When a baby is born, there are lots of big decisions to be made. Will you breastfeed or use formula? Will the baby sleep in their own room or in yours? If you work outside the home, will you hire a nanny or take them to daycare?
And then there’s the other Big One: What kind of diaper will you use? Cloth or disposable?
A Big Change
Seattle pioneers Baby Diaper Service (BDS), the company that has championed and delivered clean cloth diapers to local families since 1946, has a surprising new answer to the question: go disposable! But not just any disposable. The company has pivoted 180 degrees — from cloth to plant-based disposable, recyclable diapers.
“We have been helping families with all their diapering needs for over 76 years and have diverted millions of diapers from traditional landfills,” says BDS co-owner Carolyn Janisch. “Our mission has always been to provide the healthiest diaper for babies and the best option for our environment. With 95 percent of families choosing disposable diapers, our goal was to find a way to partner with families to have an even larger impact.”
The Impact of Non-Plant Disposables
First, the disclaimer: any method of diapering has environmental ramifications. Cloth diapers require water and energy to launder and any diaper product incurs labor and transportation costs.
Currently, more than 95% of parents use disposable diapers, which has a huge impact on the environment. According to research in the book Advances in Technical Nonwovens, diapers are the third largest single product in our country’s waste management system; the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that about 18 billion diapers are thrown into landfills each year. To bring the numbers down to the individual family: newborns use approximately 10 diapers a day and, though usage declines with the child’s age, families can easily use more than 3,000 diapers per child.
The accumulation of massive numbers of diapers in landfills is unsustainable and many parents say they feel guilty about contributing to the problem.
BDS takes the plunge
Families had been asking BDS about disposable options for years. Then earlier this year the company was further spurred to investigate the environmental impact of plant-based disposables — and ultimately move fully to the biodegradable diaper — after learning that the dryer venting in its rented space would be changed, making the laundering of cloth diapers more expensive and less environmentally sound. But the decision to take the leap was not made lightly, according to Carolyn and John Janisch, who bought the diaper service in 2016.
Room for both
The Janisches diapered their own three in cloth diapers (as customers of BDS), so you won’t hear them bad-mouthing cloth. In fact, many points go to cloth as the best choice in the environmental diapering debate, since they are used repeatedly. A cloth diaper can be reused 50 to 200 times before being recycled as rags or into other textile recyclable material. Laundering effects can be mitigated by air drying.
Carolyn Janisch believes there’s room for both types of diaper, given a more environmentally friendly disposable.
“Cloth diapering is special,” Janisch recalls of her own family’s experience. She is thrilled Seattle-based Diaper Stork will continue to provide them to families committed to cloth diaper service.
To the drawing board
With cost, environmental impact and customer interest on the table, Janisch went to the drawing board to find diapers that were “healthy for the environment, healthy for infants” and matched the company’s mission to provide socially responsible options. Once she narrowed the options, Janisch asked existing customers to test the plant-based disposables and submit feedback.
Hands down, the most popular option with the families who tested the products was a diaper made by Nest.
What’s in a Nest?
Nest diapers use wood fluff – a renewable, recyclable resource – as the main absorbent. They contain clean, safe ingredients and are made of sustainable materials that are 73% biodegradable. They’re hypoallergenic and certified allergen free and skin-safe, in accordance with the Food and Drug Administration’s good manufacturing practice regulations. Used diapers are collected in biodegradable bags by the family, picked up by the company and delivered to a “Waste to Energy” recycling center, which is able to recycle all but the Velcro, string around the leg holes and one thin layer of the “critical area.”
Once the Nest product was selected, the Janisches began to look for companies who would recycle the diapers. They reached out to various recycling centers – “a hard but cool journey,” says Carolyn Janisch.
The Path to Yes
The Janisches nicknamed their big change “the Path to Yes.” Beginning in June, they had just 30 days to make the change – they no longer needed laundry facilities, and needed to sell their 45,000 cloth diapers to other companies. In fact, they recycled as much equipment and supplies from the cloth-diaper model of their business as they could.
“We wanted to break down the company in a sustainable way,” says Carolyn Janisch.
With the change, Baby Diaper Service has lost some customers but it has gained a new client base as well — day cares (most of which were unable to take advantage of the cloth diaper services).
“With the cloth diapers, a lot of day cares wouldn’t use them,” says Janisch.
In terms of cost, the new service is comparable to the old. The greatest cost is “upfront,” with the newborn who may go through 70-90 diapers a week. BDS diaper delivery costs about $90 per month for a newborn ($51 for delivery, pick-up and bio waste bags, $39 for 84 diapers), plus $15 account set-up fee. Baby Diaper Service also offers gift cards and an online store for non-subscription purchases.
The service delivers diapers approximately 2-3 weeks before the expected due date for pregnant customers and can get started quickly for those already on the “diaper journey.”