Greenwashing efforts are nothing new. However, the greenwashing campaigns that irk me most are the campaigns aimed at green parents and kids specifically. Disposable diapers are an excellent example of greenwashing targeted at parents. Diaper companies are pros at creating products that are 100% NOT eco-friendly then convincing parents to buy them based on the fake green qualities.
RIGHT UP FRONT:
Do I think parents who use disposable diapers suck? NO. I think reusable is a smarter green choice but I also can’t walk in every parent’s shoes. You can be concerned about the earth and be an excellent green parent even if you never use disposable diapers. Not all green choices fit all families. Trust me, I do things that aren’t perfectly green too. If you don’t use reusable diapers don’t beat yourself up, just know that you do have the option to try them AND don’t trust conventional diaper companies when they say they have a greener disposable – all you’re doing is paying more money for a basic non-green diaper.
Do I think it’s lame to try and trick parents by saying a diaper is eco-friendly when it’s not? YES. It’s one thing to have your own reasons as a parent to use disposable diapers. It’s another issue entirely to try to sell parents on a green diaper that’s not green at all. Especially when said diapers cost more, presumably because they’re “eco” – so lame.
Pampers save landfill space!
This year right before Earth Day, Pampers from the maker Procter & Gamble officially debuted their new Pampers Dry Max. The company notes, “The new design also helps families reduce their impact on the environment by containing 9 percent less material weight which helps ensure fewer resources are used. If every Pampers Swaddlers/Cruisers mom switched to Pampers with Dry Max, together they could save approximately 20 million pounds of trash ever year.” Of course Americans alone toss 18 billion disposable diapers a year, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), so thinner diapers, when stacked up in a landfill, still aren’t green, no matter how freaking thin.
Consider this – the average newborn can use 12 diapers a day! Older babies and toddlers typically use 6-10 diapers a day. If your baby is out of diapers by the time she’s two and a half years old (many aren’t) that’s still about 7,500-8,000 disposable diapers over those 2.5 years. Imagine if your baby is in diapers longer than 2.5 years. Compared to reusable cloth diapers there’s no contest which is greener when it comes to trash.
Of course, as you’ve likely heard, Pampers with Dry Max technology is creating quite a scene right now due to some complaints about rashes and burns. This could be true, it could not. Right now the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has launched an investigation into Pampers diapers with Dry Max but that’s ongoing. What I will say is that Pampers, like all disposable diapers contains contain Sodium Polyacrylate (SAP); a gel that’s a chemical water absorber and is known to be toxic.
To date, no extensive studies exist as to whether sodium polyacrylate is dangerous to babies when absorbed through the skin. However, some smaller studies citing health problems related to SAP do exist and it’s smart to note that this same chemical was removed by the FDA from tampons because of its link to toxic shock syndrome. So, it’s not safe enough for women (in tampons anyhow) but babies get a green light? Um – does anyone else find this odd?
Huggies are totally green!
Right around Earth Day 2009 Huggies Pure & Natural diapers from maker Kimberly Clark, arrived on the scene and these are a perfect example of greenwashing to the max.
In their press release last year, Kimberly-Clark Corporation said that Huggies Pure & Natural diapers are, “A super premium diaper that includes natural, organic materials and ingredients to provide gentle protection for new babies, as well as initial steps toward environmental improvements, without sacrificing performance.”
The so called eco-improvements included:
- Hypoallergenic, latex and fragrance free.
- Features a breathable outer cover that includes organic cotton.
- The liner includes natural Aloe & Vitamin E and materials from renewable sources.
- The product’s outer packaging is sourced from 20% post-consumer recycled materials.
Kimberly Clark wasn’t all that sneaky in the press though, which I will give them props for. After taking a survey and seeing that moms want diapers with organic and natural materials, Kimberly Clark decided to make these diapers. They said that they expect that, “Huggies Pure & Natural diapers will help the brand build inroads with those moms who are most interested in products that include natural materials to provide the best care for their babies.”
President of Kimberly-Clark’s North American Infant, Baby & Child Care business also said, “Based on the preliminary response we’ve received thus far, we expect the unique attributes this diaper offers will be well-received by moms and our retail customers, and will help drive incremental dollar growth in the category.” At least they admit that the bottom line is driving dollar growth.
That said, parents don’t tend to see press releases and Huggies was being super sneaky in that respect. The eco-aspects Huggies is selling to consumers are lame little aspects that help trick parents but don’t add up to a whole lot of green. For example, if you take a closer look at their attributes…
- Hypoallergenic, latex and fragrance free – so are other much greener diapers.
- Features a breathable outer cover that includes organic cotton – Is it certified organic? Huggies won’t tell us on the package or if you call (see below) so you’ll need to make up your own answer.
- The liner includes natural Aloe & Vitamin E and materials from renewable sources – those renewable sources would be? Also, so what about the aloe (is it organic?)
- The product’s outer packaging is sourced from 20% post-consumer recycled materials – 20% is laughable. All kinds of companies make products with 100% recycled packaging.
Here’s what they don’t say:
- The diapers still contain SAP.
- The ink used on the diaper: Is it soy or water based? Who knows?
- It’s still disposable. “95% of diaper changes are disposable diapers and most of them end up in landfills” says executive director of the National Association of Diaper Services.”
- These diapers are not biodegradable.
I called and emailed Huggies:
I called up Huggies and asked who certified the organic cotton used in these diapers. One individual told me that the organic cotton is certified but they weren’t sure who by. I asked about chlorine and bleach (I mean, the diapers are white so they must do something to them) and was told that a chlorine dioxide Elemental Chlorine Free process was used. If true, this is a more eco-friendly process than a true chlorine process, but is not recommended as an eco-friendly practice because there are better methods.
I called back and was told by another person that these diapers were made with certified organic cotton. Again, they couldn’t tell me by who. I emailed the same question about the organic cotton, got a form email back saying Huggies would get back to me, but they never did. Overall, every attempt to ask questions about the organic cotton in these diapers failed. Total waste of my time. Oh, and since they’re not certified I’d question if there’s any sustainably managed organic cotton in these at all. Plus the cotton isn’t touching your baby’s skin anyhow; even if it is organic so what?
The Huggies campaign for this particular brand is marketing these diapers as earth-friendly– the packaging is green and natural looking, the wording is sketchy and many parents fall for it. This is what makes this product the perfect greenwashing product. For example if you look around the web, here’s what parents and sadly some blogger reviewers are saying about these diapers…
- Huggies Pure and Natural Diapers are a great green diaper choice.
- Fits and looks just like a non-eco conscious diaper.
- These diapers are a good way to go green.
- These are so eco-friendly.
- These are the best natural diaper available!
- My new favorite green diaper.
The fact that parents believe that these diapers are a green or even natural choice shows you how well Huggies plans their marketing techniques. Not everyone is tricked, but plenty of parents are tricked into thinking Huggies are a smart green choice. That’s greenwashing perfection I tell you.
Coming up we’ll be looking at some real green diaper choices.
Have any of your friends fallen for fake “green” diapers?