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Amazon Enters the Diaper Business With Promises of Transparency

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Data & Technology

Amazon has certainly taken plenty of heat over the past several years. The giant online mall has long been criticized for dragging its feet on disclosing its carbon footprint (but never mind, you can of course buy a book about how to reduce your own CO2 impact). Its treatment of workers has also come under scrutiny. Nevertheless the company has tried to tout its “green” credentials, though most observers would only agree its greatest progress has been on frustration-free packaging.

Now the Seattle-based company is promoting Amazon Elements, a line of high-quality “everyday essentials” that supposedly are tested on Amazon employees' families. Curiously, the launch of this Elements line is, for now, limited to disposable diapers and baby wipes. For now these products are only available to Prime customers, but anyone can subscribe to Amazon’s newsletters to see what future offerings are in store.

So, why nappies and wipes? Well, despite the declining birthrate in the U.S., the baby care market is actually growing — it could reach almost $69 billion by 2017. And more of that proportion year after year will be sold online. After all, diapers and wipes are items parents want in plentiful supply — no one wants to be caught with an empty diaper bag or have to make a midnight run for an emergency package. Hence Diapers.com has a steadily growing business — one Amazon would love to, pardon the pun, wipe out.

But Amazon is also going after some of the more “sustainable” baby care products that are currently sold on its site. For example, 40 diapers from Honest Company, one of the more popular eco-friendly diaper brands, retails for just under $30. Contrast that to a box of 200 (about one month’s supply) from Amazon Elements, which are available for about $35.00 — if you subscribe and join “Amazon Mom;” otherwise the price for a one-off purchase is $43.00. If you are a loyal Seventh Generation customer, a supply of 180 diapers that are the first Forest Stewardship Council-certified on the market will set you back about $54 — and they contain no bleach.

Which brand is more sustainable is more a matter of perspective. Amazon emphasizes transparency, so users can track each product’s origins and date of manufacture. Honest Company touts more of its eco-friendly credentials: Instead of tree pulp, absorbency is in part due to a corn- and wheat-based blend in each diaper’s core. Honest Company also uses less sodium polyacrylate, a super absorbent sodium salt that helps keep a baby’s bum dry. Both companies say they avoid latex, perfume and chlorine in their products. Amazon’s description is far more detailed — but claims of caring and transparency will most likely not be enough to sway consumers wary of Amazon’s business practices. Of course, the big question is: What’s next for Amazon Elements? Clearly baby care is only the start as Amazon has its crosshairs on two of its biggest competitors, Walmart and Target. Whether consumers, and workers, truly win in the long run is yet to be seen.

After a year in the Middle East and Latin America, Leon Kaye is based in California again. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Other thoughts of his are on his site, greengopost.com.

Image credit: Amazon


Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

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