Traditional disposable baby diapers create plenty of problems for parents, babies and the planet, such as…
- Disposable diapers cost you more money in the long run than reusable diapers. Depending on the type of disposables you purchase, using reusable diapers can save you anywhere from $600-$2,000+.
- Most research suggest that 250 to 500 years is a conservative guess as to how long disposable diapers will sit in the landfill after you toss them.
- Disposable diapers are 100% gross. They’re stuffed with icky SAP.
- Pesticides, perfume, latex, chemicals and plastic (made with non-renewable oil) are all present in disposable diapers. Of course you can’t stick this stuff on your baby and not see some negative health effects.
- See an entire page of resourced facts regarding the benefits of reusable diapers over disposable.
The ongoing debate – cloth vs. disposable:
Some people seem confused about the life-cycle of cloth vs. disposable diapers – for example, both Jeffrey Hollender, CEO of Seventh Generation and WebMD (among others) have said that disposables and cloth diapers are the same in terms of how they cause harm to the environment. Really, though that’s just not true.
Thus far the most comprehensive study to date comparing disposables and cloth is a study by the UK Environment Agency and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (pdf). The study notes that “The average 2006 disposable nappy would result in a global warming impact of approximately 550kg of carbon dioxide equivalents used” while a child is in diapers and that reusable diapers will result in either 370-570kg of carbon dioxide depending on how you wash them and if you reuse them for a second child.
In the end, this study notes that cloth diapers are more eco-friendly than disposables but only if you wash them correctly – i.e. not tumble drying, washing on warm not hot, washing fuller loads and so on. If you wash cloth diapers incorrectly the study notes that disposables are a better eco-choice.
I think this study is missing some major points though:
- The study assumes you wash on warm. You can wash cloth diapers in cold water – so forget the whole, “BUT cloth diapers use up too much energy because of hot / warm water!“
- This study assumes that all kids are in diapers for just 2.5 years. Many little ones in the United States are in some form of diapers for longer than this.
- This study bases its findings on the assumption that the average baby goes through about 4 diapers a day. FOUR!? I WISH my son had only gone through four diapers a day. I’m sorry, but I’ve been around kids forever and I’ve never ever met a baby who has, on average 4 diaper changes a day. It’s always far more.
- The study doesn’t take organic reusable diapers into consideration. Organic cotton reduces the footprint of reusable diapers by cutting down on chemicals and pesticides leached into the soil, air and water.
- The study assumes cloth diapers have a short life. The study notes that your reusable footprint with reusable diapers is lowered if you reuse the diapers for a second child. However, most cloth diapers rock so hard that you can use them for a lot longer than two kids. I’ve seen families use the same cloth diapers for three kids. I myself have cloth diapers from when Cedar was a baby (8 years ago) that I still use for cleaning which also means I don’t use paper towels thus lowering the cloth diaper footprint even more. Honestly, these cleaning diapers are still going strong – that’s 8+ years of use.
What do you think about the reusable vs. disposable debate – which do you think is a more eco-friendly choice?