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Green Diapering Just Got Greener (Or, I Heart Toronto)

Fancy Photography for Veer

It’s pretty incredible, when you’re actually in the diaper changing trenches, just how many diapers babies go through in a day. I know you know what I’m talking about. There’s really no way around it: our kids are pooping machines. And when you multiply that daily diaper load by months, and then years, the numbers get kind of dizzying… Multiply those by the thousands of years conventional diapers remain in landfills as chemical-laden (slash chemical-leaching) trash, and you have… a steaming pile of gross. Which is why, from the get-go, I – like many natural-minded parents – sought a truly Earth-friendly diapering option for our household. And, as we explored the green diapering methods that exist – hybrid cloth/disposable designs, non-bleached disposables, biodegradable disposables, and neo-cloth options – I became kind of fascinated with the challenge that true eco-diapering presents to modern parents (for whom convenience, efficiency and efficacy are all heavyweight contenders).

My favorite options ended up being biodegradable disposables, and, toward the end of our diapering run (we’re done! YAY! ‘Til the next baby, anyway…) cool new cloth options (thank you, in-home laundry). But, both have their downsides. While biodegradable disposables seem like an ideal best-of-both-worlds-option, they can’t actually be composted, like, in your back yard. Or so it says on the packaging. Which means they end up in plastic garbage bags, and then landfills, like their conventional counterparts. This sort of negates the whole biodegradable bonus, because, without sunlight, oxygen or airflow, nothing really breaks down as it should. They’re still way better than conventional disposables in terms of their production-pollution, and chemical, quotients, but they’re not – because of the way we deal with trash -- entirely green. Cloth diapers ended up being a lot easier than I expected, but they’re not quite as convenient as disposables, and many parents find childcare providers aren’t entirely open to using them. I recommend both options to new parents looking for their best bet, but I still keep my eye out for that all-around, hands-down green diapering win.

Enter my friend, who recently relocated from New York to Toronto. She mentioned, in passing, when I lamented the disposal factor for biodegradable diapers, that Toronto has a city-wide waste-disposal program that includes “green bins” for all organic-matter garbage. That stuff gets turned into compost, and then used (once it’s turned into nurtrient-rich soil) for the public good; its cleared of potential pathogens and used in farmland, parks, and so on. As if this isn’t awesome enough, they – much to said friend’s bewilderment – accept diapers in the green bins. All diapers. Even the plastic kind.

Say what? (Said I.) How can that possibly work? Is Canada for real? Clean air, health care, and seemingly magical public composting programs that turn nasty diapering plastics into healthy, fertile soil? Not one to put it past them, I did some research, and found this New York Times article, which confirmed what my friend had told me about the green bins, but didn’t explain the magic. So, I reached out to Toronto’s 311 information service and asked what was up.

I received a (friendly, informative… Oh, Canada! You make it look so easy) note in the same day, explaining the following. The details of the process are worth including in full, I think, because all cities can and should have this system in place, and this goes to show it can be done. It’s pretty simple, actually:

Organics are picked up at the curb by collection vehicles and brought to the Dufferin Organics Processing Facility. Next:

  1.  The organics are visually inspected and large, unwanted items are removed.
  2.  A hydropulper (similar to a large blender) is used to spin the organics into a liquid pulp. Unwanted materials such as plastic, glass and metal are removed from this pulp through two processes - screening and settling.
  3.  Anaerobic digestion takes 15 days to convert the pulp into two things:an organic solid material that can be turned into compost; and biogas.
  4.  The organic solid material is loaded onto trucks and taken to a number of composting facilities in southern Ontario for further processing. The finished compost can be used in landscaping, agriculture, soil erosion control and soil remediation projects.

First of all, this is super cool. Go Toronto. Second of all, I’m only a little disappointed that magic is not at work on this one. Plastic diapers people throw in the green bins – while emptied of their wastes and used to their maximum potential for good – are still making their way to landfills, where they’ll live on... basically forever. But, if everyone were using biodegradable diapers -- made from corn, or bamboo -- my one, and only, qualm with the option would be moot. They’d never see a landfill. They’d actually biodegrade. In, like, fifteen days. Compare that to the thousands of years regular diapers sit around underground being gross… It’s no contest!

So, Toronto readers, go get yourselves some biodegrable ‘sposies, stat! And for the rest of us, well, let’s push for this kind of program in our home cities, too. If Canada can do it (clean air, health care, city-wide composting), so can we.

Does your city have any unique green waste disposal services? Is there a public composting program? What’s your answer to the green diapering conundrum? Leave a comment!

PS. While regular disposable diapers are really… not green... not even a little… I have to hand it to Luvs for this new breastfeeding-positive ad, another public natural parenting win! So, props to you, too, Luvs... Now please make some biodegradable diapers!