Countless parents have struggled with a decision of disposable versus cloth diapers. Factors such as cost and convenience play into the decision as much as an understanding of the environmental impact. For the sake of this debate, we are going to go through many of the pros and cons for both options.
Consider this, regardless of the option selected; parents should expect to change a baby’s diaper 300 to 350 times just in the first month. Further, parents should expect to change between 3,500 and over 4,000 diapers in the first year and up to 6,000 diapers over the course of their childhood.
The Advantages of Disposable Diapers:
- Disposable diapers are all about convenience. Once used, they can be tossed in the trash with no need for cleanup.
- Advanced technology allows moisture to wick away from the skin.
- Disposables provide an ease of use for traveling parents.
- Disposables provide a more snug fit and have a lower risk for leaks.
The Disadvantages of Disposable Diapers:
- Higher cost – prices vary; but parents should expect to spend upwards of $2,000 for all those diapers.
- Multiple environmental impacts ranging from over 2-tons of landfill waste per year per child. Over 20 billion diapers go to landfill each year according to the EPA.
- Most parents do not follow manufacturer instructions to flush solid waste which leaves it to contaminate water sources one in the landfill.
- According to a publication done by Liz Armstrong and Adrienne Scott Whitewash, the manufacturing and usage of disposable diapers equates to over 2-times the amount of water used for cloth including washing.
- Over 200,000 trees are harvested each year to produce disposables.
- Increased risk of diaper rash versus cloth diapers.
- That advanced technology used to wick moisture is Sodium Polyacrylate. This chemical has been documented as causing Toxic Shock Syndrome as well as a contributing factor in staph infections.
- Disposables contain the chemicals Dioxin and Tributyl-tin (TBT). Dioxin is a highly toxic carcinogen that also causes developmental problems, damages the immune system, and disrupts hormones according to the EPA. TBT is highly toxic to aquatic life according to the EPA.
The Advantages of Cloth Diapers:
- Lower cost over the duration of having your child in diapers unless you engage a diaper service. While those services can be very convenient, they tend to balance out the cost equation with disposables. Depending on the cost of the service, your cloth diapers may end up costing more over the life of use.
- Due to the natural breathability of cloth, children tend to experience less diaper rash.
- Once diapers are purchased, they can be used for multiple children. That obviously doesn’t work for disposables.
- Cloth diapers now have organic fabric options providing a better environmental solution.
- New cloth diapers include Velcro straps making them easier to use.
The Disadvantages of Cloth Diapers:
- More expensive to get started versus buy a box or two of disposable diapers, although the use of a diaper cleaning service will likely eliminate any long term savings and make this a more costly alternative.
- Still require upwards of 15,000 gallons of water for laundering over the course your child is in them.
- Many daycare facilities require disposable diapers.
- Not very portable when it comes time to travel.
- Tend to leak more than disposables.
Overall, the great diaper debate that rages on has no clear winner. The bottom line is that both options use fossil fuels, both options use a tremendous amount of water, and both options have an environmental impact with a slight advantage to cloth diapers (assuming natural laundry soaps are used and not harsh detergents).
When it comes time to make your choice, do what works best for your family. If disposable is really the right fit for you, then consider environmentally friendly options. While they may cost a little more, they provide a healthier alternative.