I consider myself a pretty eco-conscious mom. Not only do I want to do what’s best for our planet, I want to set a good example for my daughter, Reese.
I recycle. I take reusable canvas grocery bags to the store. I drive a fuel-efficient vehicle (although, I admit, my husband’s old truck isn’t exactly a gas-sipper). I try to conserve water, which means only running the washing machine and the dishwasher when I have full loads. I favor regular old cups and travel mugs over plastic water bottles and Styrofoam coffee cups.
However, there’s one thing I don’t do, and I always kind of wondered if I’d been too quick to discount the practice of cloth diapering. I know plenty of people who are into it. I even briefly considered it before Reese was born. However, the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that it wasn’t for me.
First of all, I’d like as little contact as possible with heavily soiled diapers. I don’t want to spray them off or scrub them.
Second, I don’t have time for any extra laundry. I work 50-60 hours a week, and my husband works 40-50. Most days, we’re lucky we both have clean shirts to wear. It’s both a blessing and curse that my daughter receives so many adorable outfits as gifts from her aunts and grandmothers, because I can — and do — let her laundry pile up for weeks, and she still doesn’t run out of clean clothes.
Third, I can’t afford the cost of cloth diapers. OK, I know what you’re thinking — they’re supposedly cheaper than disposable diapers. That’s not the case for me, though. As a gift when I was still expecting Reese, my mom signed me up for Amazon’s monthly diaper-delivery service, which she foots the bill for. I’ve never had to pay for a diaper, plus Amazon is one of the few places that carries the brand of breathable, hypo-allergenic diapers that don’t irritate Reese’s sensitive skin. If I decided to switch to cloth diapers, I suppose I could ask my mom to cancel the monthly deliveries and instead buy us a set of cloth diapers, but this late in the game (with potty training just a couple months away), that doesn’t really sound like a feasible option. Not to mention, the delivery-service subscription was a gift, and I’m not one to tell someone, “Thanks, but no thanks,” when a token of generosity is extended to me.
All these reasons aside, though, I still occasionally question my choice to go with disposables. Call it eco-guilt. When a new cloth-diaper store opened near my house a couple months ago, I decided maybe it was time to re-evaluate my decision, so I set out to do some online research. I expected it to be an “open-and-shut case” — cloth diapers are better. Period. However, I was surprised by what I found.
Sure, there are plenty of pro-cloth-diapering statistics, blogs and websites out there. They all provide good, solid information about the practice, along with a variety of environmental reasons for choosing cloth and even helpful resources for how to get started. I perused these sites carefully in an attempt to make sure my research was balanced.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, I found several sites, blogs and studies that indicated cloth diapering is not superior to the use of disposables. One of the most intriguing articles I came across during my research was a piece on Stanford University’s website about a complex and detailed life-cycle assessment study that analyzed the environmental impacts of both cloth and disposable diapers, only to find there really isn’t much difference.
The study started with a detailed inventory of the resources used and wastes produced at each stage of the items’ lives.
Findings indicated that, yes, disposables contribute heavily to the solid-waste problem in the United States. However, according to the study, “The production of cloth diapers, for an amount functionally comparable to disposable diapers, takes dramatically more electricity and water.”
The article states, “When comparing disposable diapers to home-washed cloth diapers, there is no clear winner. They come out about equal in their contribution to global warming. Disposable diapers have greater impact on ozone depletion, while reusable ones have a greater impact in creating waste toxic to humans.”
Furthermore, “Cloth diapers require about twice as much water as a comparative supply of disposables. This is due to the more water-intensive manufacturing of the cloth and detergents necessary, as well as the actual water use in the home. That actually nudges the environmental balance in the favor of disposables,” the article reads.
And there you have it. I realize there are other reasons for using cloth diapers, such as avoiding the chemicals in disposables, but the author of the article also points out that the super-dry chemicals in disposables do prevent diaper rash better than their cloth counterparts.
So, what I deduced was, no matter which kind of diaper you favor, there’s not much to feel guilty about. Really, decisions like this are nothing more than a judgment call. Moms should do what works best for their families and, in our case, that means allowing the Amazon deliveries to keep on coming.
Source: Read more about the diaper study at alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=56348