Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Diaper Decision

When I became a mom, I had to answer the age old question: cloth or disposable diapers? At first glance some eco-moms may say to use the reusable cloth diapers (of course), but they aren’t as eco-friendly as you might think. While disposable diapers ultimately end up as landfill, cloth diapers require a lot of energy and water to clean them. It ends up, that the environmental impact of your diaper choice depends on how launder your diapers. Here are some of the basic facts about diaper use, according to the Sierra Club:

  • The average child will use over 6,000 diapers during diaper wearing years
  • 28 billion disposable diapers are trucked to U.S. landfills each year
  • Washing cloth diapers in a full load with water at or below 140 degrees Fahrenheit, line drying the diapers, and reusing them for a second child would reduce your global warming impact by 40%, as compared to using disposable diapers.
  • BUT using a dryer for the diapers and using water above 140 degrees, your impact could be 75% worse than using just disposable diapers.
  • In the 2.5 years a child might be using a diaper, reusables would cost between $400 and $1,700, including diapers, laundry detergents, water, and electricity while using disposables would cost about $2,500.

How to choose? Let me sum up the pros and cons of each option, and then you can make the best decision for yourself.

Reusable Cloth diapers (photo by simplyla):

  • Less landfill for the Earth
  • Cost efficient
  • Significantly less chemicals released into the environment and exposed to your baby through skin contact
  • You need to take time to clean them well or you have to pay for a service to clean them for you (which also adds to the overall energy used for you diapers)
  • Cleaning process uses energy and water
  • It takes more skill to put one on so it won’t leak

Disposable diapers:
  • Easy and convenient
  • Very leak proof
  • There are eco-friendly options (chlorine-free, recycled, biodegradable, etc.)
  • Expensive over time
  • Add to landfill and to chemicals released into the environment
  • Energy intensive in production
  • Contain harsh chemicals and plastics that aren’t good for your baby (unless you use eco-diapers)

What do I use? I use reusable cloth diapers because although they are less convenient, I feel that overall they are much better for the environment. I make sure I wash my cloth diapers in an energy efficient washing machine, in a full load with warm, not hot, water. I also use eco-friendly detergent (see my blog post on eco-friendly detergent for more info), and I hang my diapers on a clothes line to dry (inside in the winter, outside in the summer). I also have a HUGE stash of cloth diapers so I don’t have to constantly do laundry. With cloth diapers I am not contributing to landfill where typical disposable diapers can sit and leak chemicals into the environment. I am also saving the energy it takes to produce a disposable diaper and transport it to your local grocery store. And in time, I will have saved a lot of money too!

*When buying reusable diapers, the best green options are made from organic, natural fibers.

Sometimes when we travel or have to leave home for a while (trips to Grandma’s, day adventures in the National Park) I bring along eco-friendly disposable diapers. Although I think reusable diapers are the best option for the planet, sometimes you need the convenience of disposable ones. When I buy disposable diapers, I make sure to get chlorine-free, eco-diapers. Here’s a new one I came across that you can flush (not such a good option in my opinion) or compost (better yet!):

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