Greening baby wipes

First published March 2009, last updated April 2013

I often wonder how our parents got by in the days when there was no such thing as disposable diapers, let alone baby wipes. Wipes are very handy to have around, but I never gave much thought to the environment when I was using them. Heck, I didn’t even know what they were made of. I assumed it was some type of wood fiber.

The baby wipe

Baby wipe packaging isn’t the only plastic part – the wipes themselves often are too.

The material used in baby wipes can be made from silk, cotton, polyester, wool, rayon, polyester, polyethylene, and polypropylene – or a mixture. Price conscious consumers are likely getting a product that’s predominantly plastic – which is derived from crude oil.

So, the first green tip is to never flush these down the toilet as they are not biodegradable, nor can they be composted and for obvious reasons, they aren’t recyclable. Unfortunately, they need to go to landfill where they will spend many years before they break down.

The cleanser

Wipes can incorporate quite a chemical cocktail, including ingredients such as:

– Sodium diamphoacetate
– coco phosphatidyl PG-dimonium chloride
– hydroxymethyl cellulose
– methyl and propyl paraben

There’s not only implications for human health with some of these chemicals, particularly triclosan, but as waste products, they can be toxic in aquatic and land ecosystems.

The packaging

Baby wipe packaging is predominantly plastic. As outlined in my article “Recycling by the numbers“, not all plastics are created equal. Some can be recycled, others not. It’s important to check the tub for a little triangle with a number in it, which indicates the plastic resin code. If that number is 1 or 2, then it is easily recycled.

If you’re not able to find packaging that can be recycled, try buying a brand that utilizes a container you can reuse for another purpose or one you can buy refills for.

I came across some baby wipes a while back that had an interesting twist on packaging – it was chalk based; made from a mix of calcium carbonate (chalk) and plastic. However, I didn’t check to see if the packaging was recyclable given the chalk content.

Green baby wipe alternatives

While for some people total cessation of plastic based baby wipes may not be possible, particularly when travelling or out and about, when at home you can reduce consumption, plastic waste and save money to boot!

You can use something as simple as a diaper soaked in warm water and then just throw it in with your cloth diaper loads. Others have come up with their own “recipes” for making baby wipes you can lug around, such as the ones here and here.

Note: when looking around for instructions on how to make baby wipes, I noticed quite a few pages recommending the use of baby oil as a component. As it turns out, baby oil is basically mineral oil, derived from crude oil. Environmental issues aside,  there seems to be a lot of controversy as to the possible negative effects on health through applying mineral oil directly to the skin.

There are also some commercially available environmentally friendly baby wipes around that use plant fiber and are free of synthetic chemical additives – and they aren’t all that more expensive. If you run a search on “green baby wipes” or “environmentally friendly baby wipes” on your favorite search engine, you’ll likely find these. Also request that your supermarket stock them – you’ll be helping out the companies that produce these wipes, other eco-conscious shoppers and of course the environment!