August 1, 2009
more diaper talk
cloth v. disposable - the discussion goes on...
I never thought I'd engage in so much talk about diapers. Back when I was single and when the new little one in my house wasn't even a twinkle in my eye yet, I used to get really aggravated at all the diaper talk that would take place among the mamas in my book club. Discussions about plot and character were routinely subverted by diaper chat. Who knew these yucky little waste landing-pads could be such a rich topic of discussion? And yet, here we are. How things do change.
So there's a sweet new baby in my life, which means my partner and I had to figure out what to do about diapers, and Lisa's recent post on the subject prompted me to write this follow-up. Like Lisa, I leaned towards cloth from the first, because the mountain of trash from disposables blows my mind, and because cloth just feels better and more natural to me (hey, it's what my mom used). But I also wanted to make a really responsible environmental choice, and diapers - whichever kind you choose - carry a huge environmental impact. As I came to find out, cloth and disposable are pretty much equally bad for the planet. So you get to make your choice based on what's best for your family, and then you just have to do penance in some other way for what you're doing to the earth. Like not have any more kids. Ha ha!
Before the Little Pea was born, I signed up for a local diaper service - two working parents just weren't going to be able to swing washing our own diapers, and our rather aged washing machine would waste so much water in the process that it seemed doubly crazy to wash our own. I'd heard all the talk that cloth is just as bad as disposable for the environment because of water use and detergent, but I'd always pooh-poohed it. I once even accused a friend of perpetuating diaper industry propaganda (all in good fun). Cloth had to be the way to go for us.
The Little Pea came two weeks late, which gave me some time for all sorts of distraction, including finally reading about diapers and their environmental impact. My favorite eco-advice guru, Umbra Fisk, has a great video blog post on this subject, and in another column points out a life-cycle analysis conducted by the Environment Agency UK, which (like every other decent study I've ever heard of) found that basically, it's a wash. One the one hand you have paper and plastic manufacturing and waste disposal, and on the other you've got lots of water and energy use. Pick your poison.
If you live some place where there is a terrible water shortage, then I'd say disposables are the more eco-friendly choice, and just be sure to use the greenest ones that work for you. But if you live someplace with abundant water and a terrible shortage of landfill space, cloth would be the eco-friendlier choice (especially if you use good detergent and dry them in the sun). But all things being equal - just pick the one you like better. Or pick Elimination Communication, if you are that kind of amazing person. I am humbled by you folk.
At our house so far we've found that cloth diapers are nice and cushy on our baby's delicate skin, and they really are no big hassle, as long as you have good reliable diaper covers to prevent any leakage (the adorable wrap-style diaper covers that I knitted sadly do not fall into the reliable category - we are using Bummis and Thirsties now). However, we've also found that disposables are great for overnight, and for travel to Grandma's and such (as my partner says, this way we get to diversify our impact - ha ha!). I am conducting my own experimentation with the various brands of eco-friendlier disposables, but check out this great review on Grist. I've found that cloth diapers necessitate far fewer baby wipes, and (like Lisa and Hayley) that they are great for wiping up all kinds of messes, baby-related and otherwise. Especially since someone else washes them for me.
So the bad news is, all diapers are bad for the planet. The good news is - you can make this choice based on whatever is right for your family, and not worry about the environmental impact. Isn't that a relief once in a while?