Monday, April 18, 2011

Diapering Our Way to a Better Planet

The Great Cloth Diaper Change in conjunction with the anniversary celebration of Claremont's premiere natural baby boutique, No Sugar Added, is happening this Saturday, April 23, 2011.
 As a local sponsor of The Great Cloth Diaper Change, and since Earth Day is fast approaching, I decided it would be a good opportunity to discuss cloth diapering.  My goal is not necessarily to convert every reader to cloth diapers.  Rather, I hope to educate people about the viability of cloth as an option. 

Cloth diapers have changed exponentially since I wore them 30 years ago and they have never been easier to use.  Upon starting my research for this article, I was shocked and a bit overwhelmed at the copious types of cloth diaper options.  There are all-in-ones, hybrids, pocket diapers, prefolds, and many more!  However, it doesn't take long to form an opinion about which kind is best for you.  Each type has specific features and conveniences that appeal to almost every mom.

Of course, the most common roadblock for people considering cloth, is the unpleasant task of cleaning the diapers.  However, this part of cloth diapering has never been easier.  I was amazed to find a brilliant product called biodegradable diaper liners.  It is a roll of material that visually resembles a dryer sheet, but it is made of biodegradable materials.  Just place the liner in the cloth diaper before you put the baby in.  When it's time to change, you simply pick up the corners of the liner and conveniently place it (and your baby's deposit) into the toilet to flush.  This eliminates the need to dunk diapers in the toilet to rinse them out.

Laundering diapers does take some time and energy, but can be worth it, when you consider the benefits of cloth.  Also, diaper services still exist and will do the dirty work for you. In Los Angeles, we have a few organic diaper services including Blessed Bums and  Luludew!  Both have the added bonus of setting aside diapers just for your baby, so you get the same ones every week.  This can give you the peace of mind of knowing that only your baby has worn those diapers.  And, Luludew diaper service is less than $20 per week!

Of course, it can be more convenient to be able to dispose of every diaper you remove from your baby, but there is high price to pay for such a convenience.  As a nation we spend more than $3 billion on 18 billion disposable diapers every year!  A baby can easily use 8000+ in the first 2-3 years of life.  While it is certainly possible to spend more on cloth diapers, than on disposable diapers, the opposite is usually true.  All things considered, cloth diapering is usually much less expensive than disposable diapers.  If you make your own cloth diapers, or buy them secondhand, you can save even more!

The graphs, below, show the average cost of several different diapering options.  The following was assumed to calculate costs:  8 diaper changes per day, and 3 disposable wipes OR 1 reusable wipe per change.  When calculating cloth costs, I assumed 1 flushable/ biodegradable diaper liner per change, unscented dye-free detergent, 50 reusable cloth wipes, 5 wet bags, and 30 all-in-one cloth diapers.  I did not include the cost of laundering the cloth diapers, because water and energy rates are too variable for me to do a decent national analysis.  I did, however, include the cost of an $80/month diaper service in one category.  The costs listed are the total cost to diaper one baby/child for two and a half years.

The first graph shows the costs of two categories of disposable diapers and wipes.  The first is a basic, no frills, bleached, scented, cheapest you can find diaper and wipe.  The second is a more "eco-friendly," undyed, unscented, partially biodegradable diaper and wipe.

The second graph shows the cost of four different cloth options.  Online w/ Service: purchased online plus the cost of diaper service.  Local:  Purchased locally at a non-chain store or boutique.  Online:  purchased online.  Secondhand:  previously owned or you make your own diapers and wipes.

Cloth diapers offer even more saving possibilities if you plan to have more children.  If you think ahead and buy gender neutral cloth diapers, you can use them for your subsequent babies.  If you don't or can't use them for subsequent babies, you may still be able to save money.  No Sugar Added, a natural baby boutique in my beautiful city of Claremont, California, has a trade-in program, in which they offer store credit to customers who bring in "slightly-loved" cloth diapers.

Environmental Impact
Studies are varied regarding the comparative environmental impact of disposable versus cloth diapers.  Though, common sense can go a long way when making your decision on how to diaper. 

70% of a disposable diaper is made from trees.  Unless you are spending extra money on eco-friendly diapers, you can safely bet that the trees responsible for making your disposables were not sustainably harvested.  30% of a disposable diaper is made of synthetic petroleum based plastic, which is very much non-renewable.  The manufacturing of disposables also negatively impacts the environment.  There are several dyes, scents and chemicals used in disposable diapers.

 And then, of course, there is the most obvious impact of disposables:  we throw them away.  Ah, that magic place:  "Away..."  After all of the time and resources it takes to make, a disposable diaper is used for mere hours before excrement is snugly entombed in its undegradable plastic and dumped, primarily in landfills, where it sits for hundreds of years.

There are several obvious reasons why cloth may be healthier for your baby.  As I mentioned earlier, most disposables are bleached, scented, and contain synthetic petroleum based plastics and chemicals.  So when you use disposables, your baby is constantly exposed to those things for the first 30 months of life.

Here's something you may not know:  It is illegal in most states to put human waste in trash bins for collection.  Did you know that you are supposed to dump the poop out of disposable diapers into the toilet before you dispose of said diaper?  It's true!  Sewage belongs in the sewer, not in your garbage can.

What Now?
Like I said at the beginning, I am not suggesting that everyone needs to exclusively use cloth diapers.  Many families use both cloth and disposable depending on the setting (home or away) or time (night or day).  I am a big supporter of parents making decisions that are best for their families.  I can't tell you what is best for you, but hopefully I can open a few eyes to alternative options.

I want to hear from you!  Please share your experiences with diapers.  What factors did you consider when deciding what method to use?  If you exclusively use disposables, did you ever consider cloth?  Would you consider cloth in the future? 

Have a wonderful Earth Day!  Hope to see you Saturday at No Sugar Added!


  1. What a great article! Every mom should no her options, better for baby and environment. Thanks for researching and posting!

  2. Great article and lots of stats! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Great info! You get your same diapers back with Blessed Bums too. Just FYI :)