Just about every pregnancy book includes chapters about gear to get for your new human, complete with checklists and titles like “What Does Your Baby Need?” or “Toddler Essentials.”

More apt titles might be, “A Guide to Creating Plastic Waste.” Or maybe, “Guilt and Fear Essentials.” That would be both parental guilt – as in, am I doing this right? – and also fear of not making good environmental choices when gearing up to become a parent. A First World-raised child is often surrounded by a sea of stuff, most of it plastic.

Even the parent who makes passionate, conscious choices to avoid plastics, chemicals, toxins and such can’t raise their children in a Utopian bubble. Caitlin Shetterly, the author of the forthcoming “Modified,” a book about the impacts of GMOs, has made the effort to put her sons to bed in organic cotton bedding. Her big splurge with her first book advance seven years ago was a handmade maple crib, and a secondhand, barely used organic mattress.

But during cuddle time? The boys, 7 and 1, come into bed with her and her husband.

“Dan and I have not had enough money to buy an organic mattress ourselves,” she said. “So when the kids are in our bed, I don’t know what they are getting.”

Parenting is already hard, says former legislator Hannah Pingree, who worked to outlaw specific flame retardants when she was Maine Speaker of the House and is mother to a 5- and 3-year-old. “And navigating sustainable and safe products for our kids is a lot of work,” she wrote in an email. “Sometimes common sense can get the job done but – when it comes to many kids products – I’ve sadly realized that our country has fallen down on the job of protecting kids’ health and safety.”

It’s enough to make a parent despair. Shetterly certainly has. But she says she doesn’t want to be a Debbie Downer.

“I don’t want to give people the impression that they should just throw up their hands,” she said. “Make the best choices you can and think deeply about them.”

We asked Maine parents with sustainability-oriented careers and lives to suggest the greenest version of basic baby and toddler items. Some general themes emerged from our conversations and emailed discussions: Question conventional wisdom. Shop at consignment stores like Lots for Tots in Falmouth and Scarborough. Avoid plastics – you can find wooden versions of many toys and even wooden teething rings (lightly rubbed with beeswax to prevent splinters).

If someone tells you to buy 50 pieces of baby gear, you can probably make do with 10 of them. Many items on those parental checklists are more about soothing the anxiety of the new parent than the baby. What’s more, recyclable or reusable versions abound.

Team up with friends and reuse wherever you can, maybe even if the general consensus is against using a hand-me-down. It’s illegal to resell a car seat because of questions about their viability after an accident. But if you have a friend or family member with a gently used car seat and are sure their vehicle wasn’t in an accident while the car seat was in use, go for it. That’s the No. 1 piece of advice from Marada Cook, a mother of three whose distribution company Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative brings local foods to market throughout the state.

“Everyone seems to think that the $150 brand-new car seat is so much safer,” Cook wrote in an email. “But then they drive around liking their own kids’ pictures on Facebook.”

This Source guide to gear represents that kind of no-nonsense approach, with workarounds for the unavoidable implements of baby and child gear. We even found some parents willing to dispense with the most basic items. Like the ubiquitous sippy cups found in the sticky hands of toddlers everywhere.

Are you bold enough to buck the trends of the child-rearing industrial complex?


There’s no avoiding a diaper. The core question is, cloth or disposable? For Lauren Pignatello, Whitefield mother of seven and founder of Swallowtail Farm’s popular lines of yogurt, cheese and herbal concoctions, cloth rules. She’s held onto the best of her cloth diapers over the years, so by the time baby No. 7, Sparrow, came along, “I had quite a nice collection.” She also uses a wool cover over the cloth diapers.

“Diapers are a conundrum,” Shetterly says. She admits to some irrational guilt about not using cloth, but her reasoning was this: She’d have to find organic cotton diapers in order to avoid GMOs, and with two working parents – her husband commutes to Portsmouth from their home near Portland – washing diapers “was just too much.” Pingree wasn’t able to do it either, although she says she appreciates those who do.

If disposable, which ones? Actress and mother of two Jessica Alba started The Honest Company a few years ago to cater to the parents looking for assurance that their children are surrounded by only nontoxic products, including those closest to the body, like sunscreen and diapers. The buying public rejoiced, and the company was valued at over $1.7 billion by 2015. But The Honest Company has been sued twice and accused by plantiffs of using “a spectacular array of synthetic and toxic ingredients,” which makes some parents nervous about how honest The Honest Company is.

Shetterly and Pingree both opt for Seventh Generation diapers, made with wood pulp. It’s not ideal from Shetterly’s perspective – where is the wood pulp coming from? – but it’s the best choice for her. Camille Giglio of Three Lily Farm offers sustainable cooking classes and retreats and has an Etsy shop for its natural, Maine-made products, including natural ointment for diaper rash called Babies Bum Butter. She uses cloth diapers at home but when she and her husband, Frank, are on the road with their two boys, they use the disposable Nature babycare Naty line, certified made without GMO ingredients. But she, like Shetterly, reads the fine print on diapers and thinks, nothing is perfect. “You need chemical stuff in there that is going to absorb material,” Giglio said. “It can’t ever be 100-percent natural, which is a bummer… but sometimes you have to choose the best of whatever is available.”

For Cook, the policy is, to every parent his or her own. “No judgment. Enjoy your right to a few square cubic feet of landfill-topia. Your kid’s dirty diapers deserve it way more than industrial processors do.”


Our mothers used the kitchen sink to give us our first baths. Today’s parent is likely to use a plastic tub the size of a portly Labrador retriever. It could very well be made with BPAs, or bisphenol A (the ones that aren’t should be labeled as such). While the Food and Drug Administration has said that BPAs are safe to ingest at very low levels, many parents have questions about the long-term impacts of exposure to both BPAs and now, some of the substitutes used.

The tubs are also hard to dispose of, unless you have a friend who will take it and reuse it. The Salvation Army or Goodwill might tell you they don’t want it. (A member of the Press Herald staff was turned down at the Goodwill in Portland because the store didn’t want to be responsible for recalled goods).

Lauren Pignatello of Whitefield, her husband, Sean, and children, from left, Augustus, 15, Sparrow, 1, Royal, 10, Isabella, 19, Abijah, 11, Django, 18, and Abel, 6. Pignatello’s kids skipped the plastic sippy cups – “I had kids kind of young,” Pignatello says. “They’d get a drink, and that was it.” Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

Lauren Pignatello of Whitefield, her husband, Sean, and children, from left, Augustus, 15, Sparrow, 1, Royal, 10, Isabella, 19, Abijah, 11, Django, 18, and Abel, 6. Pignatello’s kids skipped the plastic sippy cups – “I had kids kind of young,” Pignatello says. “They’d get a drink, and that was it.” Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

Here’s one green solution. The Stokke Flexi bath is plastic but BPA- and lead-free and a rectangular shape that folds up. This means that it can serve other purposes after the child is ready for a full-sized tub, such as holding toys or storing cloths. But some parents eschew the baby tub altogether. Lauren Pignatello simply took her first six infants into the tub with her. Her seventh child, Sparrow, was scared of the big bathtub, so Pignatello uses a small vintage washtub. “It’s probably what they used 100 years ago,” she said.

Shetterly took baths with her first son, and when he was older and having a bath solo, used a towel at the bottom of the tub to keep him from slipping.

“Then along came my second child,” she said ruefully. Juggling all the work at home while managing her own career was too intense. She sent Dan to the store. “I had him get me one of those horrible plastic tubs,” she said. “I didn’t even have time to research.”

It happens. That’s why Cook is adamantly not “a moralizer about parental choices.”


Given her work with flame retardants, which are found in many types of household furniture and bedding, including many children’s mattresses, it’s not surprising that Pingree sees getting the right bedding as a vital issue for parents. “I think investing in an organic crib mattress is worth it because of the flame retardants and other toxic chemicals,” she says.

Avery Yale Kamila, a Press Herald columnist who writes about vegetarianism, used an organic cotton-lined Moses basket when her son was an infant, with a flame retardant-free mattress, and graduated him to a modern crib with an organic, flame retardant-free mattress from The Clean Bedroom. (The chemicals in flame retardants include carcinogens and government studies have demonstrated that they offer no life-saving protection during fires.)

“I know some moms locally who opted to mattress-wrap (enveloping the mattress in a safe cover) rather than buy the organic mattresses, which are pricey,” Kamila says. Another option? The one Kamila arrived at without planning to, co-sleeping in her bed, which has an organic latex mattress.

Choosing what the child should wear to sleep in is another subject of debate. Organic cotton only for parents like Shetterly and Kamila, and Pingree sticks to cotton as well. “It doesn’t usually matter what brand,” she says. Anything synthetic is likely to have been treated with a flame retardant, including fleece. But in Maine winters, a little fleece is a fine thing. If they’re hand-me-downs, “the chemicals do wash out after many washes,” Pingree says, specifying about 15.

Pignatello swears by old-fashioned wool garments for her children, most of which she found secondhand (and within her own big family, have been passed from child to child). “Sometimes you might pay $20 for a shirt secondhand, but if you keep them nice and wash them by hand they’ll last forever.”


About those sippy cups. “Pointless,” Marada Cook says. Also, “gross” since they tend to fall under car seats, leak, ferment and grow mold.

This is, in our experience, absolutely true. But what is the alternative?

“Drink something and be done with it,” Cook says. Her second and third children have survived a sippy cup-free life. Cook also avoids packaged food and says her children will never get a Lunchable. “There’s so much marketing hype pushing packaged for kids,” she says. “I don’t dig it.”

Pignatello skipped sippy cups too, mostly because she didn’t know better. “I had kids kind of young,” she laughed. “I just gave her a cup.” She continued in that vein with her other children. “They’d get a drink, and that was it.”

But some kids need to be pushed to hydrate, or need a bottle to drink pumped breast milk or formula from (not everyone lactates easily). Metal straws that can be washed have been a boon for many green families. Giglio and Kamila both use glass bottles from Life Factory, which have a silicon covering to cut down on breakage. Kamila also uses a metal thermos with a straw and Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottles. Shetterly likes the Pure Company’s silicon sippy cup, but she deliberately has only one.

“Two would probably make my life so much easier, but you can make do with just one of these things,” she said. She also packs lunches for her older son in stainless steel containers, and keeps just three of those on hand. “There is this worst-case scenario sense out there, that people think we need to stockpile more and more.”


Quick, when is the last time you saw a forlorn baby glider sitting on the curb waiting for someone to claim it? Last weekend? Us too. These ungainly, mass-manufactured pieces of furniture don’t exactly convert to regular use after the baby has hit the toddler stage. Are they necessary? Ask Pignatello, a woman who jokes that after nursing for 20 straight years, she must be ready for the Guinness Book of World Records. “I barely even had a rocking chair.”

Shetterly agrees. “You don’t need any of that.”

Giglio has been using one she picked up for $10 at a yard sale. Or rather, her mother has been using it. “I am always walking around or using the carrier,” she said.

High chairs are another area where these parents look for versions that can be repurposed, like the Stokke wooden chair that “grows” with the child and can be converted to a decent-looking youth chair, extending its usefulness by several years.


“The circle of neglect” as one Press Herald editor refers to the circular plastic walkers with wheels that allow pre-walking babies to push themselves around from an upright position, are not popular with the green set.

“They make them sit up before they are able to sit up on their own,” Giglio said. “Their bodies really aren’t ready to be doing that.”

Ditto for the indoor swings that hang from door frames.

“I really don’t like unnecessary gear,” Giglio said. Or plastic. Most of her children’s toys are wooden or made from other natural materials, and she said friends who pass things down to them get that they’re not interested in plastic baby gear. “I don’t even want to use the word ‘particular’ because it makes us sound nerdy,” she added. “We just really enjoy the natural things, and we don’t want to create any more waste.”

There is an exception.

“We kind of bend the plastic rule for Legos only,” she said.

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