Every new mom is faced with a million decisions to make regarding which baby products to buy. Which crib is the best? Which car seat is the safest? Are all diapers created equal? These questions multiply when you’re like me, and prefer eco-friendly products for your entire family. All of a sudden, everything you’re bringing into the house is under scrutiny. Most of us know that disposable diapers contribute an alarming amount to landfills and are manufactured with a lot of materials and chemicals that would not pass the eco-friendly test. According to the EPA, about 20 billion diapers/year amounting to more than 3.5 million tons of waste end up in landfills, where they take an estimated 500 years to decompose (yeah that’s a long time). But most of us don’t consider alternatives to the disposable diaper. Yes, there are more environmentally-friendly disposable diapers out there, ones that are made with more sustainable practices and less toxic materials, but they still ultimately end up in a landfill. So what’s an environmentally-conscious mom supposed to do? Enter the cloth diaper! Now, don’t stop reading just because you read the word cloth – today’s cloth diapers are not your mother’s cloth diapers.
I used cloth diapers for about 2-years with my daughter and I’ll be doing the same with baby #2 who is due this May. Why? Well, I could talk about how much I love cloth for an hour, but to spare you I’ve condensed what could be a 10-page essay into 5 main points:
1. Less in landfills. Virginians generate about 14.8 million tons of solid waste every year. Disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills and about ½ of all household waste in a house with a child in diapers comes from disposable diapers, according to Real Diaper Association. I don’t know of many other single ways to reduce household waste by 50%. It also gives you another way to recycle; since many moms out there sell/swap their gently used cloth diapers, and you can do the same once your child is potty trained. You can also use cloth wipes to further reduce your landfill waste.
2. Poop belongs at a wastewater treatment plant, not a landfill. As the Community Educator at HRSD, I know how important it is for human waste (and the pathogens that go along with it) to be properly treated, and a landfill is not designed for this. In fact, check the fine print on your disposable diaper package – it will tell you to flush solids down the toilet before putting the diaper in the trash. How many people do you know that rinse out disposable diapers? Yeah, me neither. Sending all this baby waste to landfills could spread disease.
3. Reduced chemical exposure for your baby and the environment, and reduced consumption of natural resources. A typical disposable diaper contains chemicals that are linked to asthma, allergic reactions, damage to the immune system, nervous system and endocrine system, and even cancer. The production of disposable diapers also uses 20 times more raw materials (like oil and tree pulp) and 2 times more water than cloth diapers (more on environmental impacts). If you chose cloth, you can opt for natural materials like organic cotton, bamboo, or wool that are sustainably harvested and have less of an impact on the environment. Plus you won’t need to worry about what’s coming into contact with that cute little baby bum. You can also make your own baby wipe solution without any chemicals.
4. It saves money. Parents spend about $800/year on disposable diapers for 1 child, assuming 60 diapers/week at $0.25/diaper. How much money you spend on cloth diapers depends on what type you buy, if you launder at home or pay for a diaper cleaning service, etc. However, you will still end up saving money over disposables, especially if you use them up through potty training and for subsequent children. Yes, you will be using more water if you wash them at home like I did, but if you have an efficient washing machine and you do full loads of diapers every 2-3 days you can minimize your water usage. And of course, line dry to save on energy costs.
5. They are fun! Today’s cloth diapers come in all different styles, colors, and patterns, which makes them fun accessories to your baby’s wardrobe. Forget the pins, you can chose snap or velcro closures that make changes super easy. Even though I have plenty of cloth diapers to use on baby #2, I will probably end up buying a few more fun prints – I just can’t help myself.
And yes, they work. Even at night, they work. Your baby’s bum will look a little “fluffier” than his or her cohorts in disposables, but it adds to the cuteness factor.
Since I haven’t lost you yet, let me tell you a little bit about my preferred types of cloth diapers. My favorite is the pocket diaper – it’s a waterproof cover with a pocket that you stuff with removable inserts that do the absorbing. I prefer the velcro closures because they are quicker than snaps during changes. Also, I wanted a diaper that my family members and day care provider would use, and they all liked the pocket diapers the best for ease of use. With baby #2 I’m planning on using fitted diapers with wool covers at night. A fitted diaper “fits” and closes around baby just like any other diaper, but it’s not waterproof, so you need a separate diaper cover. I love the idea of wool because it’s natural, antifungal, breathable, and it can absorb over 1/3 of its weight in moisture before it feels wet. You can even buy upcycled wool diaper covers made locally from wool sweaters – it doesn’t get any greener than that! And don’t forget about reusable swim diapers. They can be worn under a swimsuit, but the patterns are so cute you will probably want them worn on their own.
There are also products to help ease your transition to cloth. Diaper liners make it easier to dispose of solid waste, or you can get a diaper sprayer that attaches to your toilet to wash off solids before you put the diaper in a wet bag or pail until laundry day. Some products like liners and disposable inserts made for cloth diaper covers may be labeled “flushable”, but PLEASE don’t flush these down your toilet! These “flushable” items and others wreak havoc throughout the sanitary sewer system, and your attempt to be green may cause a sewage spill into the environment (refer to #2 above for why this is bad).
The bottom line is (pun intended), if you talk green and live green – don’t distress over diapers. Cloth diapering is an easy way to make a big difference in your environmental impact. If you think you are ready to green your baby routine with cloth, I recommend visiting Diaper Junction, a great local resource to get you started.