CLOTH VERSUS DISPOSABLES – PART I

This might seem a strange topic, considering the kid hasn’t even been born yet, but it’s something I’ve been contemplating for several months now.  Early on in the pregnancy, I had the notion that it would be really nice to be able to cloth diaper our child, if it could somehow be a relatively convenient, manageable and affordable endeavour.  Friends who have tried it have warned me about all the pitfalls — leaks, diaper rashes, complicated diapering systems, endless loads of nasty laundry, etc. — but I have been holding out hope that it can indeed be done with a minimum of hassle.

After researching all of the facts, statistics and arguments for and against both options, I have decided that the environmental, health and cost benefits of cloth diapers vastly outweigh the convenience of disposables.  And with the manifold cloth diapering options available these days, they really don’t appear to be much less convenient or more difficult to use than disposables.

When I first started considering the use of cloth diapers, I initially figured that the environmental argument was pretty much a wash, with the increased water and electricity consumption associated with cloth diaper laundry being more or less equal to the impact of putting disposables into the landfill.  But while I had given thought to disposal of the diapers, I hadn’t considered the environmental impact of producing, packaging, and transporting the estimated 7,000 diapers the average child uses in the first two and a half years of his or her life.  By comparison, a set of 24 to 30 cloth diapers takes far fewer resources to produce, and will last the entire diapering period (and may even be used for subsequent children).

I don’t want to throw in too many statistics here, as the numbers I’ve found have been quite divergent and their sources not always the most credible, but here are some of the environmental considerations of disposables:

– The waterproof outer layer of each disposable diaper is a plastic made from crude oil, as is the packaging in which the diapers are sold.  Diapers are also usually disposed of in plastic bags (sometimes multiple layers, as in the case of Diaper Genie type disposal systems).  Crude oil is a non-renewable and diminishing resource.
– The inner absorbent core is made from a combination of wood pulp and sodium polyacrylate.  The wood pulp requires destruction of trees, and its production requires vast water and energy resources.
– Disposable diapers are bleached to give them that “clean” white appearance.  The bleaching process produces many harmful by-products, including dioxins.
– Fecal matter is supposed to be disposed of through sanitary (sewage) systems; not in landfills.  The vast majority of disposable diaper users do not obey this protocol and instead simply roll up and toss the soiled diapers as-are.
– Finally, it has been estimated that disposable diapers may take up to 500 years to decompose in a landfill.  Even so-called “biodegradable” diapers do not quickly or properly decompose in landfills, due to the complete lack of sun and air.

 To be continued…

9 responses to “CLOTH VERSUS DISPOSABLES – PART I

  1. Cloth diapers are wonderful! I’ve been doing cloth for 3.5 years now, and I just can’t believe that disposable diapers are REALLY more convenient – you can never run out of cloth – just run another load of laundry! The main problem I have with them is that they are more bulky than disposable diapers, making it tougher to put those cute outfits on – generally need a size up on bodysuits and pants. Good luck!

  2. Great post! I really enjoyed reading this and loved your positive review on the benefits of cloth! I’d like to add that cloth diapered babies tend to get less diaper rash than babies in disposables. One of the main reasons for this is that cloth diapered babies are changed more often. Sure, a disposable diaper will hold 6+ hours worth of pee, but would you really want your baby sitting in their own wetness for that long?
    I am looking forward to reading and learning more about your very exciting adventure as you await the new addition to your family =)

    • I agree. I’ve known a few people who were doing a combination of cloth and disposable diapering but who ended up giving up the cloth diapers when the kids developed diaper rash. Switching to exclusive use of disposables did not resolve the rashes (I’d say they got worse), and I can’t help but think they may have had better results if they’d gone the other way. I’m sure there are also a number of babies whose skin is simply reacting to all of the plastics and other chemicals against their skin.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, too (and my due date is still six months away). We’re totally doing cloth for sure. Have you heard of Bum Genius? Our friends, who have a 4-month-old, swear by it: http://www.bumgenius.com/

    Love reading your blog, by the way. Thanks for sharing your story.

    -Dawn (another pregnant paleo mom-to-be)

    • Bum Genius 4.0 (with snaps instead of velcro) is definitely on our top three list. Looks to me to be one of the easier ones to use, and I’ve seen a lot of great reviews about them. We were also considering the Bum Genius all-in-ones, but it sounds like they take quite a bit of time to dry than other diapers (more than 24 hours hang drying, or two cycles in the dryer).

      Thanks for the kind words 🙂 Looks like you’ve got a great blog going yourself! Best of luck with your pregnancy.

  4. I agree, I am not pregnant at this time, but I have often considered using cloth diapers over disposables when the time comes. I am extremely interested in Part 2 of this post. I love your blog and look forward to reading more! 🙂

  5. I used cloth diapers for my babies and they worked just find. If you do a load of laundry everyday then the diapers will not pile up and they will be manageable. Cloth diaper also have a lot other uses to them besides just diapers. Since they are 100% cotton they make a fantastic cleaning rag or dust rag when you are done with them as a diaper so don’t get rid of them. You can use paper diapers for convenience when you are away from home but cloth diapers are number one for me. Please visit my new web site at [EDITED – no advertising please] for all your baby needs at affordable prices.

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