COVENTRY — Jennifer and Melissa Schroeder Rondeau reckon that since April they have kept 16,800 disposable diapers out of the state landfill.
That feat may not seem noteworthy at first glance, until you realize it takes a disposable diaper, at best, about 250 to 500 years to decompose.
"The state Department of Environmental Management told us that dumping untreated soiled disposable diapers into the landfill is the third largest source of pollution in the state," says Melissa. "It can take several hundred years for the decomposition of disposables to take place, with some of the plastic material never decomposing."
The fact is, Melissa says, disposable diapers are harmful to the environment: The untreated waste placed in landfills by dirty disposable diapers can also contaminate groundwater.
And that's just the beginning of a long list of problems Melissa says are associated with disposable nappies.
As a young environmentally conscious couple with children of their own, the Schroeder Rondeaus wanted a more eco-friendly alternative and decided to use 100 percent cotton cloth diapers for their two kids.
"We were sitting on the beach one day reminiscing about the cloth diaper services that existed before mega corporations created disposables," Melissa says. "We missed the tight-knit communities that had seemingly gone the way of cloth diapers, and ceased to exist."
In making the choice to go cloth with their own children, the Schroeder Rondeaus — both of whom have degrees and extensive backgrounds in business, marketing and pschology —also saw an opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind green business in Rhode Island that, by all accounts, appears to be taking off.
On Earth Day of this year, the two eco entrepreneurs launched Mama Earth, an organic body care company and eco-aware cloth diaper service.
"We knew we could sit and discuss the woes of our planet all day, but to really make a difference, we needed to take action. And so, from the seeds of that conversation on the beach, Mama Earth was born," says Melissa, a 1993 graduate of Woonsocket High School.
Mama earth is the only cloth diaper service in the state, but it is a service that seems to be growing in popularity with the emerging influence of the Green movement. In just the past two years alone, 1,800 similar cloth diaper services have sprouted up around the country.
Coventry-based Mama Earth picks up soiled diapers and delivers clean, folded diapers to your door. The startup currently has customers all over the state, including Providence, Middletown, Bristol and Raynham, and currently has licensing prospects in Franklin, Mass., San Diego and Phoenix.
"Our customers belong to a global community dedicated to reducing waste and eliminating unnecessary chemicals from everyday life," Melissa says. "They take action by supporting small brands, like ours, with a commitment to organic, handcrafted products that restore balance to local economies. Our customers don't just blindly buy 'green.' Instead, Mama Earth customers are conscious of what their products are made of and who is making them."
Mama Earth’s diaper service provides pick-up and delivery on a weekly basis. Each week, on the same day of the week, a Mama Earth representative arrives at a customer's home with fresh and fluffy cloth diapers. Soiled diapers are picked up in exchange for a customer's weekly supply of new ones.
The soiled diapers are brought to a laundry facility in Cranston where they are rigorously washed in a commercial washing machine and then dried and folded.
A Mama Earth representative carefully counts the number of diapers to be delivered, then packs the diapers in a fresh bag with a clean liner.
"We neatly fold and stack diapers inside a diaper bag, so it’s easy to re-stock a nursery," Melissa says.
Today's cloth diapers aren't like the ones babies wore years ago. For one, they no longer require sharp pins to fasten. Contemporary cloth diapers use snaps or Velcro. Mama Earth's pre-folded cloth diapers can also be used with revolutionary Tuck & Go diaper covers that also fasten with snaps or Velcro.
"Today's cloth diapers are built to be purely functional, eco-friendly, and adaptable to any lifestyle," Melissa says.
Not only are cloth diapers good for the environment, they're good for baby as well.
Melissa says disposal diapers contain dyes, sodium polyacrylate absorbent gel, and dioxin, a by-product of bleaching paper that is banned in most countries other than the U.S. Scientific research has found a link between sodium polyacrylate and toxic shock syndrome and allergic reactions. Sodium polyacrylate is also harmful enough to be deadly to pets.
The Environmental Protection Agency, she says, has found that the dyes and dioxin used in disposable diapers can cause damage to the central nervous system, kidneys and liver.
Melissa says the use of disposable diapers can increase incidences of diaper rash. According to the Journal of Pediatrics, 54 percent of one-month old babies using disposable diapers had rashes, 16 percent having severe rashes.
"Scientists have linked male infertility and testicular cancer to disposable diapers, and they can raise the temperature of baby boys' reproductive organs, affecting their development," she says.
"Cloth diapers, on the other hand, are healthy, safe, comfortable, affordable, environmentally friendly, potty-training accelerators. There's really no comparison."
In addition to its cloth diaper service, Mama Earth is an organic body care company that offers a line of shampoos, moisturizers and body wash with vegan, plant-based ingredients.
The Rondeaus consulted with herbalists, doctors and university professors to come up with a formula of organic ingredients mixed with raw plants and vitamins to replenish the skin. All products are free of parabens, petrochemicals, and harmful or synthetic ingredients. Bottles and jars are gently handcrafted by local artisans."
Melissa and Jennifer are passionate about fair trade and "supporting a culture of respect throughout the globe."
As a result, Mama Earth supports local artisans who handcraft its products and packaging, and sources products from organic farmers, who in-turn can support their families and communities.
"Our diaper service licensing opportunities help spread eco-friendly business opportunities to regions across the nation," Melissa says. "At Mama Earth, our business is small, but we dream big. This is the attitude that has enabled us to have a global impact on families and communities around the world."
Next month, Mama Earth will announce plans to launch its own line of homemade baby food. The business is planning to partner with local chefs to make baby food using organic produce grown on local farms.
"We're proud of out business and feel like we're not only contributing to the health of babies, but to the health of the state as well," Melissa says.
For more information on Mama Earth, visit their Web site at www.mamaearthonline.com .
For additional information about the diaper service or their line of organic body care products, call (401) 626-2995 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .