Cloth diapers are the better environmental choice, learn more about helping your baby go green.
There is some debate as to whether or not cloth diapers are really a more eco-friendly choice than disposable diapers. Sure, cloth diapers won’t end up in a landfill, but they require frequent washing. In the end, does the energy consumption used to keep them clean really balance out over time?
A 1992 study from Franklin Associates acknowledged that just from a manufacturing standpoint, cloth diapers are the better environmental choice. Cloth diapers are primarily made of cotton, which consumes a vast amount of water and energy during the growing and harvesting process. However, even taking that into account, processing the plastic that make up most disposable diapers consumes roughly 6,900 megajoules of energy compared to the 1,400 megajoules consumed by cloth diapers for a year’s supply. On the surface, cloth diapers were the better choice; however, once the study factored in the cleaning process, it was discovered that cloth diapers ended up being 39 percent more energy-intensive than their disposable counterparts.
However, a lot can change in thirty years. Thanks to great strides taken in creating energy efficient washing machines, the eco-friendly scales have tipped in favor of cloth diapers. Additionally, cloth diapers will not end up in landfills; the same cannot be said about the estimated 27.4 billion disposable diapers that are sold in the United States each year, over 92% of which will end up in a landfill.
Cloth diapers are not a zero carbon-footprint alternative to disposable diapers. But such an option doesn’t really exist. Once you analyze all the factors though, you will see that cloth diapers have additional environmental benefits the increase their energy-efficiency. When you drive to the store to order disposable diapers or order them in bulk from a diaper delivery service, you’re consuming oil and gasoline; once you have your cloth diapers on hand, there is no need to acquire more. When disposable diapers end up in landfills, they’re not just taking up space; they’re also potentially contaminating the groundwater with human waste. Properly sanitized cloth diapers don’t have that issue. Finally, disposable diapers are rife with toxins: they contain traces of Dioxin (a toxic byproduct of the process used to bleach paper), Tributyl-tin (a pollutant which may cause hormonal issues in animals and humans alike) and sodium polyacrylate (a substance known to increase the risk for toxic shock syndrome and that creates an environment where toxin-producing bacteria can easily flourish).
Though cloth diapers are not a perfect alternative to disposable diapers, they make huge strides towards a more energy-efficient diapering solution. More importantly, they lack the toxic byproducts present in so many of the disposable diapers on the market. They’re the obvious choice to make if you want to do what’s right for your kids – and for the planet as a whole.
Kate W. is a work-at-home mom who blogs about eco-friendly products for the whole family. You can find her blog at Runka.com.