Disposable vs. Cloth Diapers: Cost Effectiveness and Environmental Impact
My boys are 7 and 6, and that means we are years removed from having to worry about diapers. However, I remember the cost and hassle of buying and running out of them. Most parents use disposable diapers because they’re hassle free; we used them for that reason too. I never even considered going the cloth rout because, as a non-hippie, the environmental impact wasn’t foremost in my mind. When the issue was brought to my attention (rudely), I just said “Psssht. Bite me,” because nobody likes their parenting impugned by a do-gooder. However, to be fair to cloth diapers, and ignoring the messenger, cloth should get an unbiased comparison to disposables in terms of cost, convenience and environmental impact. Environmentalists make the snap assumption that cloth diapers are friendlier, but the evidence tells a more complex story. Knowing the options, and the fact, will help parents make a more conscientious decision on the matter.
Cloth diapers are, actually, a better environmental choice – with a caveat. If you’re going to go green you have to go all the way green to see any difference. Firstly, you’ll need green detergents and use water more efficiently. A British study says that, comparing cloth diapers to disposables, with no extra allowances for green behavior, there is no ecological difference. They both take the same toll on the environment. That fact only changes when people take other steps, in addition to simply choosing the cloth option, to make their choice more green. Energy saving laundries, efficient loads and water conservation are some of the measures that do make a difference. In other words, no matter what you do, the earth is going to take a hit, and cloth vs. disposable, even on a good day, might not be as different as we’re led to believe. Don’t get me wrong though; every bit counts. Thus, for purely ecological reasons, cloth is the better option.
Diapers, no matter the brand, cost a lot of money. Parent magazine worked out that the cost of disposable diapers for one child is 1,500 – 3,000 dollars depending on the brand and how long the kid needs them. Compare that to the cost of cloth, 700 – 1,900 dollars (including laundry costs), and again the clear winner in cloth.
New Fangled Invention: Eco Disposable Diapers
I found an article on Wired.com about eco disposable diapers. The article says, essentially, that these ecologically friendly disposables are actually no better than regular disposables. This, according to – wait for it – “the latest newsletter from cloth diaper service Tiny Tots”! Wow! That’s some fine reporting there, Wired. I am shocked, just shocked, that a cloth diaper service is saying that disposable diapers, no matter the manufacturer claims, are unhealthy and environmentally horrible. They go so far as to say that disposables cause infertility (because of the chemicals). In other words, YOUR GENETIC LINE WILL BE WIPED OUT (no pun intended) IF YOU USE DISPOSABLE DIAPERS! Now, insert dramatic sound effects, and perhaps a picture of a pirate skull and crossbones. Thank you, cloth diaper services, for your unbiased opinion.
The Hybrid gDiaper:
And now a fourth option! Have you heard of these diapers? They are disposable diapers that contain a flushable liner insert. There is also an option to use a reusable cloth (hemp and micro fiber) insert instead of the flushable version, thereby making it an entirely cloth diaper (no difficult folding necessary). Several videos on their website compare the decomposition of a normal diaper with the disposable portion of the gDiaper. If the results are true, I’d say the hands down winner of the diaper contest is the gDiaper. It looks easy, comfortable and eco-friendly; that’s about everything a parent can wish for. They are also appreciably more stylish than baggy and badly folded cloth diapers or, the alternative, a bulky piece of plastic. The only question I have is the cost. Target has them listed at $52 for 128 inserts. 6 reusable cloth inserts are $30. As you can see, they have everything going for them except price. That, I suppose, is the trade for gaining a diaper that accomplishes both ecological friendliness and convenience.
The debate about cloth vs. disposable diapers is so heated and ladened with ulterior motives that it is virtually impossible to find reliable information about the actual facts. All the studies (except the British one I linked to earlier) feature expert opinion from either cloth diaper services or manufacturers of disposables giving their heartfelt pleas to not listen to the other’s expert. Even the supposedly neutral opinions on the internet cite facts that one or the other industries have published somewhere else already. What I’m saying is this: Good luck finding facts you can trust. Go with your gut. If you’re the sort of person who has good reasons for doing disposable, then do that. If not, don’t. Cloth diapers appear better for the environment provided you go totally green and wash them correctly. Disposables are indisputably easier and more convenient. Eco-Disposable diapers, as far as I’m concerned, are worth a try. I don’t want to hurt the environment any more than necessary. I’m not convinced that cloth diapers are appreciably better than disposable. But, if I had it all to do over again, I would try to be the most environmentally friendly parent I could be. It seems that one of the best options out there today is the gDiaper (they didn’t give me anything for that pitch and I’m not selling them).