Cloth Diapers vs Disposables

Pros and Cons of Disposable Diapers and Cloth Diapers

When it comes to disposable diapers, the costs are high—for baby’s health, the planet, and for your family’s budget. But there are many factors to consider when looking at the debate, so here’s your Ecolife's summary of the pros and cons between cloth diapers vs disposables. 

 

Disposable diapers

Disposable diapers have only been part of the parenting routine for a few decades, yet they are the default for most families. But have you ever considered their true costs?

Pros:

  • Convenience: Higher
  • Up-front investment: Lower
  • Aesthetics: Fewer odor problems, especially when traveling

Cons:

  • Financial costs: You’ll likely change your baby’s diaper an average of 5,400 to 8,000 times before they’re potty trained, and at a cost of between $0.25 and $0.35 per diaper, that’s a total of $1,350 to $1,890 (for 5,400). Cloth diapers, on the other hand, will cost between $200 and $300 up front and $1.50 per load of laundry (assuming you launder 10 times/month for a total of approximately 360 washes over three years), bringing their total cost up to between $740 and $840. Use the reusable diapers for more than one child and you’ll further lower the overall cost of cloth diapering down for your family.[1]
  • Dioxin pollution: Most one-use diapers are made with bleached cotton and wood fibers, which result in the production of dioxin, an extremely toxic byproduct that can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin, causing reproductive, developmental, and immune system health problems as well as cancer.[2] This can be mitigated if chlorine-free disposable diapers are purchased instead.
  • Pesticide exposure: Cotton and other agricultural materials used in disposable diapers often involves the use of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals that are dangerous to baby and the environment, and because of the many-fold increase in resource use, the impact of disposables is much higher in this regard. TBT, a long-lasting endocrine disruptor used on some crops, was recently detected in disposable nappies, potentially exposing babies to 3.6 times the normal safe daily level.[3]
  • Landfill considerations: The average baby could go through up to 8,000 disposable diapers and when thrown in the landfill, they’ll survive centuries before breaking down.[4] According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, diapers are the third largest sector of the solid waste stream (behind newspapers and beverage containers).[5] These diapers contain untreated human waste (millions of tons of the stuff every year) that can leach into water supplies, spreading disease.[6]
  • Baby health concerns: Disposable diapers can contain super absorbent polymers (SAPs) known as sodium polyacrylate that gel up when wet, but similar substances used in women’s tampons were found to cause toxic shock syndrome, making SAPs a concern.[7] Babies diapered in disposables are also said to have more frequent rashes than those diapered in cloth, likely due to different pH conditions.[8]
  • Resource consumption: Disposable diapers use more non-renewable and renewable resources, as well as water and energy to create than reusable diapers.[9]

 

Cloth diapers

Cloth diapers on the other hand have been used by parents for centuries, and though they may not be quite as convenient as a disposable diaper, they do come with many health and environmental benefits—and could save you money, too!

Pros:

  • Carbon footprint: Have a smaller carbon footprint compared to disposable diapers if laundered in full loads, line-dried, and used for more than one child.[10]
  • Dioxin pollution: As long as the fibers used for reusable diapers aren’t bleached using chlorine, this issue is completely void.
  • Pesticide exposure: Although this is a problem for reusable diapers made from conventional cotton, it is completely eliminated with organic cotton or alternative fiber reusable nappies.
  • Landfill considerations: Not only does the average baby use thousands fewer reusable diapers than disposables, most cloth diapers are re-purposed after baby outgrows them as rags or sold to other parents for continued use, significantly reducing the landfill considerations.
  • Baby health concerns: Reusable diapers are not saddled with problems from SAPs or dioxins and babies have fewer rashes with cloth diapers.
  • Resource consumption: The per-diaper resource consumption for reusable diapers is much smaller than that for disposables.

Cons:

  • Convenience: Lower
  • Up-front investment: Higher
  • Financial costs: Assuming the same figures above but with daily washing and tumble drying of your cloth diapers, and you could raise the cost to between $1,840 and $1,940 overall.[11]

If you really want to be radical in your baby diapering methods, go for elimination communication and become diaper-free!






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References

1, 11 Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from DadLabs : http://www.dadlabs.com/The-Lab/cloth-diapers-vs-disposable-diapers.html

2 Allsopp, M. (1994, September). Achieving Zero Dioxin. Retrieved April 14, 2010, from Greenpeace: http://archive.greenpeace.org/toxics/reports/azd/azd.html

3 News Note: TBT Found in Disposable Diapers. (2000, June 30). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from PANNA: http://www.panna.org/legacy/gpc/gpc_200008.10.2.20.dv.html

4 10 FAST FACTS ON RECYCLING. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from US Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/reg3wcmd/solidwasterecyclingfacts.htm

5 The Politics of Diapers. (2003, February). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from Mothering: http://www.mothering.com/green-living/politics-diapers

6 Diaper debate: Cloth makes a comeback. (2008, June 15). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/consumer/story/2008/05/16/f-consumer-disposablediapers.html

7 Armstrong, L. (1993). Whitewash: Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Women's Sanitary Products and Disposable Diapers : What You Can Do About It. Harpercollins.

8 Infant Diapers and Incontinence Products: Choices for Families and Communities. (1992). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from University of Minnesota: http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/familydevelopment/DE5960.html

9 Brown, N. T. (2009). Diapers and the Environment. Retrieved April 14, 2010, from NEARTA: http://www.nearta.com/Papers/DiaperEnvironment.pdf

10 An updated lifecycle assessment study for disposable and reusable nappies - Conclusions. (2008, October). Retrieved April 14, 2010, from UK Environment Agency: http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=WR0705_7589_FRP.pdf

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