Ammonia Build-Up in Cloth Diapers

The last few months have posed the biggest challenge to my zero-wasting efforts yet: dealing with ammonia build-up in cloth diapers. The diapers had been smelling ammonia-ish for a while, but one day a chemical burn diaper rash appeared on my babe. That was confirmation that we had a problem. Those ammonia burns are painful and are not easily treated. After much research and work to rid the dipes of ammonia, I concluded this was the end times! The behemoth of cloth diapering. The kiss of death for our expensive CD stash.

…So I thought.

Turns out the internet just sucks at helping us solve the problem of ammonia build-up. I have lamented over this problem for over 3 months now, all the while using disposables for fear that my babe will get burned again. I have researched high and low, asked friends, asked businesses, and more. I bought a soap product specifically for ammonia. When that didn’t work, I was given an intensive wash routine (which made it better, but still did not totally work). I was told I needed to fix my wash routine so it wouldn’t happen again (not true). Further, the internet REALLY didn’t help. There are as many “fixes” as there are bloggers out there (so, here, I’ll add another one). Nothing worked until I called my FAVORITE cloth diaper store, Green Bambino (which, unfortunately, is in Oklahoma City and not Tulsa). The owner, Morgan, told me it was a quick and simple fix. And she was so right. I am now even more loyal to Green Bambino than I was before!

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My first attempt at soaking the diapers to remove ammonia build-up.

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My second attempt at soaking the diapers (a different way) to remove ammonia build-up.

My biggest advice is to call your local cloth diapering store. In the Tulsa area, we have Bottoms and Beyond Boutique in Sand Springs and Oui Oui! in Broken Arrow. Also, if you haven’t been to Green Bambino, it is absolutely worth the short trip to OKC. (None of this is to say the Tulsa area CD stores are not fantastic–I will be singing their praises in future blog posts!!) The shops can ask you questions about your wash routines and tailor their recommendations thereto.

The solution depends on the type of washer you have and the type of soap you use. I have a high efficiency (HE) washer and I use Charlie’s soap. Because of the simplicity of the wash and ammonia-removal methods, I would highly recommend you start using Charlie’s over whatever you may be using now.* (Do your research on the soap you use and whether it causes build-up. If your CDs are not absorbent enough, you could have a soap build-up problem and will have to “strip” the dipes.)

Every day wash routine: 

  • Cold rinse
  • Hot, heavy wash cycle with 1 rounded scoop of Charlie’s soap
  • Tumble dry low

Ammonia-busting wash routine:

  • Cold rinse
  • Hot, heavy wash cycle with 1 rounded scoop Charlie’s soap AND 1-2 tbsp of BLEACH
  • Cold rinse, if necessary to remove all bleach
  • Tumble dry low

The only difference between my regular wash cycle and what I need to do for ammonia removal is the addition of the bleach. Note: obviously this will not work if you can’t use bleach on your laundry for one reason or another. I was also told that I need to wash every other day (I was previously washing every 3 days).

Guys, I’m back to cloth diapering and I couldn’t be more relieved! I’m not ashamed to admit I needed a break from the work of CDs. I don’t think it is damning for ZWT or that it undermines my credibility as a dedicated zero waster. I think it’s just a fact that it can get exhausting. It isn’t easy to be zero waste, and the lack of resources out there compounds the difficulty. This whole experience proves we need more information out there for all things zero waste! It should be easy and cheap, and we’re getting there one day at a time. And that’s just that.

*I do not derive any economic gain from discussing any of the aforementioned products or merchants.

Sippy Cup Experiment


We are trying something new: only one sippy cup. I bought this stainless steel Klean Kanteen sippy cup at Whole Foods today. This will be the child’s sole drinking vessel at home. Once he gets accustomed to it, I’ll get one for daycare.

We’ve only ever had 4 bottles and 4 sippy cups. That number has dwindled as we’ve broken a bottle (glass), lost a nipple or two, and the dog destroyed a sippy cup. I never have a clean cup to use. Sure, my stash isn’t huge to begin with, but I’m starting to think it’s my mentality (as are usually all things when it comes to reducing waste). If I only have ONE cup to use that must be hand washed, I will be more diligent about keeping it clean.

It’s also come to my attention that plastics (even BPA-free) leach hormone-like chemicals (just google it–no way to link all the articles here). We are exposed to so many hormones from the food in our diets that I figured it doesn’t hurt to cut out the possibility of more exposure.

Stainless steel is more durable than plastic, and therefore more sustainable as a zero waste option. This cup will not break.

Let’s see how this goes!

Kids’ Party Kit – Reusable Dishes

Wow, my baby has already made his first full rotation around the sun! Time to plan a party!! Of course, this baby party needs to be zero waste. But HOW…I set out to find the best options for making this birthday bash as zero waste as possible.

Things you need for a birthday party are: cups, dishes, utensils, napkins, food, drinks, decorations, and entertainment. (*Some may include a favor as part of a birthday party; I have opted out of giving party favors.) As always, trash is the first priority, but cost and embodied energy are next in line. This post will focus on the…

CUPS, DISHES, UTENSILS, & NAPKINS

Think about the trashcan at the end of a party. What is the most ubiquitous thing in it? The disposable dinner- and drink-ware. So we will talk first about how to avoid that category of waste, and address other categories in follow-up posts. This is a kids’ party, so I need lightweight, unbreakable plates and cups to serve food on. Not to mention, we have invited 20-25 people and I just don’t have that many dishes in my kitchen even if I wanted to use my breakable stuff. Thus, I must acquire “partyware.” (Note: many households keep plastic cups in their cupboards, from restaurants, etc. Mine does not. We have mason jars and the recycled glassware we got for our wedding (save the handful of plastic sippy cups we have acquired). If you do have plastic cups or plates on-hand, you can skip the whole part about procuring those items, although you may need to stock more.)

One-time use or reusable?

So we’ve established that I have to procure dinner- and drink-ware. The next question is: buy compostable (though, disposable) items or something I can use year after year? My opinion is that one-time use items are never the least waste option. Even if they’re made of super-sustainable, compostable materials. I like to spend money only once, and I like to use energy to manufacture something only once. If I have to shell out at least $20 I’m going to make sure I don’t have to buy it ever again (buying compostable dinnerware for 20 people would cost much more than $20, btw). Thus, disposable partyware is not an option for me, and I will not discuss it here (perhaps in a future post).

The embodied energy that goes into the production and packaging of a one-time use item outweighs the value of its use. It is better to produce something only once with a longer useful life.

This is the first kid-friendly party I’ve hosted, and no doubt have years of this type of party ahead of me. I need to make an investment in something I can use again and again. I will not buy a new set of partyware every year. I decided I would put together a kit of reusable dishes–a “Partyware box” (TM!), if you will, that I can just unpack each time we have a kid party.

The solution: THRIFT STORE!!!

The thrift store is full of (extremely cheap) stuff that still has useful life but just needs a new home. I went around to a few thrift stores and bought all the dinnerware I could find that was in safe and acceptable condition.

Thrift stores can be hit or miss, but you can probably find a lot of what you need to stock your Partyware box if you bounce around to the thrift stores in your area. When buying any dish (not just from thrift stores), you must keep in mind the potential for exposure to harmful substances. I’ve included a discussion of safe dishes vs. unsafe dishes below.

I know there are some moms out there turning up their noses at this idea. My Partyware dishes don’t all match and/or aren’t some cutesy kid theme. And they’re kind of ugly, to boot. Trust me, I know they’re ugly. However, my purpose is not to decorate with the dishes, as has become the norm at kid birthday parties in our culture. I doubt the kids will care what their forks look like. I just need it to be safe for human consumption and able to be reused time and time again. The day may come when my kids complain about their birthday party flatware (maybe?). Until that day (at which time I will inevitably rebuke them and carry on with my zero-wasting ways), I will use these items. (For the record, the silverware I found is actually some variation of “Bakelite,” is from the ’30s-’40s, and has experienced a resurgence of popularity as a kitschy, retro thing. So there ya go, I’m not totally off-base.)

On that note, let’s go ahead and talk about the utensils. Thrift stores will have tubs of silverware in the “bric-a-brac” section. It should be stamped somewhere on the silverware whether it is made of stainless steel or something else. I did not buy the silverware that was stamped “chrome plated.” I figured stainless steel would be the safest for human consumption considering I was buying used and very old utensils. I do not know that it matters, though.

IF YOU HATE the idea of thrift store stuff, I still think it’s better to buy a set of reusable, durable dishes at a retail store than disposables as I’ve done for some items to fill the gaps (UNLESS you can find a disposable manufacturer that powers its processes with renewables and uses a completely sustainable material (like bamboo) for both the product, its packaging, and shipping (of the raw materials as well as the final product).

REUSABLE CUPS AND DISHES

Ceramics: Not for kids, and note the possibility for lead.

One of the main reasons I am looking for Partyware is that my everyday pottery is too fragile for a kid party. Nevertheless, I figured I’d share while we’re on the topic: you have to be careful about buying old dishes (at the thrift store, garage sales, etc.). Some of them contain lead, cadmium, and perhaps other harmful substances that you do not want to expose your family to, especially small children. Further, even newer dishes may contain a glaze that has traces of lead which can become exposed after a certain amount of wear and tear. Read more here and here to find out about the possibility of poisonous substances in ceramic dinnerware. (I don’t mean to alarm anyone–I probably have some of this stuff in my own kitchen. I just mention this to provide a complete picture, but I’m not rushing out to replace my ceramic dishes.) Here is a related FDA article. 

Melamine: Nah.

In my initial internet search, I tried to find new, unbreakable dishes that were NOT plastic. I came across dishes made of melamine, which at first glance appeared to be a good option. However, research showed melamine may leach toxic chemicals when heated to 160 degrees F or more (in the microwave, but also when very hot food is on the plate). Here is one of the posts about that. Melamine is basically plastic combined with formaldehyde. Here is what the FDA has to say about melamine. FDA says it’s safe as long as the plate is not heated to 160 degrees or higher. Here is a post listing benefits of melamine dinnerware, which says it is #7 plastic resin code and therefore recyclable. I do not know the reasoning behind altering the plastic with formaldehyde. The questions are (1) whether melamine leaches more harmful chemicals or toxics under extreme temperatures than plastic, and (2) is it any more or less sustainable than ordinary plastic (though , that begs the question: what is “ordinary” plastic?). I will try to find more answers to these questions later, but for now let’s just decide we aren’t buying melamine products for our Partyware kit. I won’t find it at the thrift store, and it’s significantly more expensive than regular plastic partyware items.

Metals: Sure.

If you are lucky enough to find steel or other safe metal dishes at the thrift store to complete your Partyware box in a large enough quantity, you rock. Go for it. Even if you find only a couple I would recommend buying and using them for everyday kid meals. I would choose metal over plastic for less leaching and durability! However, if you find pewter or tin, you will probably want to pass it up.

Glass: Not yet.

I had to seriously ask myself: Why not just use mason jars? It’s not like they’re cost prohibitive, and we already have plenty. Glass is the best option any time we’re talking zero waste OR health. However, I opted against mason jars for safety. Breakage is not only a problem for the expense, it also exposes sugar-loaded, boucing-off-the-walls kids to broken glass. We will inevitably switch to mason jars when child attendees are older and better able to avoid breakage.

**If money was no object** I might consider buying a bunch of Lifefactory beverage glasses and call it a day! I suspect they’d hold up to being dropped on the floor. (There is still the question of whether the silicone used for the sleeve is sustainable, but it is at least all made in the US.) I bought one of Lifefactory’s water bottles years ago and am still fully satisfied and using it regularly.

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(Photo snipped from the Lifefactory website.)

Plastic: Eh, okay, I guess.

As much as it pains me to say this, plastics seem to be the best option for cheap, (infrequent) reusable dishes. They are ubiquitous at the thrift store or at your local dollar store if you aren’t able to score any at the thrift store. The risk of leaching is not a huge concern for me, given the relatively infrequent use these dishes will get. The reality is even when you buy BPA-free plastic, you may be exposed to a higher amount of harmful chemicals than found in plastic containing BPA. This is true also for food and drink packaged in plastic containers. Thus, I am not sure one’s health is endangered any more by a (relatively new and unworn) plastic dish bought from the thrift store than it is by a new, BPA-free plastic dish. I do not feel the use of a plastic dish (BPA or no) one time per year endangers my child’s health or exposes my child to any higher amount of harmful chemicals than ordinary. Further, when the dishes have reached the end of their life, they can be recycled in the City of Tulsa. Thus, I have decided to stock my Partyware box with plastic cups. This is just my opinion, and the option that I am making work for my own circumstances. If you have another informed opinion or a better alternative, please share it!

**The Partyware Box** 

Here is the completed Partyware box for kid-friendly parties, outfitted with everything a mom needs to feed 20-25 guests at the birthday bash! My family will use this box for our kid parties for a long time. I’ll add also: none of the dishes will go into the dishwasher. To wash, I plan to spray the dishes off in the tub, soak them in the tub in warm, soapy water, and rinse them in hot water in a separate vessel. This cuts out the electricity involved in dishwashing, and cuts down on exposing the plastics to high temperatures to avoid leaching.

Ultimately, I wound up with items from the Salvation Army, the Dollar Tree, and Wal-Mart. I didn’t begin my thrift searches early enough, or I would have scored everything thrifting. I got what I could at the thrift stores, and bought the rest retail. If you start your search early enough (6 months in advance?), I am sure you will be able to find everything you need.


Thrift store:

8 plastic stem cups (49 cents each), 12 plastic cups ($3), 16 stainless steel forks (25 cents each) Total: $10.92 (excluding tax)

Dollar Tree:

24 microfiber napkins ($1/3 pack), 24 white plastic plates ($1/2 pack), Total: $21.70 

Wal-Mart:

4 plastic cups (88 cents/4 pack), 24 stainless steel spoons (88 cents/4 pack), 8 stainless steel forks (88 cents/4 pack), 24 plastic bowls (88 cents/4 pack), 6-quart tub for storage ($9.77), Total: $22.97

Grand total: $60

 

Cloth Diapering: wipes on the go

I shared in my post on recycling plastic Tupperware that I have been storing my cloth baby wipes in said Tupperware to get them to/from daycare. As usual, I came upon this method one morning as I was scrambling around (late) and needing a quick solution for transporting the wipes. Now that my container was destroyed in my hot car, I need to come up with a more sustainable, waste-free storage method.

Ziplock bags: No way 

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Researching what other parents do, I have discovered some people actually put their wipes in ziplock bags. Obviously, I won’t be going that route. That’s worse than a food storage container from a waste perspective. Now, in the past, I have used ziplock bags with reckless abandon for all kinds of stuff. So I’m not judging. But this is a horrible solution from a waste perspective–a fact which may not be overlooked.

Using what you have 

You may not have to go buy anything at all. Most people probably have something sitting around their house that is perfectly suitable for a travel wipe container. This is a zero waste solution if you are not using the container for something else. This satisfies our zero waste principle of Refusing. You do not need to acquire something if you already own a thing that will work (if it could not otherwise be put to better use).

Examples of things you may have siting around your house are: any rigid plastic container you are not using for something else, makeup bag, pencil case, etc. Look around at leftover packaging for items you have bought. For instance, some flip flop brands include a little cloth bag in their packaging. You may have something like this sitting around your house. Of course, the type of container you use will depend on whether you decide to wet your to-go wipes or keep them dry. Or, maybe it will be the other way around–the type of container you have will dictate whether you wet your wipes or leave them dry.

Small wet bag 

If you’re already cloth diapering, you may have an extra wet bag that is small enough for wipes that you could put to use as the travel wipe bag. It may be a good option to purchase one for this purpose if you do not already own something else because wet bags are always useful for cloth diapering. You won’t regret having an extra wet bag.

We also need to look at the usefulness of a wet bag beyond the cloth diapering days. You can always sell the bag–there is a healthy resale market for cloth diapers and accessories. Or you could continue to use it for wet wipes, even well beyond your kids’ early childhood years.

These are my two smaller wet bags that were included in the set of used diapers I bought. Currently, only the pink bag is in commission because the zipper is broken on the green bag. My personal solution to the wipe container problem is to fix the zipper and use one of the bags for wipes. I only use these bags for going out on the weekends (they aren’t big enough for an entire day’s use at daycare), so it won’t impede the bags’ current usefulness.

Waterproof lunch bag 

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The idea of using a waterproof lunch bag like the one depicted comes from Dana Ryan’s Cloth Diapers Unwrapped YouTube series. Here is the video, which is right on topic and has some great suggestions (except the ziplock bag at the end (nothing but love, Dana)). I am going to start watching a lot more of her videos! I think neoprene lunch bags are great for the purpose of toting cloth diapers. It looks like this one could do double-duty as a wet bag. Dry or wet wipes could go in the front pocket, and used diapers and wipes could go in the larger pocket.

Above all, the takeaway is that you do not need to buy something if you already have a perfectly good vessel to serve your purpose. But, if you don’t, buy something with a useful life beyond cloth diapering purposes.

Breast Milk Storage

This is the first of many posts about the topic of zero- and low-waste baby and kid. Here I’ll share my system of zero waste breastmilk and food storage.

The Freezer Stash

I think it’s pretty universal that breastfeeding moms freeze their expressed milk, whether they work or not. It’s insurance. I choose to keep my “freezer stash,” as it’s called, in glass baby food storage containers. I made this choice because I wanted a plastic-free option that wouldn’t be useless to me after my child is finished breastfeeding. I chose the brand Sage Spoonfuls, you can find them here. I really do like them–they are good sizes and shapes, and are made of quality materials.

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The Day-to-Day

Working moms who breastfeed use a breast pump at work to express milk that will be fed to their children at daycare the following day. How to stash the fresh milk? It wouldn’t be manageable or affordable to use my Sage Spoonfuls containers every day for storage when I pump at work. That’s too many jars to own or carry to work with me. A lot of people use disposable plastic bags like this. For the record, I do not judge people using these bags. Most of them are recyclable. I have chosen not to use them because I don’t think they are the least-waste option and I don’t want to continue to have to buy them. Instead, I use mason jars. Every time I pump during the day, I consolidate the milk into one 24-ounce mason jar.

I bought a case of 12 24-oz mason jars for around $12, including tax. FYI, Target has the best prices on mason jars I have seen in Tulsa. You can buy them at pretty much any grocery store. I don’t have a Sams Club membership, so I’m not aware of their price.

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There are many advantages to this method.

Cost: The cost of the 12 jars I use over and over is comparable to one pack of 50 storage bags. The bags usually hold 6 ounces. On average, I pump 12 ounces per day, so I would use 2 bags per day. Thus, one pack of 50 bags would last me 25 work days using 2 bags per day. By this method, I would need a little less than one pack of bags per month. This does not account for extra freezer stashing, damaged/wasted bags, or variation in amount of milk pumped, so it is a conservative estimate. For 6 months of pumping and storing, bags are going to run you at least $60 at $10/pack of 50. I save $48 every 6 months using jars. It’s not extreme savings, but it’s enough to convince me not to use bags.

I used 6 months as a reference point because I may have to replace my jars soon (and I’ve been operating by this method for almost 6 months now). The brand of jars I bought have a perfect ring on the bottom that has cracked and looks like it’s about to punch out (picture below). I got a call one day from daycare telling me the bottom of the jar had fallen out–and so had that day’s milk. I have since learned that canning jars sometimes fall victim to thermal shock, which causes cracking when the jars are subjected to quick temperature changes. At daycare they were running the cold jar under hot water to loosen the fat that gets stuck to the side of the jar (the milk separation occurs no matter what vessel you store your milk in). I have noticed many of my jars are starting to get this ring, so I will probably buy a new batch. I plan to use the old jars to make “kleenex” dispensers for the upcoming cold season (watch for a post about this). The jars are recyclable when they have no further purpose, if that day comes.

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Waste: According to our calculations above, the bagging method sends around 40 bags to the landfill (how likely is it that the daycare actually puts the bags in recycling?) per month. At worst, the jarring method sends 12 jars to be recycled every 6 months. The jarring method is about as close to being truly zero waste as it gets, according to our zero waste guidelines (which you can find in the “Fundamentals of Zero Waste” page). Too much packaging and too many variables come into play (i.e., will it actually get recycled?) with the bagging method for it to be considered zero waste. But, like I said, I’m not knocking anyone who uses this method. Some people may not be able to make this change, but find other ways in their life to reduce their waste. I was given a pack of bags that I keep in my office just in case I forget to bring a jar (which has happened a few times). Instead, I should keep an extra stash of jars! I will work on making that change.

Energy and Natural Resources: Water is used to wash the jars after each use, but also to rinse the bags before they are recycled. The jarring method cuts down on fuel usage associated with traveling to the store to buy bags or having them shipped to you.

Time: This may be six to one, half a dozen to the other. I have to carry the jars to work, then to daycare, then home each day. Then I must wash them. They take up more space than bags. With bags, you have to either buy them at the store or online, carry them to work only once when you buy them, carry them to daycare each day, and they do not have to be carried home. They are lighter and more compact than jars. Does the amount of convenience they bring outweigh the amount of waste they cause? Not for me. I prefer to only buy things once. I do not like to have to continually purchase something. I don’t like going to the store, and getting online to buy something is only slightly less painful. So, for me, it’s a huge bonus when I can cut down shopping trips. Using jars I save money, time, and waste. These savings multiply with the number of children you raise.

What are your thoughts? What is your system of milk storage? Do you have a better method?