Given our commitment to sustainability, we do think it’s important to point out the many benefits of choosing organic baby cloth diapers for your little one. Although each option comes with its pros and cons, cloth diapers offer advantages by minimizing environmental harm, reducing health impacts, and saving money.
The top reason to choose baby cloth diapers is their eco-friendliness compared to disposable diapers. Disposables use more raw materials to make, contain harsh chemicals, create so much more waste by filling up landfills, and degrade very slowly.
Americans throw away an estimated 20 billion disposable diapers each year, creating about 3.5 million tons of waste that can’t be recycled or composted. That translates to more than 2 tons of waste per child! Unfortunately, studies show that diapers in landfills take up to 500 years to degrade.
Chemicals are a big problem for disposable diapers. To start, the manufacturing process uses volatile chemicals that can end up in the ecosystem. The Real Diaper Association explains that disposable diapers contain ingredients that could harm animals, humans, and the environment, including polyethylene, petroleum, wood pulp, dioxins, the endocrine disrupter tributyltin, gelling material, perfume, and polypropylene, as well as non-renewable, petroleum-based ingredients. As the diapers sit for years in the landfill, they can leach these dangerous chemicals into the soil and water, while also creatingmethane and other toxic gasses in the air.
There is also concern about the human feces in each diaper as it sits decomposing for years. According to a report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, disposable diapers introduce pathogens into the environment from the solid waste they contain. While the effects of these pathogens are still being studied, experts agree that they could seep into the water source, potentially polluting drinking water.
Finally, we can’t forget about our precious trees. It is estimated that up to 200,000 trees are lost each year to make disposable diapers for babies in the U.S. alone.
Besides harming the environment, the materials used to make disposable diapers have been found to cause health issues as well. Unfortunately, there is no government oversight or medical testing required to determine whether diaper materials are safe, or a law forcing companies to provide a complete list of ingredients used in their products. Therefore, we have to rely on non-profit organizations and existing studies that indicate what exactly is in disposable diapers so that we can make the best choice possible for our children.
Many traditional diaper brands contain chlorine, latex, perfumes, and dyes that can cause skin irritations and rashes. More serious, studies have found that being exposed to chlorine for an extended period of time can cause cancer. Next, the wood pulp core of diapers is bleached with chlorine, a process that contaminates the end-product with dioxins, which are highly toxic and carcinogenic. Finally, disposable diapers generate emissions that your baby can inhale. A 1999 study examined the respiratory effects of repeat exposures to diaper emissions and found that more than a dozen chemicals, including toluene, styrene, and trichloroethylene, impacted the respiratory tract and can cause or worsen asthma.
Another huge benefit of using baby cloth diapers is the cost savings you will notice. Disposable diapers can start to really add up. On average, children will require about 8 diapers per day from the time they are born until they are potty trained. That is a total of 8,000 to 10,000 diapers! That cost comes out to an average of $4,000 per child over a two-year period. Yikes.
On the other hand, the cost of using cloth diapers and laundering them yourself is between $800 and $1100 over three years, which is a huge savings from disposables.
The other great news is that you only need to purchase the cloth diapering system once because you can reuse it for your next child. Then when you know you are done with them, you can donate them to a cloth diaper bank.
How To Address The Biggest Con: Energy Consumption
The biggest criticism of baby cloth diapers is the amount of energy consumption needed to wash and dry the cloth between uses. However, we have some easy tips to ensure that you stay as eco-friendly as possible when choosing cloth diapers.
- Choose energy efficient appliances such as those labeled with the ENERGY STAR logo. Clothes washers that have earned the ENERGY STAR use 25 percent less energy and approximately 33 percent less water than standard models. Clothes dryers that have earned the ENERGY STAR use approximately 20 percent less energy than standard models and incorporate advanced features that combine less heat with sensor drying to prevent over drying.
- Air dry the diapers with a dehumidifier turned on instead of using the dryer.
- Purchase a small portable washing machine to wash one day’s worth of cloth diapers. You only need to add 1-2 gallons of water for one load compared to the 50 needed for a full-sized washer. The wash cycle finishes in about 30 minutes as long as you don’t overload the machine.
- Avoid using a cloth diaper cleaning service since the transportation involved uses large amounts of energy and you do not have control over the type of washer and dryer units they have.
Finally, another way to stay green is to choose only organic cotton cloth diapers. Check out our recent post about why organic cotton is a safer and healthier choice for both your children and the planet.