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Disposables v. Cloth: What Side I'm On and Why

I had never heard about modern cloth diapering until I started to read blogs and then, suddenly, it seemed like everyone did it.

Fans of cloth diapering say it’s cheaper in the long run, not that messy, and better for the environment.  If they love it, they love it.  In fact, I’m not sure that prior to preparing this post, I’d ever read a post in which a blogger said she prefers disposables (I’m sure there are more out there because 95% of parents choose to use disposables!).  Since the practice is so widely popular in blogland heck, even Young House Love does it I figured that there had to be a reason.

Right? 

Before I get into my plans for diapering, let’s briefly look at two very important aspects of the diaper debate money and the environment:

  • A baby will go through thousands of diapers before being potty-trained, and a parent can expect to spend $1,500 to $2,000 on disposables. If you opt for environmentally-friendly disposables, as I would, the cost would range from $1,600 to $2,500. (Source)
  • Cloth diapers have higher start-up costs than disposable diapers, usually costing about $18 or so per diaper.  Consumer Reports argues that, even with the cost of laundering the cloth diapers at home, cloth diapers will cost ‘hundreds of dollars’ less.  (Source)   This website breaks down all the costs of different cloth diapers; most cloth options cost around $1,400 $1,600 total.
  • If you opt for a laundering service to clean your cloth diapers, the price between cloth and disposables will be roughly the same, based on my own research of such services in Charlotte (rates vary from city to city).
  • It takes around 80,000 pounds of plastic and over 200,000 trees a year to manufacture the disposable diapers for American babies alone. Although some disposables are biodegradable, it can take several hundred years for the diaper to biodegrade because it is rarely exposed to enough oxygen in the landfill.  (Source)
  • Although it would seem that cloth diapers are always the most environmentally-friendly option, some people believe this is up for debate.  One large study by the Environmental Agency concluded “that disposable diapers have the same environmental impact as reusable diapers when the effect of laundering cloth diapers is taken into account.”  The study states that a cloth diaper uses six times as much water to launder it as a disposable diaper requires to be produced, and that this water usage is environmentally equal to the landfill impact of the waste.  Opponents say this study is seriously flawed. (Source)
  • And lastly, as a side issue, there is evidence that babies who are cloth diapered suffer from fewer diaper rashes and allergic reactions (one reason: there are fewer or no chemicals in cloth diapers, especially when compared to ‘conventional’ disposables).

When I mentioned last week that I really needed to order some diapers, I know some people were surprised.  I got several e-mails that said, “Really, Caitlin? You’re going with disposables?! You’re the one who told me to stop using conventional tampons and switch to the Diva Cup, for goodness sake!”

But.. yes.  I have no immediate plans to cloth diaper.  I’m not opposed to the idea there are clear money, environmental, and health benefits to the practice and, as someone who works primarily from home, it’s logistically possible (daycares often won’t allow cloth diapers).  But I’m just not sure that it’s the right fit for my family.

To read why cloth is not for me – and a ton of reader comments on what worked for their family – head on over to Healthy Tipping Point for the remainder of the post.

Image source.

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