Two things before I launch into this carefully-researched post:
1- This post is in no way sponsored by any re-usable pouch makers! I consulted with some companies while doing my research but this post is not affiliated in any way with any company.
2- This post is not about shaming you for using disposable food pouches! I would like to offer up some food for thought (pun intended) since I think we can all make small changes to our consumer habits that will have a big impact on our planet and our wallets.
So, what’s my beef?
Baby food in disposable, slurpable pouches are all the rage. They are readily available, extremely convenient and kids seem to be gulping down their fruits and veggies on-the-go everywhere I go.
Good things about baby food pouches:
- They have raised awareness about organic and non-GMO products and perhaps encouraged more families to choose organic foods and to consider the ingredients in prepared baby foods.
- Many of the smaller companies were founded by “Mom and Pop” type teams. (Though Nestle owns Gerber, which has 30% of the market [source]).
- If I’m choosing between kids eating Happy Meals or organic fruits and vegetables in a squeeze pouch, I am obviously going to vote for the squeeze pouches.
- Because pouches are lighter than glass jars, the transportation costs and carbon footprint of said transport is less.
My primary concerns are:
- Babies were eating just fine 5 years ago, pre-pouch: this “innovation” is not filling a need, it has created one.
- The marketing of these products is geared towards the category of parent who would be most likely to make her own baby food but is swayed by the “super food” ingredients (quinoa, kamut) and the all-natural, organic fruits and vegetables. (I count myself among those who was originally impressed by this!)
- Families are often on tight budgets, and these pouches are extremely expensive when you consider buying the ingredients yourself.
- Squeeze pouches are destined for the landfill: aside from the limited reach of a TerraCycle Brigade for Ella’s Kitchen pouches, the caps and pouches are not recyclable and are thus yet another convenience product that serves its purpose for about 10 minutes then hits the trash.
- The squeeze pouch industry raked in 1.5 billion dollars in 2012. (source)
- 40% of new baby food products come in pouches. (source)
- Nest Collective, retailer of Plum Organics (one of the first pouch-brands to hit shelves) saw 3000% growth from 2007-2010. (source)
- Demand for all types of food products in pouches is predicted to reach 9.4 billion dollars in the US alone by 2018. (source)
I kinda thought they were an awesome idea…. until I didn’t anymore.
When I first saw these pouches on store shelves, I admit they seemed pretty ingenious: kids can feed themselves without having to manipulate a spoon. No need to cart around heavy jars of baby food or toss sticky spoons back in the diaper bag. And as a bonus, these pouches seem to have sprung up alongside a tendency to offer healthy, organic options in the baby and children’s food market.
Now, I am one of those crunchy Mamas who doesn’t buy much prepared food for her baby. I’m not saying NONE, I’m saying I do make a concerted effort to make as much as I can from scratch and buy in bulk. As for purées, I never needed them since we did baby-led-weaning. Cub has always just eaten (or thrown on the floor) whatever I’ve got in the fridge. I bought a reusable food pouch for him, was excited to fill it with a delicious yogurt smoothie… which he delighted in squirting everywhere except his mouth. I tried a couple of the disposable food pouches for travel, and the result was the same: he wore the food. Quite frankly, if these pouches had proved a reliable way to get some healthy food into him, I’d probably have ended up buying many, many more before my little wake up call.
After working with David Suzuki’s Queen of Green this spring and truly thinking about every single item we throw in the trash, I had a light bulb when I received a food pouch as a free sample in an order from Well.ca. Firstly, Cub still refused to slurp and preferred to spill, secondly… what was I supposed to do with the pouch once it was empty?
Unless they are part of a TerraCycle brigade in your area, baby food pouches are not recyclable.
Even their caps, though made of a recyclable plastic, should technically go in the garbage based on all of my research (this is the same for all small caps). Having visited the St. Michel Recycling Centre with my students on multiple occasions, I can attest to the floor being literally littered with small plastic items that simply don’t make it through the conveyor belt (and, in fact, risk jamming the machines).
Creating a need to revive a declining sector, they got us good!
For a whole plethora of valid reasons, parents like to buy prepared baby food. The main format for baby food has, for decades, been the glass jar. While pouch-producers will argue that the glass jar is heavier to transport and therefore has a bigger footprint than light-weight pouches (see Sprout FAQ), I would counter that baby food jars can be reused and eventually recycled.
According to this article at Organic.org, the average American baby consumes 600 jars of baby food per year. However, the industry was, until the advent of pouches, seeing a steady decline as more and more parents decided to make their own food.
I would argue that the ingenuity of pairing convenient pouches with organic purees has converted parents who might have originally planned to make their own food to opting for pouches, since the marketing is very carefully targeted to this demographic. As Maria at Mommyish says, “Who needs to [make your own food] when you can get organic red lentils and quinoa in baby food pouches?”
Purées serve the purpose of feeding babies who are too little chew their food. With baby-led weaning gaining in popularity, purées are less and less popular with parents. So baby food manufacturers have started pushing their purées as healthy snacks even for kids with plenty of teeth. Parents now see “baby food” as a portable smoothie. You’d never see a 4 year-old eating strawberries from a jar of baby food at the park, but sucking it back from a pouch: even adults are doing it! (source)
Earth’s Best CMO admits: “It’s allowing us to age up. Where moms may have stopped baby food at 9 to 12 months, the pouches have really helped extend the shelf life of baby food,” she says. “We see growth for a long time to come.” (source)
I’m not saying the food-pouch-posse are evil: if anything, they’ve really cornered the market, and, in the case of many of the smaller companies, they have the very respectable prerogative of getting more children eating fresh(er) fruits and vegetables that are organic.
But let’s face it: it’s 2014, people. We cannot afford to be adding to the overwhelming amount of single-use, single-serving, 100% not-reusable nor recyclable items available at our supermarkets!
How can we do better?
- Obviously, the best way is to stop buying them and certainly to not adopt them for ourselves as adults, too! We are grown ups and we can use straws and glass bottles: we do not need our smoothies to come in a pouch, no matter how busy we are. Also, we have teeth.
- If you are devoted to using squeeze pouches, demand that manufacturers develop ways to recycle them or develop packaging that is more readily recyclable. Ella’s Kitchen has a TerraCycle Brigade; Plum Organics claims to be working on an “upcycle” option; Love Child offers this idea for reusing the pouch lids and insists that the environmental impact of pouches is significantly less than plastic bottles, Tetra packs and glass. (source)
- If your kids are addicted to the pouches, buy reusable pouches that you fill yourself. (There are tons of different brands on the market!)
- If making your own purées/smoothies is out of the question, choose larger quantities in glass jars that you can then portion out into smaller, reusable containers. (ex: large glass jars of apple sauce)
- Opt for single-serving, wrapped snacks that use less packaging if you’re not buying in bulk and using your own containers.
- It’s not really hard to pack a (reusable) spoon in your diaper bag…