Thursday, March 19, 2009

Why cloth?

When I was about three months pregnant with my daughter and my son was 16 months old, I suddenly began to think about the overwhelming cost of keeping two children in disposable diapers. “How will we ever be able to afford that on our budget??” I frantically wondered. So I turned back to something I had briefly mused on while pregnant with our son: cloth diapering. I was amazed to learn how many more reasons to cloth diaper there are than just concerns for your budget!

There are three main reasons that people choose to cloth diaper: environmental concerns about the abundant waste caused by disposable diapers, the potential for adverse effects on a child’s health (including excessive or perpetual diaper rash) from using disposable diapers, and the tremendous expense of disposable diapers.

Environmental Factors

I’ve read some arguments that the water and energy used to clean cloth diapers makes them not all that much “greener” than disposable diapers. Funny thing is, when you read the fine print on these statements, I frequently discover that it was released by a parent company of a disposable diaper manufacturer! In fact, disposable diapers use 37% more water and 70% more energy per diaper change (in production) than cloth diapers, whether the cloth diapers are laundered at home or by a service! Click here for more details and fact credits.

It is estimated that disposable diapers make up about 3% of the total non-biodegradable contents of landfills. This may not sound like an awful lot to many of you, but the stunning number is this: conservative estimates say that disposable diapers make up over 70% of the non-biodegradable waste contributed to landfills since 1970. If you use exclusively disposable diapers, by the time your child is completely potty-trained, you will have tossed approximately 10,000 diapers, disposable swim pants, and training pants into your trash can! And, chances are pretty good that most people using disposable diapers are tossing the poo along with the diaper – I know I did when I was using sposies. The only place we’re instructed to dump solid wastes in the toilet is in the teeny-tiny fine print on the side of the plastic diaper package, and who ever reads that? Unfortunately, if you’re not emptying solid waste before disposing of the diaper, as soon as the diapers hit the landfill, so does the human waste, and from there it gets into ground water supply. Click here for more details and facts.

Health Factors

It’s hard in some respects to separate the environmental factors from the health factors, because so many of the reasons that diapers are not good for the earth are the same reasons they’re not good for your babies’ bums!

Disposable diapers contain PVCs and SAPs (super absorbent polymers; these are the gel crystals you’ve likely seen when a sposie has “exploded” on your baby). SAPs were removed from tampons during the 1980s because of their link to toxic shock syndrome, but are still used in disposable diapers. Both of these chemicals have been banned in the European market, but are still used in the United States. Disposable diapers also contain significant traces of dioxin, a carcinogen, as a result of the bleaching process. Dioxin winds up not only in the diapers, but also in the environment! Click here for more info on dioxin and other potential health risks associated with disposable diapering.

(Frankly, sposies come out of the package less than 1 inch thick...and yet a child can wear it for 12 hours overnight without leaking everywhere. Come on, y'all - we should be suspicious about this!)

Additionally, disposable diapers have been linked to male infertility and testicular cancer. Click here to read more. And on a less serious note, children who wear exclusively disposable diapers experience far more diaper rash than children who are cloth diapered. Now for some kids, this could simply be due to an irritant in the sposies. For example, my kids canNOT wear any sposies except Huggies, because any other brand of sposies will have their bottoms in flames within one diaper wear. But, for most children, sposies are more closely associated with diaper rash because they just hold so much, and most kids wear a single diaper for far longer than they should.

Finally, please take a moment and read these two wonderful articles. I found that I simply could not do them justice by summing them up. This article has a wealth of cited information regarding how disposable diapers are manufactured. This article gives detailed information about possible adverse health effects of disposable diapering, not only on the babies who wear them, but also on the people who work in the plants that produce them.


Now, I’ve heard my fair share of people dispute the validity of the environmental and health concerns. I, for one, say that if there’s even a chance that using sposies could adversely affect my children’s health, not to mention the planet which God has given into our care to steward, then I am willing to try the alternative!

However, people can-NOT argue that using cloth diapers will save you money. When you first begin to look at purchasing cloth diapers, you may think, “These are so expensive! There’s no way this is going to save me money!” But cloth diapering is 100% a front-loaded investment, meaning that after you purchase your “stash,” you no longer need to spend any money (other than detergent) to maintain your system!

Let’s go back to what I said earlier, about how the average sposie-diapered child will go through approximately 10,000 diapers/swim pants/training pants by the time they’re fully potty-trained. Disposable diapers, on average, cost approximately $0.24 per diaper. This translates to around $2,400 (per child) you will have spent on something that ends up almost immediately in the garbage, and that doesn’t even include the cost of disposable wipes and special liners for the diaper pail.

Another breakdown comes from my own experience. When my son was still in diapers (fully daytime potty trained before he was even 2 and ½, thank you cloth diapering!), I was spending approximately $13 per month on the increased utility bills plus the cost of detergent to have my children in cloth diapers full time. Had I still been using disposables, I would have been spending about $105 a month on diapers alone, not counting the cost of wipes. So for us, disposables = $105+/month, cloth = $13/month. Now, I’m not a math whiz, but you just can’t argue with that! Who couldn’t use an extra $92 each month?

Here is an AWESOME math breakdown that shows the cost of diapering your child with different "systems" versus the cost of diapering your child in disposables.

Finally, the average age that a cloth-diapered child will potty train is placed somewhere between 18 and 24 months. A child in disposable diapers will, on average, not potty train until 36 months! And anyone who has spent time in second and third world countries where cloth is used exclusively will tell you that mothers start potty training their children – successfully! – as soon as they begin walking. On a similar note, many cloth diapering mothers practice elimination communication with great success!

So there you have it! The big reasons to choose cloth over disposables. In this age, most of us probably never even thought twice about using sposies, but there is such a better option out there! And, I won't even play - my biggest reason for choosing cloth was the money, honey. But as I said before, when I began my research, I discovered more and more information about disposables than I was comfortable with. And don't forget - CLOTH DIPEYS ARE ABOUT A MILLION TIMES CUTER THAN PLAIN OL' PLASTIC SPOSIES!