Babies and diapers go hand in hand. It is an inevitable reality; once you become a parent you will use thousands of diapers on your beautiful babies bottom. What isn’t inevitable is what you chose to cover your child’s tooshie. Disposable or cloth? That is the great debate for many parents.
According to Environment Canada, a baby will have anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 diaper changes in the first two years of life. Environment Canada also says about four million of those diapers are thrown out every day. It can take anywhere from 200 to 500 years for a disposable diaper to decompose. Disposable diapers came on the market in the ‘60s and were invented by a mother. A baby that is in diapers for 2 years, consumes the equivalent of 4.5 trees and puts two tones of solid waste into our environment. There is an estimate that 2.4 million trees in Canada and one billion trees world-wide are used per year, just to manufacture single-use diapers.
There is no doubt the choice for many parents is disposable diapers because of the convenience factor. Ken Lashley is one of those parents. The father of two girls says it’s all about the convenience: “I’m like most parents, I think. When you walk into the store and you see a giant pack of diapers, you don’t think of the environment. You just think how easy it is.” Before disposable diapers were introduced, all babies in North America were diapered in cloth. Ten years after the arrival of disposable diapers, that dwindled to only 10 percent.
While using disposable might be easier for many parents, the diapers produce at least 70 times more municipal solid waste, trash, than cloth. It’s estimated two percent of household waste is diapers. Tracy Job and her husband Scott are parents concerned about all that trash. They have two girls, four-year-old Maggie and four-month-old Avery. Tracy uses disposable diapers. She says she thought about cloth but because they get their water from a well, they decided it would be too taxing on their supply. But they do use biodegradable diapers sometimes. In an effort to divert some of their family’s trash from landfills, Job uses a recycling/composting service. “I kind of see this as an in-between. It’s not the cloth extreme and it’s not the disposable in the landfill either. It’s your contribution to the environment,” says Job. “It just feels right.”
“For me the decision was simple, cloth diapers. I feel anything that is disposable can’t possible be good for the environment” says Stephanie Moram mom and editor and founder of Good Girl Gone Green www.goodgirlgonegreen.com. Moram says she is using an all-in-one diaper on her daughter right now. She says they are as easy as disposable. There is no stuffing diapers and no cover required.
Colleen Bezeau, owner of a Victoria-based cloth diaper store and mother, says a re-usable option is key considering the millions of diapers that wind up in landfills every year, each of which takes approximately 250-500 years to decompose. “Ultimately, there is no part that is truly disposable,” says Bezeau.
As a retailer, Bezeau says cloth diapers are a smart and easy alternative to disposable diapers. “More often than not, parents are caught up in common misconceptions that make them reluctant to cloth diaper,” says Bezeau. “I understand that as I too was reluctant and didn’t start until my son was over a year of age. I became so committed to the cause I started my own business to support other parents in using cloth diapers. In reality, cloth diapering is easy, you save money, and you help the environment. Even the laundry takes small effort”
But therein lies the environmental impact of cloth. Washing all those dirty diapers comes at a cost. According to Environment Canada, washing a load of diapers once or twice a week is roughly the same as flushing a toilet five times a day for a week. The water, which needs to be heated, the detergents and, of course, the cost of electricity, have an impact. Home laundering produces greenhouse gas and other emissions from energy consumption in the dryer. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that a large amount of water is used in the manufacturing process of disposable diapers, and the water consumed in home washing machines is often much lower now due to modern, energy efficient machines.
Stephanie Moram recognizes the environmental impact of laundering cloth diapers but she says she makes every effort to be as green as possible when washing diapers. “I wash my diapers in cold water (less energy used). I use soap nuts instead of regular detergent, and after 3-4 washing you have to replace the nuts but the good part is they are compost-able and do not contaminate our water or soil. After my diapers are all washed I hang them dry them and I do on occasion use the dryer if I needed, but rarely”, says Moram. The environmental impact of cloth is far less than disposable diapers. “I realize that energy and water is needed to assemble and make cloth diapers. However, these diapers can be used many times over.” Moram says that is one of the best parts of cloth, they can be used over and over and when your kids are all grown up you can donate or give your cloth diapers to someone else.
Bezeau acknowledges the draw for parents to disposables: “Everybody likes disposable diapers for the convenience in the modern world in which we live.” If you’re set up for success with the right accessories, cloth diapering is pretty straightforward. “We don’t use disposable cutlery and dishes every night,” notes Bezeau, “and we manage just fine.”
“It’s all about our eco-footprint,” notes Bezeau. And in the end, it all comes down to making a choice. Every parent must make the best choice for themselves, their child and their lifestyle. But there are choices out there. And the best ones you can make are informed ones.