There are lots of reasons a person's best efforts to minimize consumption, shop responsibly and live in an eco-friendly way are thwarted once a baby comes along.
Chief among them: diapers.
A baby can easily go through 5,000 to 6,000 diapers in the two to three years that they wear them. Bearing that in mind, most parents I know would prefer to avoid clogging landfills with diapers from big companies like Procter & Gamble (PG) and Kimberly-Clark (KMB), with their plastic shells, super-absorbent gels and overwhelmingly fake "baby powder" scents. Indeed, even parents I don't know, like Julia Roberts, reportedly favor eco-friendly diapers: Roberts got Seventh Generation diapers for twins Hazel and Phinnaeus, and Gdiapers for her youngest son Henry, read more on her choices below.
There are several eco brands of disposable and quasi-disposable diapers these days and they work pretty well. You can buy them at Diapers.com, Drugstore.com, Target (TGT) and even Wal-Mart (WMT) for roughly the same price as their mainstream counterparts. But they all have their quirks -- and I'm not sure they benefit the environment nearly as much as they assuage green guilt.
The environmental problems with diapers go from end to end. There's the petroleum, bleach and other chemicals used to manufacture and ship them, and there's the utter lack of biodegradability once you throw them away.
One new brand, Nature Babycare from Sweden, claims to address both issues. Its shell is theoretically compostable because it's made from corn instead of plastic, and the absorbent lining is mostly compostable because it's chlorine free and partly made from wood pulp. Getting petroleum-based plastic and dioxin-generating chlorine out of the manufacturing process is a worthy start.
But one look at these nappies tells you that they are not going to break down in a backyard compost pile anywhere nearly as quickly as your baby will go through them. (And not everything that comes out of a baby's bottom should wind up in a compost pile anyway.) You could find out whether your town has a drop-off location for organic waste (essentially a community compost pile), but most don't.
So you'll probably do with these diapers what I did. You'll wrap them up in a plastic garbage bag that is absolutely not biodegradable and put them out by the curb to be collected by your town garbage collectors, who will ultimately pile them into a landfill. Once there, it seems they wouldn't break down even if they were made of fig leaves, according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board.