On Choosing Greener Diapers.

January 18, 2009

Dear EarthTalk: My husband and I are expecting a child and we’re concerned about the environmental impacts of disposable diapers. I remember the old cloth diapers with pins that my mom used. Are there any new developments in the cloth diapering field?

A growing number of green-minded parents are starting to recognize the health and ecological benefits of reusable cloth diapers over disposables. Most brands of disposables are made from petroleum-derived plastic and wood fiber, some 250,000 trees fall each year to feed America’s disposable diaper addiction.

According to The Green Guide, 95 percent of U.S. families now use disposable diapers – to the tune of as many as 8,000 per child. As a result, 3.5 million tons of them clog landfills each year. Accompanying these diapers, of course, is untreated fecal matter and urine that can easily contaminate the groundwater surrounding landfills. Pathogens in this waste can be spread far and wide by insects and animals.

Furthermore, the process of bleaching disposable diapers to make sure they are as white as possible before they get to consumers leads to the generation of the chemical dioxin, which besides being potentially harmful to factory workers and the environment surrounding manufacturing facilities, can show up in trace amounts in the diapers themselves, potentially exposing babies’ skin to a dangerous carcinogen.

Despite such drawbacks, the convenience factor still wins out for most of us. Old memories of hard-to-fasten stinky cloth diapers collecting in a pail are enough to drive anyone to abandon their best intentions when it comes to diaper-change time. But heightened eco-awareness in recent years has led to a profusion of reusable diaper choices, and enlightened consumers owe it to themselves to take another look.

Today reusable cloth diapers come in many different styles, but the common elements are an absorbent liner, ideally made out of organic cotton or hemp fleece, and a waterproof cover. In some cases these two elements can be separated and washed separately; in others they are combined into one washable unit. Most varieties come with Velcro-style closures that obviate the need for the safety pins of days gone by.

And diaper laundering services do still exist, see if there’s one near you at www.diapernet.org/locate.htm; but parents interested in minimizing their environmental impact on the cheap will wash their reusables at home (without bleach) and dry them on the line. According to Mothering Magazine, some of the best brands are Under the Nile, FuzBaby, Oskri, LizsCloth, Cloud9Softies and PeacefulMoon.

For those who just can’t give up the convenience of disposables, several brands offer a kinder, gentler alternative to Pampers and Huggies. Disposables from Nature Boy and Girl, Seventh Generation, Tushies and TenderCare get high marks for their use of absorbent, chlorine-free materials and, in some cases, biodegradability. And gDiapers offers reusable, washable cotton diaper covers over flushable liners.

Some local health food stores will carry these brands, or look online for e-commerce vendors such as Evo, Leslie’s Boutique, Cotton Babies, Green Mountain Diapers and Nikki’s Diapers, among many others.

CONTACTS: www.evo.com; www.lesliesboutique.com; www.cottonbabies.com; www.greenmountaindiapers.com; www.nikkisdiapers.com.

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 USA; submit it at EarthTalk; or e-mail us. Read past columns at our archives.

Green PolkaDot Box
Filed in: Children • Tags: ,

About the Author:

After a varied past of being a test driver for automotive television programs, a Hollywood studio lackey, and an online media sales director, David is now the publisher and editor of The Good Human. In his spare time he rides motorcycles, drinks good beer, and builds stuff in the garage. You can follow him on Twitter at @thegoodhuman or G+ at Google
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Comments (7)

  1. David says:

    Ahh hives, I know them well. Had a terrible outbreak for almost a year, and it turned out to be, I think, a new carpet. Glad you figured out a way around it, and are liking cloth!

  2. I use cloth on my toddler because she is allergic to the chemicals in disposables. At first it was hard to get used to, but after a few wash loads (and some detergent allergies as well) I had the hang of it. Now she wears cloth full time, even at night, and we wash them in soap nuts. No more hives!

    Fuzzi Bunz is far and away my favorite brand for fit, ease of washing, and absorbancy. We’ve tried quite a few types borrowed from friends, and bought as samples.

    Welcome to the cloth diapering journey… and may it lead you to cloth mama products too…

  3. Elizabeth says:

    My husband and I are expecting our first this June and I refuse to use traditional disposables. We are looking into using the Bum Genius all in one diapers. They seem very convenient and easy to use, no diapering service necessary and MUCH MUCH cheaper than other cloth (and disposable) diapers. I know initially they seem more expensive, but I’ve seen recommendations for only buying 18 and they last you until the child is potty trainer. $500 for all of your cloth diapers or $1000 a year for for disposables. Seems like an easy decision to me! We are planning to supplement GDiaper use when we’re out and about but they’re just so expensive to use all the time that we can’t afford to let them be our only diapering method.

  4. DiaperDandy says:

    There are also environmentally friendly disposable options. Obviously not reusable but a step in the right direction for those who still want to use disposables.

  5. David says:

    Great points Greg, too many people just say “no” without even trying them, thinking disposables are easier and cleaner. Often, thats not the truth at all…

  6. lavardera says:

    Cloth diapers are a classic spend more upfront, spend less in the long run scenario. There are lots of other reasons why they are better, no sense spooling through them here again. For me the big question is why wouldn’t you use them? People have all kinds of notions as to why – its going to be more trouble, they don’t work as well, the diaper hamper will smell, all false. I’d say if you want more trouble for your diapering, you want more smell, you want more discomfort for your baby, you want more expense, you want another large package to haul with your shopping, you want a stupid reason to dislike one of the many activities with your baby, then by all means use disposables. Your bound to come out of it thinking that generally diapers and everything associated with them are a bad thing, to be stuffed in a diaper genie and forgotten as fast as possible.

  7. Melanie says:

    And cloth diapers are also better for your baby’s behind: no chlorine, no chemicals, they are softer and don’t cause as much skin irritation. Some say they will also help potty train your kid earlier, because they don’t keep his skin as dry, so it’s a little less “comfortable”. My baby is only 10 days old, and we are about to start with the cloth diapers. We used the seventh generation disposables in the meantime, but I’m really upset that they are not biodegradable. By the way, nothing will degrade nicely in a landfill, but you can compost the Moltex diapers and Gdiapers inserts (urine only).