10 Surprising Baby Items You Can Compost

Family Matters on 04.19.12
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Photo: Grow Books/Copyright

Modern parenting seems to go hand-in-hand with buying too much stuff. But even for those of us who try to buy less; who roll up our sleeves and start cloth diapering; and who are willing to ask relatives to give fewer gifts - we still end up with kid and baby-related trash that we don't know what to do with.

Sure, we can give some away, reuse it, or recycle it. But as Earth Day approaches, it's worth remembering another trusty green strategy for waste reduction - composting. There are an awful lot of baby-related items that can go straight in the compost, whether you realize it or not.

1. Diapers
I know, I know - every compost bin everywhere says no human faeces and no dirty diapers. For the average home composter, it's best to follow the former rule and avoid composting the smelly ones (some cities do have industrial-scale diaper composting). But if you are using all natural, bleach free disposable diapers at home, there's no technical reason why you can't throw the yellow ones in the compost along with your vegetable scraps. Urine is, after all, sterile - and compost heaps thrive on extra carbon-rich materials like paper - which makes up the basis of most diapers.You are still probably better off going with cloth, but it is a step in the right direction.

2. Wipes
Wipes, like diapers, are totally biodegradable. They may take a little while to disappear, but they'll be adding much needed carbon to the heap.

3. Cardboard Packaging
Speaking of carbon, all that cardboard packaging that surrounds the baby crap you keep buying (despite your best intentions) can also be added to the compost heap. Whether or not it's better to recycle it or compost it is an ongoing debate among overly anal green geeks like myself, but either way it's sure better than throwing it in landfill. Just be sure to remove the annoying plastic windows and such before you toss it.

4. Grow Books and Activities
Sure, most baby books are probably compostable. But Grow Books are specifically designed to biodegrade at the end of their life. Featuring push out and assemble doll houses, city scapes and party gear, these fun items will keep kids entertained for a good long while. And when the time comes to move on to something new (no toy stays entertaining for ever), you can either throw it in your back yard heap, or return it to the company and they will compost it for you.

Photo: XKKO

5. Cornstarch Baby Toys
Yes, there's a lot of plastic children's stuff out there - but not all of it is made from what you think. A growing number of toys, like XKKO's line of baby rattles, are being made from bioplastics. These toys should break down in controlled (hot) composting conditions, but don't expect them to break down fast in your backyard heap.

6. Cotton Balls
Wiping gunk from your baby's eyes? That cotton ball can go in the compost heap too - who knows, maybe eye gunk has some beneficial properties for plants.

7. Latex Balloons
OK, so we are getting into toddler territory here. But in a pretty exhaustive list of things you can compost but you thought you couldn't, compost and garden guru Colleen Vanderlinden lists latex balloons. (Yes, latex condoms compost too - if you are done having babies for now.) Let me know if you've tried this at home.

Photo: Rooware

8. Biodegradable Children's Tablewear
Companies like Rooware are creating BPA-free, reusable tablewear from bioplastics that should be compostable at the end of their lives. Much like the cornstarch toys, these items will probably break down better in a commercial-scale hot composting system of the kind used by municipal trash collectors. But if you're a composting fanatic who keeps their heap hot, you could try them and see what happens.   

9. Old Wool Clothing
Baby doesn't like the ugly, pee-yellow woollen sweater that your mother-in-law handed down to you? No worries, you can simply rip it up into small pieces and - you guessed it - throw it on the compost heap. Just be sure to bury it with some grass clippings before the next grandparent visit.

10. Nail Clippings
Yeah, I know - baby nail clippings are hardly the biggest problem facing our landfills. But you may as well put them in with all this other stuff you are disposing of, right? Baby hair from your baby's hairbrush composts too, but now we are getting silly.

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