Why choose Cloth Diapers over Disposables?

Almost everyone knows that putting a child in cloth diapers is much more eco-friendly than the alternative, not to mention much more comfortable for the baby. After all, would you want to be wearing plastic or paper underwear all day long? After a while, you'd develop some pretty severe skin conditions from having those materials rub against you. Especially in light of the burns that infants are experiencing from the new Pampers DryMax material - there's no better time than the present to try cloth! Other than the obvious reasons listed above, WHY should we all cloth diaper? Here are some basic facts borrowed from the Real Diaper Association web site:

* Over 92% of all single-use diapers end up in a landfill.4

* No one knows how long it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose, but it is estimated to be about 250-500 years, long after your children, grandchildren and great, great, great grandchildren will be gone.5

* 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.5

* Disposable diapers generate sixty times more solid waste and use twenty times more raw materials, like crude oil and wood pulp.3

* The manufacture and use of disposable diapers amounts to 2.3 times more water wasted than cloth.3

* Over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby EACH YEAR.6

* Disposable diapers contain 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..1

* Disposable diapers contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) - a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals.2

* 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.18

* According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were about 19 million children under four in 2000.  We could probably assume that there are about 9.5 million children under two and therefore in diapers at any one time.  Based on previous studies, we estimate that 5-10% of babies wear cloth diapers at least part time.  We will average these figures to 7.5% of babies in cloth diapers and 92.5% in disposables.  This means that about 8.8 million babies in the U.S. are using 27.4 billion disposable diapers every year13

* 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 prefold diapers, they would save more than $6 billion14, enough to feed about 2.5 million American children for an entire year15.  Coincidentally, the 2002 U.S. Census reveals that 2.3 million children under 6 live in poverty16

Based on the above facts, you decide which is better for your baby, better for the environment, and better for your budget!

References:

1Allsopp, Michelle.  Achieving Zero Dioxin: An emergency strategy for dioxin elimination.  September 1994.  Greenpeace. 

2Greenpeace.  New Tests Confirm TBT Poison in Procter & Gamble's Pampers: Greenpeace Demands World-Wide Ban of Organotins in All Products. 15 May 2000.

3Armstrong, Liz and Adrienne Scott   Whitewash: Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Women's Sanitary Products and Disposable Diapers, What You Can Do About It.1993. HarperCollins.

4Lehrburger, Carl. 1988. Diapers in the Waste Stream: A review of waste management and public policy issues. 1988. Sheffield, MA: self-published.

5Link, Ann.  Disposable nappies: a case study in waste prevention.  April 2003.  Women's Environmental Network.

6Lehrburger, C., J. Mullen and C.V. Jones. 1991.  Diapers: Environmental Impacts and Lifecycle Analysis.  Philadelphia, PA: Report to The National Association of Diaper Services (NADS). 

13 8.8 million x 60 x 52 = 27.4 billion

14 Cloth diapering is 90% cheaper.  90% of $7 billion is $6.3 billion.

15 Food costs calculated at $2,475 per child per year or $6.78 per child per day for 3 meals and 2 snacks.  Costs based on U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, Child and Adult Care Food Program.  Figures current as of July 2003. 

16 Percent of People in Poverty by Definition of Income and Selected Characteristics: 2002 (Revised). 

18 C-J Partsch, M Aukamp, W G Sippell Scrotal temperature is increased in disposable plastic lined nappies. Division of Paediatric Endocrinology, Department of Paediatrics, Christian-Albrechts- University of Kiel, Schwanenweg 20, D-24105 Kiel, Germany. Arch Dis Child 2000;83:364-368.