Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cloth Diapers Part 1: Environmental Reasons We Use Cloth Diapers

Or, Saving the World, One Butt-Wipe at a Time

As I mentioned yesterday, we try to do our part for the earth. Or at least make some half-hearted gestures to relieve a little guilt. We recycle, we combine driving errands, we use those crazy corkscrew lightbulbs even where people can see them, we carry around our tap water in reusable bottles (which now, as it turns out, might also be trying to kill us. Oh well.). And most importantly (because above almost all I'm cheap), we try not to blow large chunks of our budget on things we intend to throw away. Especially if they're not even fun, like, say, paintballs or water balloons, but are simply small receptacles for small-human waste . . . aka diapers.

Well la de frickin' da, you're probably thinking. You can feel good about your earthiness; I'm going to feel good about not sticking my hand into a toilet to scrape poop off of rubber pants while bleeding profusely from twelve diaper pin punctures.

Trust me, I feel good about that too--no pins or dunking or ugly rubber pants here. If cloth diapering were too hard, we might have given up. Too nasty, and we never would have started. But those days are gone. Sure, it's a little more work, but only in the sense that there's a little more laundry. As a parent you're dealing with laundry and poop all the time anyway, though. You really build up an immunity to both quite quickly, don't you?

So first of all, cloth diapering is not that hard, and in another post I'll talk more about my diapers and my routine so you can see what I mean. And second of all, for the bit more work it is, I definitely feel it's worth it in terms of money savings and earth savings. I do feel great about using cloth!

To keep the lecture factor down here, let me hit you with some bullet points (source links at end of post):
  • One child in disposables can add 6000 diapers to landfills. Diapers are the 3rd largest consumer item in landfills.
  • Diapers in landfills can put groundwater sources at risk of contamination from chemicals and waste. It is technically illegal to throw human waste into the garbage, but do you know anyone who dumps poop out of disposables? Washing reusable diapers results in the waste being treated in a safe wastewater treatment facility, just like your waste is.
  • How long does it take diapers to decompose? No one knows--no one's lived long enough! Probably 250–500 years. If the pilgrims had used disposables, you could go to Colonial Williamsburg and visit those diapers.
  • The plastic in one disposable diaper uses 1 cup of crude oil. Approximately 7 billion gallons of oil each year are required to feed our disposable-diaper habit today, almost four times as much oil as is estimated to be in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Washing diapers at home about every three days uses about the same amount of water as flushing a regular-flow toilet five times a day. It would be less with high-efficiency washing machines.
  • Disposables are full of toxic chemicals. Ever get those weird gel beads left behind on your babe's sensitive areas? Yeah, that stuff was banned from tampons due to toxic shock syndrome.

The short answer to "why do you use cloth diapers?" is: for the same reasons we don't use paper plates and cups every day. We instinctively know that buying dishes once and washing them makes more sense than continually making and buying paper and plastic dishes. (And no one's even bothered--I hope!--inventing paper clothes, that idea's so silly.)

The other big reason is cost, and I'll go into that next time. But really, even if it weren't cheaper . . . maybe these environmental reasons would still be enough. It's like driving a hybrid: sure, it might take you a while (although less all the time!) to "pay for it" in gas savings, but that's not the only consideration; you're also using less fuel, putting a lot less emissions into the air, and supporting energy innovation along the way--you're paying it forward even before it pays you back. Maybe things shouldn't be all about me and my break-even point. Maybe some things we can save are worth more than pennies.

Just my $.02.

The Real Diaper Association facts page.
A Tale of Two Diapers
The Joy of Cloth Diapers
Cloth vs. Disposables: To Cloth or Not to Cloth?
Diaper Information and Research
Health Concerns
Why Use Cloth Diapers?

And for a different angle on the diaper industry, here's an interesting look at how making disposable diapers smaller changed the industry: Smaller: The Disposable Diaper and the Meaning of Progress.


Cat Hoemke said...

Please also elaborate about baby wipes if you can. I'm trying to decide what to get to go cloth with wipes too.

Laura said...

I'm so glad to see more and more people bloging about cloth! Lots of people still don't know about what's new in cloth and it's great that people are spreading the word!

Anonymous said...

I, for one, dump poop out of disposables--so there. And I did buy a couple of cloth diapers to try at one point but my poor petite child couldn't wear her pants or get to a standing position while in the diapers (it was at the crucial point when she was learning this necessary skill). The diapers stood up on their own, I kid you not. So, it has been back to the drawing board for me, which currently in my busy life means sticking with dumping poop out of disposables (and my baby doesn't use very many at this point--she must eliminate less than Anna!) until I have more time to research less bulky cloth diapers. :) By the way, I never thought I'd be responding to a blog entry from you about diapers and poop. We've come a long way (?). CLK

Autumn said...

I agree with you so much on the statement "even if it weren't cheaper". We chose to cloth diaper for health reasons and just like all other healthier choices I expect to pay more. The chemicals in a disposable diaper (I'm not talking 7th Generation) are just plain disgusting!

Cat, if you are a member of diaperswappers a member on there made me some cloth wipes that are awesome! Of course if you have a serger you can make them yourself. Mine are velour and sherpa. Super soft! But you could always just use baby wash cloths. California Baby makes a diaper spray that you can use during changes and save yourself from making up a solution.

Autumn Beck

RMMcDowell said...

You almost have me convinced. But then, Beau said:
1) "You would be the only one changing diapers. Especially poopy ones."
2) "My parents used cloth diapers for me, and look how messed up I am."

Huh. Good points those, too . . .