Why You Should Consider Using Cloth Diapers Instead Of Disposables.


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If you have (or are soon to have) a child in diapers, remember that there are great alternatives to those big packages of disposable diapers that everyone seems to use. Did you know that almost 20 billion plastic diapers get thrown into landfills each year, and studies estimate that they each can take up to 500 years to decompose? That’s a lot of unnecessary trash that we could all do without…never mind the groundwater that gets contaminated with the petroleum in the diapers and the run-off from the fecal matter. Plus, it takes around 3.4 billion gallons of oil and over 200,000 trees a year to make disposable diapers for American babies alone. Yikes.

See, disposable diapers are lined with plastic…the elastics, the snaps, the shell – all made from petroleum. Do you really want this rubbing on your child’s body all day and night? Add to that the “magic” gel or powder that supposedly absorbs X amount of times it’s weight in waste – that stuff is normally made from super-absorbent gelling materials (usually sodium polyacrylate) which is “linked to an increase in childhood asthma and a decrease in sperm count among boys.” And how is this for things only getting worse:

Sodium polyacrylate has been linked in the past to toxic shock syndrome, allergic reactions and is very harmful and potentially lethal to pets. Some dyes and dioxin according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is known to cause damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver. The (FDA) Food & Drug Administration has received reports that fragrances in disposables caused headaches, dizziness and rashes. Problems reported to the Consumer Protection Agency regarding disposables include, chemical burns, noxious chemical and insecticide odors, babies pulling disposables apart and putting pieces of plastic into their noses and mouth, choking on tab papers and linings, plastic melting onto the skin, and ink staining the skin.

When you use cloth diapers, the waste (water and fecal matter) goes where it is supposed to go – the septic or sewer system, not in the ground somewhere to sit. You buy the diapers once and you wash them. That’s it. You can even line dry them, saving energy at the dryer. They can be used for years without putting any trash into the landfills. Sure, it uses water to wash them, but it is the equivalent of a few flushed toilets a day, which is way less harmful to the environment than toxic and non-biodegradable materials in a landfill. In 2008, an updated lifecycle assessment study for disposable and reusable nappies by the UK Environment Agency and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stated that reusable diapers can cause significantly less (up to 40%) or significantly more damage to the environment than disposable ones, depending mostly on how parents wash and dry them. That’s a huge difference. You can buy ones made from organic cotton, so you know that no pesticides were used in their creation, and you can wash with biodegradable and non-toxic soaps. There tends to be way less diaper rash with cotton diapers, because parents tend to change kids more often because their waste is not just being partially absorbed and spread around. Plus, there are studies that show that kids who are put in cloth diapers instead of disposables tend to get out of them sooner…because they are interested in getting out of sitting in their own waste!

Using natural diapers instead of disposables also saves you money because you can buy one pack of cloth diapers and use them over and over again. One of the biggest expenses that families have is buying diapers week after week, so this definitely cuts down on that expense. And who couldn’t use to save a few bucks, even if you don’t care about the environment? If you cannot switch entirely to cloth diapers for whatever reason, you can always try the biodegradable diapers from companies like g-Diapers for when you are out in public, which use an underwear-like outside shell and biodegradable inserts.

Plastic disposables use 20 times more raw materials, 3 times more energy, 2 times more water and generate 60 times more solid waste than cloth diapers. Which do you think is the more eco-friendly way to go, reusable cloth or disposable plastic diapers?

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  1. I highly recommend Bum Genius 3.0 AIO diapers. You can register for them on target.com (which is a popular place for baby registries), which is what we did and we had all of the diapers gifted to us. They are wonderful and contain much better than disposables. They are much easier to use that most people envision.

    Sadly, my son has developed a polyester allergy, which is what most cloth diapers and cloth diaper covers are made of. I’m looking into wool covers since I am pretty certain we don’t want to do disposables (which is what we are doing right now out of necessity, 7th generation and earth’s best brands).

    Good post. Thank you.

  2. I used cloth diapers for my children. I had three in diapers all at once and every night I did a load of diapers. The washing was no big deal at the time, and I was working full time. Children in cloth diapers potty train easier. 🙂

  3. You can reduce your footprint even more by taking advantage of the absorbent qualities of other fabrics, too. I have a less-than-green friend that bought new towels for all her bathrooms just because she wanted a change. I snagged the old ones and easily made a big pile of diapers that work just as good as the prefolds from my first child. I also have a couple a friend made from some old flannel sheets. The homemade microfiber ones I snagged off freecycle work great, too.

  4. I’d like to expand the comparison in this post a bit by suggesting a middle way. My suggestion is that parents and new parents should consider compostable diapers. Compostable diapers offer the convenience of disposable diapers, but have none of the environmental damage attached. Usually, so long as you don’t purchase your compostable diapers and wipes through Amazon and you buy compostable diapers through a composting service that composts the dirty diapers and wipes (let’s not forget the wipes) through a professional high heat composting process that yields rich compost which can be used by local gardners to grow non-food crops and turf at golf courses, for example.

    We have been using compostable diapers, for over a year now, and a local composting service costs $29.99 a month, not including diapers. They come once a week and pick up the dirty diapers and haul them to the high heat composter for you- virtually nothing goes to the landfill.

    Some may say that $29.99 is expensive, but like organic food, if something is important to you, you can/will find a way to afford it. The only limiting factor right now is that this compostable diaper service is probably not available in very many places yet, but I am confident that it soon will be.

  5. I have a 4 week old boy, and it was clear from the start that we’d be using cloth diapers.

    Luckily, the initial investment was made cheaper because the city of Vienna offers a 100 Euro coupon if you decide to use cloth diapers (a big help), so we ended up with a bill of 200 Euros for a whole set of diapers including flushable fleece and inlays. Now we bought another set second-hand for 40 Euros which has already been used for 3 kids before – talk about re-using!

    They work wonderfully, and have nearly zero footprint when line-dried and used with kitchen towel and warm water instead of wipes.

    On a weekend away, we decided to use disposables. Aside from the massive amount of waste we produced in ONE weekend, wiping was also a lot harder with disposables (as they absorb all the moisture, and the poop sticks to the bum).

    Suffice to say, I’m not regretting the decision to go with cloth diapers. It’s saving us a load of money in the long run, and producing infinitely less waste. The only downside is that you keep getting funny looks at the doctor’s office…I guess not enough people use them yet, which is a shame.

    I can’t think of a single reason to use disposables at home. When on the road, it’s a different issue, of course.

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