Healthy Beginnings

Nurture: Considering Cloth Diapers

april14-cloth-diapers-300pxWritten By Allison Prater |

In this month’s nurture column, I’m going to discuss some of the benefits of cloth diapers. There are many reasons to consider using cloth diapers instead of disposable diapers. To keep things simple, I’ve compiled a top 5 list:

Top 5 reasons to choose cloth of single-use diapers:

5.) Reduce waste: The Real Diaper Association estimates that more than 27.4 billion disposable diapers are consumed every year in the U.S. The instructions on a disposable diaper package state clearly that all fecal matter should be deposited in the toilet before discarding. Even so, less than one half of one percent of all waste from single-use diapers goes into the sewage system. Over 92% of all single-use diapers end up in a landfill. Furthermore it is estimated that it takes about 250-500 years for single use diapers to decompose, meaning that your great, great, great, great grandchildren will still be dealing with the implications of this waste. Disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills, and represent about 4% of solid waste.In a house with a child in diapers, disposables make up 50% of household waste.

4.) Save precious natural resources: Single use diapers use large amounts of raw materials, like crude oil and wood pulp. Over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby EACH YEAR! While single use manufactures like to argue that cloth diapers aren’t sustainable either because of the amount of water required to wash them, this is a fallacy. The manufacture and use of disposable diapers amounts to 2.3 times more water wasted than cloth. In 1991, an attempt towards recycling disposable diapers was made in the city of Seattle, involving 800 families, 30 daycare centers, a hospital and a Seattle-based recycler for a period of one year. The conclusion made by Procter & Gamble was that recycling disposable diapers was not an economically feasible task on any scale. In contrast, cloth diapers can be reused 50 to 200 times before being turned into rags.

3.) Protect your precious babe’s health: The most common reason for diaper rash is excessive moisture against the skin. Diaper rash was almost unheard of before the use of rubber or plastic pants in the 1940s. There are several nasty chemicals in single use diapers that are sitting on your baby’s skin, and being absorbed into the blood stream. These chemicals include traces of Dioxin, an extremely toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process.It is a carcinogenic chemical, listed by the EPA as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals.It is banned in most countries, but not the U.S. They also contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) – a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals. And don’t forget sodium polyacrylate, a type of super absorbent polymer (SAP), which becomes a gel-like substance when wet. A similar substance had been used in super-absorbency tampons until the early 1980s when it was revealed that the material increased the risk of toxic shock syndrome by increasing absorbency and improving the environment for the growth of toxin-producing bacteria. In May 2000, the Archives of Disease in Childhood published research showing that scrotal temperature is increased in boys wearing disposable diapers, and that prolonged use of disposable diapers will blunt or completely abolish the physiological testicular cooling mechanism important for normal spermatogenesis.

2.) Save money: The Real Diaper Association estimates that each baby will need about 6,000 diapers during the first two years of life.The following estimates are based on prices in San Francisco, California. Let’s assume that a family needs about 60 diapers a week.In the San Francisco Bay area, disposable diapers cost roughly 23¢ per store-brand diaper and 28¢ for name-brand.This averages to 25.5¢ per diaper.Thus, the average child will cost about $1,600 to diaper for two years in disposable diapers, or about $66 a month. For cloth diapering, each family will probably need about 6 dozen diapers,or even less. The cost of cloth diapering can vary considerably, from as low as $300 for a basic set-up of pre-folds and covers, to $1000 or more for organic cotton fitted diapers and wool covers.Despite this large price range, it should be possible to buy a generous mix of pre-folds and diaper covers for about $300, most of which will probably last for two children.This means the cost of cloth diapering is about one tenth the cost of disposables, and you can spend even less by using found objects (old towels & T-shirts).

1.) Reduce child poverty: On an even larger scale, consider this: There was an estimated 8.8 million babies in the U.S. are using 27.4 billion disposable diapers every yearin 2000. Based on these calculations, if we multiply the 8.8 million babies in disposable diapers by an average cost of $800 a year, we find that Americans spend about 7 billion dollars on disposable diapers every year.If every one of those families switched to home-laundered cloth, pre-fold diapers, they would save more than $6 billion, enough to feed about 2.5 million American children for an entire year.Coincidentally, the 2002 U.S. Census reveals that 2.3 million children under 6 live in poverty.

When I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to choose cloth diapers, but I was still overwhelmed at the prospect. I thought that I was going to be resigning myself to two years of scrubbing diapers at every turn. I have been pleased to report that cloth diapers are easy to launder, and work with. We use the Bum Genius brand and have been very happy with them. They can be resized, rarely leak, and pull moisture away from the skin. Because we practice Elimination communication, or EC with our son, we have been able to reduce the number of cloth diapers we use in a week significantly, thus reducing our water use even further. I will be discussing EC in greater depth in next month’s column. Please consider ditching disposable diapers, for the health of your baby, the planet and out of respect for all children, present and future.