August 1, 2009

more diaper talk

wrapper disposable
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?


Nicola said...

hi there. i am enjoying this blog so much!
we have been cloth diaper users since our first child was born nearly 5 years ago. i am not familiar with your links, so i will check them out, and i have lots to say about diapers (both paper, which we have had to use from time to time) and cloth, but i have said it on my blog, so i won't repeat needlessly.
i did want to add a comment on the eco debate of paper vs. cloth. it isn't just landfill (paper) vs. water use (cloth). i think it is really important to remember how much energy, water, and how many chemicals are put into MAKING paper diapers. A LOT. in fact, i would argue that it is comparable to the amount used to wash a load of reusable cloth diaper, perhaps even more. so the eco impact may be the same before the paper diaper even hits the landfill, making them a less eco friendly choice.

lisa solomon said...

hey f. ! congrats on the little finally arriving. and yes - i'm now in the disposable overnight camp.... :)

we got one box of size 3 huggies as a present, and as soon as we are done with those i'm going to give those other more env. friendly disposables a try [for day care too]....

great post...

Marie said...

Thanks for your post.

We're awaiting our first baby and I've done alot of reading and researching. Finding many of the same facts. But, one think you didn't mention...along with the health of the planet, there's also the health of the child. And the statistics around diaper rash and other skin issues with disposables (much higher than with cloth), along with all of the dubious contents in disposables (carcinogenic compounds, etc.) made the choice here an easy one.

We are also two working parents. We're planning on washing at home, and drying on the line whenever possible.

kyndale said...

I would be curious to hear where you got the information that cloth is just as bad for the environment as disposables..It's worth a breakdown. I am a mama of three kids, all cloth diapered. We don't use terrible chemicals or a lot of water to launder them. The amount of water used in bleaching and making disposable diapers..not to mention the chemicals used in making enormous. I have done a lot of research on the subject and I had no doubt that cloth was the answer. Best wishes on your new baby! Like I said, I think this is a great discussion. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Too bad about the little knitted wrap covers; they are so cute! I got some wool sweaters to felt and plan on trying my hand at sewing some covers. By the way, you don't have to be too hardcore to try ECing, we've just been really relaxed about it and just done it when it's convenient, but the big bonus is that #1 my little one isn't afraid of the potty like so many toddlers are when it comes time to potty train and #2 He's 15mo. old and while we're at home he just goes commando. This is new in the last month or two, but it's SO awesome and totally worth a little extra effort in the earlier months. Even if you only do it a couple times a day I think it'll pay big dividends. You can read more about our experience with ECing on our blog. I'm enjoying yours, thanks!

Dee said...

I'm new to your blog. My question is unrelated to the topic, but I would like to know where I can buy essential oils so that I can start making my own products for my home. I live in Denver, and sources are not too substantial. Could you please help me? My email is

Anonymous said...

I used cloth for the first 6 months... then we moved and I switched to disposables for the duration of the craziness. After getting unpacked, we realized that our new state is under a TERRIBLE water shortage and extreme drought and the extra loads of laundry were a real issue here. So, we switched to Gdiapers and love them. They are the other option and take the best of cloth and disposables and put them into one! Basically, it's a cloth outer cover with a biodegradable inner part that soaks up everything. You can flush these in the toilet or compost them. We compost and I've devised a system of wrapping the loaded ones into newspaper and putting the wet ones into a plastic bag, then emptying them all into our compost pile (for non-garden use only) in our back yard. They work great, are easy and are better for the planet.

Lorissa said...

Good discussion! Others have already mentioned the points I though of while reading ... 1. paper diapers use energy, water and toxic compounds in production and 2. the health of the baby is another consideration. Some things that were not mentioned are.... If one were to have many children and reuse the same diapers, or if one were to have a child that learned to use the toilet very late, I think cloth would show as a clear winner over time. Also I think most people who use paper diapers don't dispose of the solid waste in the toilet like I've heard is best. Interesting topic....Above all for me is the simple enjoyment of a clean, fluffy cloth diaper, lovingly soft on my baby's tush. It makes something that could be unpleasant very different.

Matt said...

Nice blog

Free Expert Advisor
Free Donwload Expert Advisor
Profitable Expert Advisor
Free Forex Education

Anonymous said...

Thank you for mentioning EC!! That usually seems to get overlooked. We started "late" at 6 mos and were completely diaper-free by 16 mos. It takes some effort in learning your child's cues at first, but I found it much easier than messing with diapers, cloth or disposable.

Anonymous said...