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Which Diapers are the Most Eco Friendly?
So Many Diapering Options - Which One to Choose?
Confused by all the diapering options available, but know that you want to choose the most eco friendly option? You are not alone! As the range of diaper choices grows and methods of manufacture and waste disposal change, it can be really tough to work out which diapers are truly the most environmentally friendly option.
Many Moms are returning to the use of cloth diapers for their babies on the understanding that they are more environmentally friendly, but how eco-friendly are they? What are the advantages and disadvantages to the environment of using cloth diapers instead of disposable diapers? What about eco-friendly disposable diapers - are they any better?
Let’s take a look at the various diapering options so that you can make the best choice, not only for your baby, but also for the environment and your family finances. The choices we are going to cover are:
- Cloth Diapers
- Traditional Disposable Diapers
- Biodegradeable Disposable Diapers
Natural Cloth Diapers - The Best Diapering Option?
In recent years, there has been a big push by environmentalist movements towards the use of cloth diapers. The main reason given for this push is that disposable diapers can take hundreds of years to biodegrade fully in landfill sites because of the amount of plastic in them. Though there are widely varying estimates of how long disposable diapers take to degrade, ranging from 10 – 1000 years, it’s true that traditional disposable diapers are a pollutant when disposed of in landfill sites.
Because of this, we do need to think carefully about the products we buy and how they will affect the environment our children are going to inherit, but when it comes to diapers there is no clear cut, superior, option in terms of which is the more environmentally friendly. That's because there are so many factors to consider including:
- The Amount of Energy Needed to Produce Each Type of Diaper (e.g. plastics typically take a lot of energy to manufacture, so more coal and gas will be burnt.)
- The Resources Required to Produce Each Type of Diaper (wood, water, plastics etc.)
- Costs to The Environment Through Transportation of the Product (how far do the components have to come?)
- The Energy Costs of Washing Cloth Diapers (cloth diapers need washing in fairly hot temperatures or are sent off for laundering.)
- Where Your Energy Comes From (renewable sources or gas and coal?)
- What Happens to Your Waste Once it Has Been Collected by the Garbage Truck (does it go to landfill or an incinerator?)
We'll touch on some of these issues, though ultimately the choice of which diapering product to use is up to you and what works for your family and your conscience.
Cloth Diapers Will Save You Money
Fortunately, amongst all the doubt about which diapering product is the most environmentally friendly, there is one aspect that is clear cut. Using cloth diapers will save you money. An average baby through to toddler, will use around 5,000 diapers in the 2.5 years it takes before they are potty trained.
- The average cost of using disposable diapers is $2,500.
- Whilst the average cost of using cloth diapers, (including the energy required for washing them) is $1,000.
Natural cloth diapers become even more economical when you factor in the fact that they can be used for all your subsequent babies. So while the initial expense of buying cloth nappies is greater than simply buying a pack of disposable diapers, if you're planning to have several children you will save thousands of dollars in the long run.
A family with 4 children could save a whopping $8,000 by choosing cloth diapers over disposable diapers, which is a very healthy amount of money to be able to add to their college funds instead.
A middle way between cloth diapers and traditional disposable diapers, is the eco-friendly disposable diaper.
These are made using as little plastic as possible and tend to use corn starch instead of wood products in the core so that they can biodegrade more easily in landfill. While not fully biodegradable, they are made from around 75% biodegradable products, compared to around 35% for ordinary disposable diapers.
Makers of these disposable cloth-like diapers, do their best to ensure that the production of the diapers has the lowest energy footprint as possible and they are also hypoallergenic, non-toxic and free of harmful chemicals such as chlorine. One of the leading manufacturers of biodegradable disposable diapers has this to say:
"Earth's Best diapers use 20 percent fewer petrochemicals than traditional disposable diapers. In fact, if 10 percent of the disposable diapers in the U.S. were as environmentally sensitive as Earth's Best diapers, we could reduce the consumption of petrochemical-based materials by as much as 20 million pounds a year."
What's So Bad About Disposable Diapers?
So environmentalists are right about how bad landfill is as a method of waste management. Currently about 1% of all solid waste going to landfill consists of disposable diapers! Filling up huge tracts of our Earth with waste, allows pollutants to seep into the water table, our drinking water, and ultimately, the sea. Landfill not only pollutes our water, but also our air through the release of methane (a highly potent green house gas). This alone would seem like an obvious reason to use cloth diapers over disposable diapers, but as mentioned before it's not quite that simple.
What environmentalists sometimes forget to mention is that not everyone’s waste is put into landfill sites. Increasingly our trash, including disposable diapers, is incinerated and the resulting heat and gasses produced are used as a renewable energy source to create electricity. With new technology, incineration is becoming a much cleaner and environmentally friendly waste management process. If your waste goes to a clean incinerator, then disposable diapers may be the more eco friendly diapering option.
While disposable diapers require much more resources in the production stage, they require less than cloth diapers afterwards. This is because cloth diapers need energy to wash them or get them laundered. In fact, when everything is taken into account, there is very little difference to the environment between cloth and disposable diapers. What will make the difference in the end is:
- Where your trash is taken after it's collected and what happens to it. If your trash is going to landfill, and you want to use disposable diapers for convenience, then choosing to use biodegradable diapers will probably be the most eco-friendly decision.
- How much energy you use from renewable sources, such as solar, water or wind power. If you're using a high percentage of renewable energy then cloth diapers will undoubtedly be the most environmentally friendly option.
Cloth Diapers vs Disposable Diapers vs Biodegradable Diapers
Ultimately, there is no overall winner between disposable, biodegradable and cloth diapers when it comes to one having less of an impact on the environment than the other. Your choice will depend on some of the many factors highlighted here such as economic considerations, how your energy is produced and how your trash is disposed of.
- The Cost of Cloth Diapers
Cloth diapers seem like a huge investment! We have broken down how much each size of diapers will cost and how approximately how long you will be in each size.
- Cloth Versus Disposable Diapers
Should you go with cloth or disposable diapers? Long ago in a far away galaxy, everyone used cloth diapers. Then disposable diapers came on the market.