Kinder Diapers, For The Earth and For Your Wallet
Navigating Sustainability as a New Parent
By Alana Mayer
When someone mentions babies, there are generally two camps: one that thinks “oh so cute!” or “will that thing start crying during this plane ride?” The other camp is one that is up-close-and-very-personal with the radiant turmoil and the beautiful mess that is parenting. From an outside view it’s easy to dictate and say “hey, you should do this, or use this product. Make the more eco-friendly choice.” But when you’re deep in the battle trenches of laughs, cries and lots of poop, topped off with limited time, what’s a new parent with eco-minded values to do?
One multifaceted solution is cloth diapering. Huh?, you say. Sounds hard, you think. I sat down to chat with co-founder, Liz Turrigiano, of Diaperkind, the cloth diapering and cleaning service set to celebrate a decade of supporting NYC and Brooklyn-based families. “It doesn’t have to be the crunchy choice or the difficult choice,” Turrigiano explained. In fact, “our goal is to make cloth diapering a normalized part of the conversation and an approachable option.” For first-time parents, for whom changing any diaper is a foreign practice, learning to diaper with cloth can be the most logical way to go. Many of their clients actually are first-time parents, either looking to stay in line with their values or are newly diving into the idea of living more sustainably for the sake of leaving behind a better world for their young one(s).
Mom and Diaperkind user Amanda Alappat started cloth diapering with her first child and attested that, “the environmental benefits and sustainability of cloth diapering was my number one reason for trying. [disposable] Diapers don’t biodegrade and often contain harmful ingredients, so cloth was my first choice.” She also noted with honesty that “there was definitely a learning curve involved.” The direct benefits of choosing cloth diapers over disposables are clear however, sparing us from unnecessarily cutting down around 200,000 trees per year, as well as trucking about 3.5 million tons of waste to landfill per year in the U.S. alone. Let those numbers sink in for a moment.
“Cloth diapering is not only better for the environment, but it’s economically the best choice for most people,” the expert, Turrigiano, tells me. When one partner, clearly excited and eager to cloth diaper, sits down at Diaperkind’s workshops or consultations, there is often another partner who is hesitant to jump on board, so she reassures them with the facts. “The average age that kids outgrow diapers is between 35-39 months. Most of our clients end cloth diaper service for toilet-training at around 22-26 months. When you think about it, that’s less of a family’s money going to services or disposable diapers and less dirty diapers to deal with overall.” Talk about peace of mind.
In terms of greenwashing these days, Turrigiano sees many fellow parents trying to seriously buy better and make a difference, but are simply “paying a premium for diapers labeled ‘biodegradable.’ When it comes down to it, a diaper thrown in a plastic garbage bag that heads to the landfill is not likely to decompose much faster than the average disposable diaper.” In fact, it’s estimated that disposables take upwards of 500 years to degrade.
If environmental sustainability is the driver of the Diaperkind car, supporting and empowering its community through education is the fuel that runs it. They have a mentorship program through which, parents that have enjoyed the benefits of cloth diapering, help and share tips with new or learning parents. In this way, Diaperkind makes the practice accessible to those that may have found it intimidating to hop on board with at first. In Alappat’s experience, the info class she attended before signing up with Diaperkind “helped a lot. The service was great, reasonably priced, [offered] conscious products, [had a] great website and extra support.” Adriane Stollenwerck Stare, a Brooklyn mom, business owner and birth community expert used the service herself with her second child. In her work as a postpartum doula she “just finished [working] with a client using them who loves them too!” Through the years, Stare has held Cloth Diapering 101 classes and “met hundreds of parents who were using or thinking about using them... they’re so fantastic.”
So are there any downsides? Some have argued that laundering cloth diapers, as well as the organic cotton used to make them, ups water usage. For Alappat and many other parents however, “not contributing to landfill waste where diapers literally last for thousands of years” is a benefit that outweighs the alternative. Her family used the service for about four months and admited that it can be a struggle for families that travel a lot. “For us, it didn’t work out in the long run [because of] having to go back and forth between two locations! We didn’t love having to lug dirty diapers back with us.”
As a company striving to make things simpler for parents who wish to take care of their newborns in a more eco-conscious way, Diaperkind offers phone and online consultations to teach parents outside of NYC and Brooklyn, or those who have washers and dryers, how to take part in sustainable diapering and washing in their own home. Expanding on this idea, they’ll be launching Essembly this Spring, which will offer their cloth diapers, their natural detergent, dirty-diaper carrying bags and a sustainable diaper choice to parents and families far beyond NYC.
Just a few months ago was Turrigiano’s daughter’s tenth birthday, who was born shortly before the conception of Diaper Kind, so it’s an exciting celebration of evolution all-around. When I asked her about her personal ties to sustainability, she told me “transparency is key” in passing along a thoughtful approach to consumption to her kids and the next generation. Coming from someone who has helped build a thriving community, a successful company and deals with up to 18,000 diapers a week, I have no choice but to wholeheartedly believe that this is the way.
Photography by Alana Mayer.