Out the door with disposable diapers? And other questions answered by the pros.

Waste with babies! It can be overwhelming when you start to look at the increase in volume of waste in your garbage can when an infant joins the household:

  • Diapers!
  • Cleaning up after your baby
  • Food waste and garbage associated with food packaging
  • So much more…

I am not a mother, so I can’t claim to know anything about the difficulties of caring for a baby and thinking about reducing waste at the same time. So I reached out to all the parents I know for some input on this subject, and I’m excited to share with you here what I learned from the pros. Below are the answers from Tim P., Lindsey L., Lindsey H., Marianne P., Jackie W. and Denise R. Thanks for your input y’all! Couldn’ta done it without ya. The parents wanted me to let you know this is not exhaustive! Just a few thought opportunities.

1.) Diapers!! What are your thoughts on reusables?

LL: We love using reusable diapers!! We use reusables to reduce the waste our household creates. 

DR: We used reusable diapers — but not for the first 3 months because we were just adjusting to a new life. After that, we’d use reusables entirely at home, and save disposables for when we were out and about/on the go. She was able to do reusables at daycare too, but they saved them in a bag for us to deal with. I just kept buying used cloth diapers over craigslist so I had a little of everything, and then the ones that I felt worked best I bought a few of those new.

TP: Owen never wore a single disposable diaper. We were dedicated to reusables. They can be a pretty significant investment upfront, but they last and you can turn them over when you need to upgrade. We were fortunate and got gifted or found a whole bunch of them early on so we were ready when Owen was born. Also, he was potty trained before he was two. Which is one of the benefits of cloth diapers, from what I understand, it seems many kids using disposables continue to wear diapers until they are 4 or 5. 

JW: Get the pocket diapers! They are the best.

LH: If I were a better person, I would use 100% reusable. I was given a few and I bought a few at a consignment store. After about 3 months, my goal was to use at least one reusable a day. I picked a goal that I knew I could manage and wouldn’t get frustrated with.

On Cleaning Reusables

LL: We have a very handy pre-wash rinsing system that makes our diaper situation odor-free, has kept our diapers completely stain-free, and is super simple! After each soiled diaper is removed from our baby’s bum, we rinse it down with a sprayer that is attached to our toilet water inlet line. We clip the diapers into a “splash guard” for easy rinsing, then ring them out by hand. We give each one a quick spritz with a light bleach water solution that we mix in a spray bottle and then hang them to dry overnight on retractable a clothesline we installed in our guest shower. Once the diapers are dry (each morning), we toss them in a bin in the bathroom until its time to do the wash.

I think one “turn off” for using cloth diapers is the perceived mess….no one wants to dump a bunch-o-poo in their washing machine, and tossing wet diapers into a bin while you wait to have enough to wash often leads to mold/a bad smell/mildew, etc. The prewash system avoids that. It might not be quite as easy as throwing a disposable in the trash each time, but it’s still pretty easy… people with babies want “easy!”

TP: We would rinse them in a bottomless bucket with a sprayer over the toilet, once rinsed and wet they could sit for a day or two until you had a load ready to run. Then we would run the load once with cold water and then we’d run it a second time with warm water and vinegar. I don’t think we used a lot of detergents, Owen had very sensitive skin so we had to use eco-friendly hypo-allergenic soap for anything he wore. He rarely wore clothes though. 

Diaper service is the easiest way to enjoy reusable diapers but that can get pretty expensive. However, a month or three of diaper service makes a really excellent gift for expecting parents. That way they have time to get used to using the diapers without the full stress of cleaning them right off the bat.

MP: I did reusables from the start, and it wasn’t a big deal. Rinse in the toilet and then toss them in the bucket until it was time to do a load. Do a rinse with vinegar if they get stinky.

You can save money with reusables!

LL: We purchased ours off of craigslist (30 for $125): we would need to use each diaper 24 times in order to start saving money over the cheaper disposables at 0.18 each; we’ve easily already accomplished that goal in the first 8 months. We use Bum Genius and Alva Baby. The bum genius diapers are pretty expensive new (like around 15-20 bucks each!), but the Alva baby ones are $4.79 each on their website. You’d only have to use the Alva Baby diaper 27 times to “break-even” with the cheaper disposable brands. With 30 diapers, we have to wash them every 4th or 5th day. Our baby has fat little legs (great for a tight seal), so we don’t really have a brand preference, they both work great and grow with your baby, so no need to purchase different sizes.

JW: You can buy enough secondhand cloth diapers with $150 and that be equivalent to $2000 for disposable!

Cons with reusable diapers

LL: We do use a disposable at night because they wick moisture away (and hold TONS of pee!), keeping Anvers asleep longer. One small bag of soiled disposable diapers is SO HEFTY and we really feel the impact of the use of plastic each time we haul a bag to the bin.

TP: Running every load of diapers twice burned up our washing machine in the first month, so there was that expense. Also, you generate less waste but it does take a lot of water. 

When the baby is newborn, you don’t know what size they will be. We had a ton of diapers that never got used because Owen was too big for them when he was born. 

LH: I had a ton of trouble with Theodore soaking through in like an hour and a half. That has gotten way better since all of his nutrition doesn’t come in liquid form anymore so my advice would be to not give up! If you find one stage hard, like when all their poop is quickly and gross, try them again in the next phase.

MP: If you don’t have a washer that might be a challenge as I’m guessing the wash services are $$.

2.) Cleaning up after the baby can generate a lot of waste: what are some ways you have worked toward making that less?

LH: I use a reusable liner for the diaper pail. Since we bring it out twice a week, we could end up using a ton of garbage bags or pail liners so I have two that I rotate through and wash with the diapers. I also have a waterproof reusable bag in the diaper bag for collecting messy clothes (read: clothes covered in poop) when we’re out and about instead of using disposable plastic bags.

LL: We decided to make our own wipes to reduce the plastics we throw away and so that we know EXACTLY what is going in them/on our little guy’s bum. Each package of wipes you purchase means a plastic bag/container goes in the trash. We purchase a GIANT supply of paper towels from Costco, with the least amount of packaging as possible, and then cut them in half with a circular saw (a serrated bread knife works too!). We have a container that fits the rolls perfectly that we keep next to the changing table. We make up the recipe for the solution that goes on the wipes, then pour it over the half roll of paper towels in the container. Once the roll is nice and damp, you can pull the cardboard center right out! You can then pull the wipes from the center for use. We also do this with a smaller batch of reusable wipes (you can make them from flannel scraps for super cheap!) Some people go completely reusable, but we’ve opted to use disposable homemade wipes for poop situations and reusable wipes for other situations. Placing either cloth or disposable homemade wipes in a reusable plastic bag or Tupperware makes them easy to take on the go as well.

The recipe is as follows: 2 cups water (boil then let cool), 2 tbsp. almond, apricot or other oil, 1.5 tbsp. Dr. Bronners castile soap (unscented), 4 drops tea tree oil, 2 drops lavender oil. We have seen ZERO diaper rash with these things. One of my girlfriends also just brings dry reusable wipes along with her and has a little spray bottle that has the solution in it. She just sprays the wipes with the solution when its time to use them on the go, rather than carrying wet wipes with her.

Cleaning products for homemade wet wipes.

TP: We only used vinegar for cleaning. Natalie found a recipe for baby wipes on-line and we made our own baby wipes also. Essentially, pre-torn and stacked paper towels soaked in water, vinegar, and a mild castile soap. They worked fine and we could customize them for Owen’s mild skin. 

LH: I cut up a few old t-shirts to use as a face and hand rags for after meals and snack clean up instead of using wet wipes for his face. I go through so many of these a day that I needed a ton and needed something soft enough for soft cheeks. T-shirts are perfect!

MP: We used wet wipes for the yuckies and then washables next. I think we added backout to the load with regular arm and hammer. Stay away from the chemicals. Dr. Bronners and vinegar are good.

3.) Food! It’s easy to buy a ton of micro jars of baby food and now folks use the squeezy packets. Do you have a good alternative to that?

JW: Making baby food is very easy. You can find free reusable containers on Nextdoor or buy nothing project! You can get a couple of the reusable squeeze containers to refill, too.

Options for reusable snack containers.

TP: It’s easy to make your own baby food. Steam or boil and blend. Although, we loved the squeeze packets on the go because they weren’t messy and a baby can basically feed themself. 

LL: We make all of our own baby food! We basically take any vegetable we can think of (hopefully from the garden!) and steam it for 15-20 minutes, then either mash it by hand or puree it in the blender. Sometimes we combine ingredients, sometimes we stick with a single veggie. Once the puree has been created, we freeze them in a little “single serving” silicon freezer tray. After they freeze overnight, we pop them out and put them in freezer bags (that we label, and reuse).

Cube tray for frozen food.

If we are on the go, we pop a frozen treat into a Tupperware and either heat it a bit before we leave or let it thaw naturally. You can also cook fruits (think homemade apple sauce, pear sauce, etc.) and do the same thing! We’ve even frozen oatmeal this way for easy prep. We do food prep once every few weeks, so its not a terrible time suck. A minute in the microwave takes a little more time than opening a jar, but there isn’t any trash associated with our freezer cubes, and that’s what we like!

If we opt for other foods that are premade, like yogurt, we always buy a big container rather than individual servings to try to reduce our plastic use. We also try to feed him things we are purchasing/eating already, so there isn’t food waste from unused portions. 

LH: For pumping and breast milk storage, I was lucky to be given some extra plastic reusable bottles so I had enough to store milk in as I was pumping throughout the week. Before I put milk in the bags to freeze, I would wait and collect enough milk to make sure the bag was full.

For food: immersion blender! I found making food in anything that had to be cleaned out just made me not want to do it. I steamed or roasted veggies, put them in a large, wide-mouth mason jar and then just used an immersion blender. You can reuse baby food jars to put it into smaller portions for daycare. I bought a set of 10 containers that I portioned food into. We still use a ton of packets when we’re out and about because they’re just SO EASY to throw into your diaper bag and leave in there.

You can buy refillable pouches though which we use quite a bit to pack stuff for daycare and for snacks at home where they can be refrigerated. For the refillable pouches, even buying a giant jar of applesauce and refilling them is way better than buying the same amount of apple sauce in repacked little packets so don’t kill yourself making super fancy food–you can still make a difference. I mean at least I am assuming it’s better?

4.) Anything else you want to mention?

LL: We use craigslist a ton, as well as the baby resale shops in town! Babies go through things so quickly, so it’s easy to use “preused” items and then pass them along or trade them in for the next set of clothes/items you need! This keeps all the “new baby” packaging to a minimum as well. The pregnancy resource center is also a great resource, especially for those that have financial worries. They offer classes and other methods to earn “points” that can be redeemed for free donated baby items like clothes, diapers, blankets, formula etc. They also host events where you can get free baby clothes from their donated supplies. I’ve donated some items and talked with them about what they do: https://www.prcco.org 

LH: Over the Moon Diaper Service is a diaper service out of Redmond, OR. They have service to Bend, Sisters, and a bunch of other places in the county. You can see their website for details, but if you don’t want to do the diaper cleaning yourself, you can use them.

MP: Besides the car seat you don’t need most of the STUFF! We were in a small house with Emma, didn’t need a changing table, much easier on the floor or the bed. She slept in our bed or a pulled out drawer so no crib. They move through all the stages quickly so borrow the stuff. We had a high chair and a thing that hung from a door jam that she could sit in. Oh and a sling and backpack. Keep it simple.