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.