The Environmental Impact of Diapers
One thing that new parents notice is that babies cause a lot of waste: from toy packaging to essential (yet short-lived) baby products to, of course, diapers. While cloth diapers have been long touted as the most environmentally friendly diapering option, some claim that the energy and water needed to wash cloth diapers evens out the landfill waste. Let’s get the facts straight:
- Many cloth diapers are made from cotton, which traditionally uses large amounts of pesticides and water to produce. However, there are more and more organic options on the market now.
- The laundering process does require water and energy, as well as detergents to be released into the environment.
- You can make cloth diapers even greener than they are by using biodegradable, phosphate-free detergents; a cold-water cycle and air drying; washing the diapers in a full load as to not waste water; and buying a front-loading washing machine, which uses less water.
- According to gDiapers (a cloth and hybrid diapering system), 50 million disposable diapers get thrown into landfills every day, and each one takes 500 years to break down. That’s a lot of garbage sitting on the earth.
- Throwing out disposable diapers can cause fecal pollution.
- Many chemicals are used to manufacture and dispose of the diapers.
- A study done by The Landbank Consultancy for The Women’s Environmental Network showed that disposable diapers use 3.5 times as much energy, 8 times as much non-renewable material and 90 times as much renewable material as cloth diapers.
- There’s a much higher environmental impact from manufacturing and disposing the thousands of disposable diapers each child uses vs. the dozen or two cotton diapers.
Disposable Diapers vs. Cloth Diapers
- Although cotton can require pesticides and water to grow, the alternative is chemical-filled plastics that take a large amount of manufacturing to produce.
- Cotton, whether organic or not, is a softer, more comfortable material for your baby to wear.
- Cotton is also more breathable, allowing more ventilation and less diaper rash.
- Cloth diapers will save each family thousands of dollars throughout their child-rearing years.
- According to the National Association of Diaper Services “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” cloth-diapered babies generally toilet train a year before disposable-diapered babies. Many parents claim this as well, saying that their children were able to feel the wetness more and didn’t like how it felt.
- The average cloth diaper is used 100 to 150 times, while a single disposable diaper is used once.
- Cloth diapers can be used for multiple children, saving parents even more money.
- Less convenient.
- More laundry to do.
- There’s more work involved in assembling and using.
- Some childcare services are reluctant to use cloth.
- They can leak more, especially if they’re not used correctly.
- There are so many varieties that parents might waste money when trying to find the right type for their child.
- More convenient, especially when out and about.
- Disposables are more absorbent and leak less.
- There are a wider variety of biodegradable, healthier disposable options on the market now – but they’ll cost more.
- This could be a pro or a con: While there are definitely toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing of disposable diapers, there aren’t any studies indicating that these materials definitely hurt babies in the long run. However, it’s hard to say if the chemicals are actually safe or if there just isn’t information available yet.
- Less air ventilation and a higher risk of diaper rash. Disposable diapers feel drier than cloth, which leaves babies at risk of sitting in bacteria and irritating chemicals for longer than they should be.
- There are known toxic chemicals in most disposable diapers, like sodium polyacrylate – the same chemical removed from tampons because of toxic shock syndrome – which hasn’t been tested for its long-term effects yet in babies.
- Fecal pollution.
- It’s harder to potty train when kids can’t feel the wetness.