course, it's "only" 20-30 percent but to most people, that's a big amount. It's kind of like the difference between buying organic produce and regular produce. Yes, we'd all like to buy the best and cleanest and best but we can't afford it. For people who live paycheck to paycheck, disposable diapers and baby food is easier. With most people working multiple jobs, they simply don't have the time or money (in some cases) to buy organic foods or wash and care for cloth diapers. It all sounds good in theory but unless you've got money, it's just impractical.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Thanks for your comments.

I'm a working mom who uses cloth diapers. And I know I'm not the only one. I'm just too cheap to keep paying for disposables every week. Running out means a trip to the washing machine, not a trip to the store.

Plus, my grandmother tells me kids pottytrain faster when you use cloth. She's never steered me wrong before.

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Takoma Park, Md.: Another question on diapering. Are chlorine-free diapers such as 7th Generation and Tushies really substantially better for the environment, compared to conventional disposable diapers? I've tried 7th Generation, and the quality is good. But I wonder how much of a difference those brands make, environmentally.

Trish Riley: Have you ever noticed the label on the bottle of chlorine bleach? The hazardous warning tells you that Chlorine is indeed toxic, and when we use bleach, we not only expose ourselves and our families to toxic fumes, we also harm the water supply when the stuff exits our homes via our drains. Chorine is an important disinfectant but I think we may be way overusing it when we really don't need to kill everything in sight.

Mary Ellen Slayter: The paper-making process itself is not exactly a benefit to the environment. Have you ever driven by a paper mill? It stinks. And if we can at least take the bleaching process out of that, we can reduce the dioxins released, among other chemicals.

Besides, bleaching the paper that a baby is eventually going to pee or poop on just seems a bit silly anyway.

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Valdosta, GA: My husband and I have a seven week old and are already feeling the effects of having to buy disposable diapers. We are extremely interested in buying cloth, but don't have the money to spend upfront right now. Aside from buying a few at a time, is there anything else we can do? Thanks!!

Mary Ellen Slayter: A week's worth of disposables must surely be costing you $20-30 a week right now. You can buy a dozen diaper service quality chinese prefolds for that cost.

You'll be ahead of the game financially in a week!

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Arlington, Va.: What exactly is a "carbon footprint"? Or rather, what does it measure? I keep seeing a lot of online calculators to try to measure this - but they all give a different average of what you should be or aim toward.

Trish Riley: Your carbon footprint is an estimate of how much CO2 is produced to provide energy for your daily activities. While there may be variation among the various calculators, chances are if you try one or several, you'll be shocked to realize how much of an impact you alone are having on our global warming problem. It will be really hard for us to completely stop putting out greenhouse gases, but we can become more cognizant of the impact of our actions and make smarter choices going forward. Every little bit will help turn the tide!

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Alexandria, Va.: The biggest source of greenhouse gases is meat production. Why no mention of raising the baby as a vegetarian? We did and do, and it's easy.

Trish Riley: Yes, meat production is a huge greenhouse gas producer as well as a sad way to treat living animals. In my book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Living, I do talk about that a bit, and I encourage everyone to eat more fruits and vegetables and less meat, for many reasons, including our health.

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Maryland: Cloth diapers or not, the truly ethical decision is the decision not to reproduce. Hopefully the WaPo can acknowledge this reality in future articles.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Fortunately, we're not all misanthropes yet.

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Falls Church, Va.: Hi Ladies - great subject! I'm wondering, what's the best thing to do with old plastic toys that may or may not be contaminated with lead? It seems just as bad to throw them away as it does to give them away. What's a green solution?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Toss em.

Trish Riley: That's a great question! One organization that provides a great deal of really helpful information on toys and issues that affect children is the Center for Health and Environmental Justice (www.chej.org). They might have better info on the specific types of toys you've got, but i'd say if you have any reason to believe the toys are contaminated with lead, you should take them to your municipal hazardous waste disposal center to be on the safe side. You are absolutely right that you shouldn't just throw them out with your trash!

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Chicago, Ill.: Why not recommend hand-me-downs? This article essentially advertises "green" products. The greenest are the ones you rescue from being thrown away in the first place - and they are free.

Mary Ellen Slayter: See above.

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Vienna, Va.: I just want to say thank you for such a great article. I really appreciate how you specifically mentioned baby carriers as they have made my life so much easier. There's a huge local babywearing community in the DC Metro area. At http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Babywearing_in_DC-MD-VA/people can get information about local meetings where they can try out carriers and get information. Another great resource is http://www.thebabywearer.com Thanks again for such an inspiring and informative article!

Sincerely,

Chris

Mary Ellen Slayter: Thanks for the link!

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Washingotn, D.C.: I liked your article very much. As far as both babies and children go, my 3 biggest ways of greening their upbringing are: 1. Choosing schools (including daycare/preschool) that are within walking distance; 2. Raising them as vegetarians; and 3. Participating in various hand-me-down chains for clothes, toys, and books. I love seeing the neighbor kids in my children's outgrown favorite clothes, and they feel the same way.

Once your child is in school, you can start several green lunchbox traditions, most of which also save money. First, your child can take milk or water to school in a reusable bottle rather than using single-use disposable bottles or juice/milk boxes. Second, you can teach your child to bring his/her plastic utensils home every day in the lunchbox--after wiping them off, of course. Our daughter was quite proud to have used the same plastic fork and spoon for the entire year of kindergarten. Third, start a composting program at your school! Kids are natural environmentalists and can quickly learn to separate their trash into compostables and non-compostables.

Mary Ellen Slayter: These are all great suggestions, thank you!

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Takoma Park, Md.: Is cloth diapering really greener? It seems like it could be a toss-up with all the energy and resources required to clean cloth diapers.

Mary Ellen Slayter: I suppose it would depend on what is in shorter supply in your particular environment -- water or land.

Diaper services are very efficient at getting those diapers clean, given their economy of scale. And a good front-load washing machine uses half the water a regular toploader one does.

But no matter where you live, do us all a favor and dump the solid human waste in the toilet before you trash a disposable. Human waste needs to go through the sewer treatment system, not to the landfill ...

Trish Riley: Anything we can keep out of the landfill is a good idea, and disposable diapers are heaping up in huge numbers, so that's an important green concern. But another thing that concerns me about them is the amount of chemicals that must be used to make them "more absorbent." Do you really want to add more chems to your child's "body burden" by pressing these, laced with several hours worth of urine, up against your child's skin for the first few years of his life. Nah. I liked cloth diapers, and replaced them when they got wet to make sure my kids were comfortable.

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Bethesda, Md.:

I live in an apartment and have a five month old. Do you think cloth diapering is a possibility when you share laundry facilities with neighbors? The fact that we don't have our own washer and dryer has kept me from really considering cloth diapers. The local diaper service is very expensive.

Thanks!

Mary Ellen Slayter: I have a friend who lives in an apartment who actually switched from disposables to cloth at your son's age. She wishes she had done it sooner.

You'll probably want to buy more diapers than a person with an at-home machine would, just to keep from having to do laundry constantly.

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Vienna Va.: I appreciated the article on Sunday. You touched on this briefly, but want to emphasize that living green isn't always about buying organic cotton onesies. Minimizing the waste would make a greater difference. Recycling toys, wearing hand-me-downs, letting children play with the broom and the laundry basket instead of complicated plastic toys make more difference than anything. It's also important as grown-ups to role model for children so they'll grow up to be less wasteful adults!

Mary Ellen Slayter: That was the point of the whole story! Did you not read all of it?

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Silver Spring, Md.: So where do I find a diapering service the Washington area? Just google? (duh) But I have no idea how to compare services or find out if they live up to their claims. Are there chat groups, websites for local green-ish parents to compare notes?

I am interested in trying that elimination communication thing (I'm due in April.) Mainly because it seems like all the parents I know, can tell when their kid is about to poop. I take my dog out when he is giving me the signs, so why wouldn't I do the same with my kid instead of letting them sit in their own filth? I'll let you know how that goes.

Mary Ellen Slayter: You know, I thought elimination communication was just nuts before I had my baby. But you really *can* tell. It's kind of amazing. We haven't really pursued it because of the time it would take, and it's not the sort of project I'd ask daycare to take on.

D.C. has a cloth diapering group. You can join by going to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DCCDers.

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"I'm a working mom who uses cloth diapers. And I know I'm not the only one.": I'm curious to know how you are making it work with daycare. Or are you one of the lucky ones who doesn't need daycare (maybe you have a nanny?)

Just wondering.

Thanks.

Mary Ellen Slayter: A big center's rules are probably going to ban cloth, but a home daycare will have more flexibility. Just ask.

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Baltimore, Md.: Re: cloth diapers. We'd like to use them but many, many day cares will not use cloth. As a working mom-to-be, I can't cloth diaper unless we get a nanny which is more expensive.

As for other things: We've gotten relatively new hand-me-downs from friends with little ones and will pass them on when we're finished using them. We shop at consignment stores for clothes and are using the wooden toys my husband's grandfather made for him.

Trish Riley: Ouch about the convenience issue and one of the problems you face as a working mom relying on daycare. The only thing I can offer here is that we need to help the public, hence the day care folks and diaper manufacturers, to realize that we as moms want to use healthy, gentler cloth diapers for our children. Maybe we can help them develop policies that reflect our concerns and preferences.

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University Park, Md.: What a pleasure to read the article, and it brought a smile to my face to see that some things that were thought a bit odd in the 70's, when I had my children, are still considered odd now -- cloth diapers, making your own baby food, etc. Have just become a first-time grandmother, and am pleased to know my grandson's parents are already thinking "green." But can you explain again why it is a bad idea to borrow what was an approved baby car seat? This is one area that has really changed in the last 30 years, and I'm behind the curve. Thanks.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Borrowing is OK, as long as you know the carseat's history. Buying from a stranger, when you have no idea if the carseat has been in an accident, is risky.

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Anonymous: Hello Mary Ellen and Trish- I was very interested to see your article this past Sunday. I was pleasantly surprised after reading it- most of the articles I've read on raising 'greenr families' just make suggestions for buying more expensive supposedly eco-friendly products for babies, which is out of reach for many families, and in many instances doesn't help the environment in the long run.

Thank you for discussing such common-sense options as breastfeeding, babywearing, cloth diapering, using thrift shops or sharing used baby gear among friends, and avoiding packeged baby foods. I have used all of these in raising my children, usually to save money- and the wonderful benefit has been reducing the amount of landfill space and pollutants our family contributes to our world.

I have found all of these very simple and cheap to implement- breastmilk is a free, always-available, perfect food! No storing and buying lots of formula or little baby food jars, the baby simply eats what we do. All of my cloth diaper stash was loaned to me or purchased cheaply used. And using or passing along barely used baby clothes and gear instead of buying new has been a lot of fun.

Thanks for your mention of two great organizaitons for new parents, La Leche League, and Attachment Parenting International! Thanks also for your mention of homebirth.

Mary Ellen Slayter: A lot of this stuff really is common sense, isn't?

Trish Riley: Yes, it is. But sometimes we have to de-brainwash ourselves from our carefully fed consumer mentality to get back to living more in tune with nature! I think that's a terrific rule of thumb to remember and apply in our lives - the closer something is to nature, the better.

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Northern Virginia: I enjoyed the article. Even though I don't have kids I'm assuming one very good reason for going green is to hopefully avoid some of the lead based recalls. Since XMas is coming up--do you have safe suggestion for aunts like me?

Trish Riley: There are a lot of environmentally friendly retailers out there . One good place to begin is at www.ecomall.com. Happy Shopping!

Mary Ellen Slayter: I see quite a few links to interesting toy companies on there. Can't vouch for any of them, but do let me know what you find out!

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Reston, Va.: Just wanted to add my 2 cents as a non-parent.

Most of this stuff is common sense - why throw out old clothes that are still good when you can donate them/give them away. Small children don't need "new" clothes every month - buying used or getting them from family/friends makes more sense.

As for parents complaining about time, I don't buy it. They chose the often too-large house too far away from work, they can chose to put the remote control or laptop away and do a load of laundry!

Keep up the good work!

Trish Riley: Thanks and Cheers!

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Takoma Park, Md.: So on the topic of chlorine... do you use it when you wash cloth diapers? Or do you use peroxide bleach instead? Or just hot water and detergent? I generally use that color-safe "oxy" stuff for my daughter's clothes, which I -think- is not as bad for the environment...

Trish Riley: Good question. I think the Oxy Clean products are a good choice, though I also think that hot water and and a phosphate-free detergent should usually do the trick if you have rinse the diapers in the toilet before washing.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Yep, just hot water and a phos-free detergent. I think some people use bleach every so often if the diapers start to smell funky. An occasional rinse with vinegar can also help.

And yes, the solids go in the toilet, not your washing machine.

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Alexandria, Va.: wrt gdiapers: a dubious approach is good; There's no definitive evidence that cloth diapers are more environmentally friendly than disposables after accounting for ALL of the costs.

And I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who actually washes a week's worth of cloth diapers at a time. (that would require storing them for a week...)

gdiapers in particular allow a simple method for the liner + contents to get into the sewage system rather than to a landfill (and no one says you must flush the toilet every time). Yes - it costs more to buy gdiapers - but since disposables don't factor in the costs of landfilling and cloth diapers probably get washed a lot more, on average, I don't think it's a fair comparison.

Mary Ellen Slayter: This stuff really can get confusing, can't it? It's all about how you draw the circle. Keep in mind that the early 1990s study that concluded cloth and disposables were a wash was paid for by (not shockingly) Procter and Gamble.

We wash diapers twice a week. In making that comparison, I kept the number of diapers constant. You could do smaller loads more often, of course.

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Washington, D.C.: Can you switch back and forth between cloth and disposable diapers, or do babies get used to one kind? For example, cloth on the weekends and disposable at day care.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Yep, you can use both. The well water at my in-laws' house does funky things to our Fuzzi Bunz, for example, so we always use disposables there.

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Blacksburg, Va.: Thanks for the great articles! I loved using cloth diapers, but for those who are squeamish, I would say: at least consider getting cloth swim pants. The paper swim pants cost about as much as the cloth ones and are yucky to look at and for the child to use. And really, they hardly ever get "soiled" anyway.

I feel like a great way of living green-- and having an easier time as a parent-- has been moving to a cohousing neighborhood. Do you discuss this in your book? (I have it on order but it hasn't come in yet).

Trish Riley: No, I don't discuss co-housing, although I do talk about mixed-use urban communities that are popping up around the country. Good point!

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Boulder, Colo.: Are the 7th generation diapers compostable? I realize that since our daughter eats meat, any soiled ones aren't considered.

Thanks for raising the awareness. We went the cloth diaper route with a service for her first year and loved it.

Trish Riley: I'm sorry I'm not sure about this one, but my guess would be that seventh generation would make a diaper that is chemically compatible with composting. Better check with the manufacturer to be sure! I loved using cloth diapers for my kids, too.

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Cloth Diapers and Shared Laundry Facilities: Many multi-unit housing developments, including my cooperative in DC, expressly prohibit the washing of cloth diapers in shared washers and dryers. Sorry, but we have to worry about cross-contamination for our residents, including our eldery population.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Something to check before you wash, for sure.

I do wonder about this rule, though. I mean, can people wash *clothes* that have human waste on them. Are you policing for that, because I'm not sure what the difference would be ...

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Silver Spring, Md.: On the EC thing again - On the reading I've done, they say it's okay if you do one thing at home and one thing at daycare. Your kid kinda learns, and will just yowl much sooner at daycare over a wet or dirty diaper.

And hey, even if I only catch him or her once or twice a day - that is one or two less diapers to deal with. Worth it to me even if I just do it partially and not the whole program.

Mary Ellen Slayter: I will have to look into this again. It sure seems like it would make pottytrained go faster!

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Not a misanthrope either...:...but whether or not to start a family by adoption or by procreation is a decision that my husband and I are discussing now, for a number of reasons that include environmental concerns. It's not totally out of line to mention that as an issue in this forum.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Fair enough. Some people can just be so nasty about this issue, though. Makes me prickly.

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Chevy Chase, Md. While I don't ascribe to the "ethical" idea of not reproducing(!), I am glad to see that others are rejecting the 3600 sq ft house for 3 people, huge SUV the moment you deliver and those damn baby wipe warmers... when I heard about those, I thought about how our society has made all things baby such a big deal. How did my mother, without a car, do without all this things? Very well, thank you. Thanks for the chat - I hope some of the uber consumers think twice before buying some of this junk.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Someone gave me a baby wipe warmer that they picked up at a yard sale. It's still sitting in a box in my basement.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi. Your article hit home to me. My mom used cloth diapers with her three kids in the 1970/80s. She recycled newspaper before it was mandatory. We had a normal sized car.

It irritates me that a huge shift to "bigger" is now the norm. Having a kid or kids contributes to this. It's the beginning of "bigger."

As a wise 10 year old once told me- "our school has a recyling program but it's a joke since all the moms pick up their kids in SUVs."

If only the moms (and dads) would get it.

Thanks.

Mary Ellen Slayter: I do wonder what ever happened to the good ol' station wagon or the family sedan ...

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Phoenix, Ariz.: Thanks for the great article! I've been doing some research on diaper services, and an article on the National Association of Diaper Services Web site says that their diaper washing process includes 13 changes of water. I understand why that's important from an anti-microbial perspective, but that doesn't seem too green to me. Is there a way to determine exactly how green a diaper service's operations really are? Thanks!

Trish Riley: This is an interesting point - 13 times? Yikes.... this doesn't sound very eco-friendly at all, more like some kind of marketing spin about cleanliness, which is probably understandable from the diaper services' stand point. As you and several posters have noted, using so much water is not a good thing. Like everything, balance is the key to the best solution. It might be a good idea to call any diaper service you're considering using and chat with them about their specific practices to both protect your baby from germs and to protect the environment. Maybe they collect rainwater in cisterns or filter their waste water through marshes.... there are solutions to the problems we're facing, we just have to start applying the knowledge and technology we have developed.

Mary Ellen Slayter: They might be changing it 13 times, but not necessarily using a lot of water in each cycle. I'd definitely ask more questions about their process.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi-

Thanks for your great -- very practical -- article! I was glad to see your discussion of the nursery.

When I was preparing our nursery for my son, I talked with my step-sister, then doing toxicology work at Harvard's School of Public Health. "I can't afford to buy all organic, and I'm not uptight enough to change my whole household - what are the most important things I can do for my baby?"

She advised me to think about what surfaces the baby would have the most frequent or prolonged contact with - e.g., the crib mattress, our floors, etc. She advocated buying an organic crib mattress, which we did. The only downside was that I found them difficult to find in stores here, so I bought online, sight unseen (so my Bethesda store Wiggle Room, which is primarily consignment, will soon start carrying them new!).

Bridget Gray

Wiggle Room

Trish Riley: First of all, please don't think of yourself - or others - as being uptight for making environmentally friendly choices! It's a smart choice, whether you do a complete overhaul of your home or take it one step at a time, which is pretty much how we all have to do it.

It's terrific that you made the effort to find an organic mattress, and then went even further to help your neighbors have an easier time making the same smart choice by asking your local retailer to carry the product.

This is the biggest thing we can do to help the world go green - by letting the manufacturers and retailers know that we want healthy, green products, that's what they'll give us.

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Mary Ellen Slayter: Thanks for all your comments and questions!

And thanks for joining us, Trish.

Trish Riley: Thank you, Mary Ellen, for a great article and a fun chat! And thanks to everyone here for GoingGreen - our kids will thank us!

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use cloth and wash 'em: I used cloth diapers for two kids, using throw-away for overnite and also travel. worked just fine - what is all the fuss. You set a soiled diaper in toilet, shut the lid and flush. You then use wringer and place damp diaper in diaper pail. Set the wringer alongside the toilet brush. I used wool diaper covers, lasted with two kids and then i donated them. Washed diapers in their own load in hot water and low-phos. Detergent and bleach every 3 days. Easy and cheap and much, much greener than service or sing disposables. get a grip folks - stop clogging the landfills with your kid's stuff. Flush it and wash it, works just fine.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Thanks for your comments

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safety of minivans!: One small note - a Toyota Prius costs less than most minivans and is safer on the road. With the gas savings, it is a hands-down winner for transportation of kids. Buying a minivan or an suv for a kid is just ludicrous to my mind - they're small - they don't need the legroom etc., and they're certainly not going off-roading any time soon. Please people, inform yourselves about the safety of vehicles without assuming that bigger is safer!

Mary Ellen Slayter: But what about my back?!?

I admit, when I had to haul my nephews and nieces around in a rented minivan, I discovered it was downright heavenly to not have to bend over the carseat.

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Blacksburg, Va.: Cloth diapers are lovely! My kids would switch back and forth between them and disposable (when we traveled) but always preferred cloth. Would you rather wear paper underwear or cloth?

Since I did use my diapers on two kids, I am -sure- that it was better for the environment. And now I keep my small diapers to lend out to new moms. I've gotten 3 or 4 moms to switch to cloth by doing this. It's really not as hard as it seems! I found it more convenient than going to the store to get new diapers.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Agreed!

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disposable swim diapers:... can be re-used. Toss 'em in a lingerie bag and wash! I got this tip from Michelle Singletary's column.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Ah, Michelle. A woman after my own heart. I should find out if she cloth diapered ...

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