Why Use Cloth?

Listening to Grandma’s story of washing her old-fashioned cloth diapers in the bathtub by stomping on them did not exactly convince me to choose cloth.  In fact, upon learning of our decision to hop on board the ‘cloth diaper wagon’ we received a ‘fair warning’ from Grandma against the tribulations we were about to encounter.  But back in Grandma’s child-bearing years, hand-washing of flat diapers, cumbersome pins, and the inhumanely non-breathable rubber pants were the only option.  It’s no wonder the movement towards disposable diapers caught on so quickly after its introduction in the 1960s.
The good news is that the cloth diaper has been completely revolutionized over the past 20 years!  The cloth diapers of today are dramatically different than the cloth diapers of even your parent’s generation.  Fitted diapers featuring elastic, built-in fasteners, and waterproof (yet breathable) exteriors have transformed cloth diapering into a convenient option for today’s busy mom.  Even so, the question remains: Why would you even consider a washable diaper when you could use a disposable?  A few good reasons to consider cloth diapers follow below:  

Monetary Savings

Your baby will go through about 6 -12 diapers a day ~ or about 9000 diaper changes by the time he/she is potty trained.  At $0.24 a diaper, that adds up to about $2,160!   Disposable wipes will cost another $400-500.  In contrast, purchasing your own cloth diapers and cloth wipes to wash them at home will cost somewhere between $300 and $1000.  Considering your laundering costs (about $.50 a load or $120 over the course of 30 months) you will still save about $2,000 - $2,500 over an average 2.5 year period!   And if you reuse your diapers over multiple babies, you can multiply this savings!  Take the kids to Disneyland (or yourself to Bali!) on the savings! Or start that college fund the environmentally responsible way.

Now, washing every third day for about 15 minutes of active laundry time per wash load, that translates into 300 wash loads per baby or 75 hours total.  If you saved $2000 by cloth diapering, you just paid yourself over $25 an hour!  If you wash every other day, you still pay yourself about $17.75 per hour.  I don't know about you, but
I can't argue with a wage like that!

Costs to diaper for 30 months (2.5 years):

Disposable diapers:  9000 changes averaging 24 cents per change =  $2160

Disposable wipes:  Average 84 wipes per week * 4.4 cents per wipe = $480

Diaper Service (prefolds only--no wipes, no covers):  $2365

Cloth laundered at home:  $300-1000 (new diapers, depending on the system chosen and does not account for resale/reuse value)

(Prices scouted from an average of current Amazon.com, and other major online retailers, Costco, Target, and BabiesRUs in Colorado Springs, and the diaper service local to the Colorado Springs area.  June 2009)

The Often Overlooked Health Reason

Most people underestimate the ability of the skin to absorb all with which it comes in contact.  There is a reason pharmacologists created a birth control patch that adheres to your skin and releases chemicals that alter the hormonal functions of your internal system:  Your skin is like a sponge.  Consider what you will be putting against your baby's vulnerable skin for the next 2 - 3 years, 24 hours a day. 

With the exception of the pricy natural disposables with extremely limited availability (we only know of the Tushies brand at this time), disposable diapers contain sodium polyacrylate which absorbs liquid and turns it into gel.   Many parents who use disposable diapers will recognize the polymer as the shiny gel-like crystals that often make their way onto your baby’s bum.  It was banned from use in tampons in 1985 after it was linked to toxic shock syndrome*.  Disposable diapers contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) - a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals.**  Cloth diapers are inexpensive and gel free!  

In May 2000, the Archives of Disease in Childhood published research showing that scrotal temperature is increased in boys wearing disposable diapers, and that prolonged use of disposable diapers will blunt or completely abolish the physiological testicular cooling mechanism important for normal spermatogenesis.***

In addition, the dangerous chemical dioxin is reported by the EPA as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals, and is a byproduct of the paper bleaching that is used in most disposable diapers.  Whitening through the use of dioxin has been banned in most countries…but not in the U.S.****

With the toxic chemical exposure of disposable diapers, it is no shock that a study by a major disposable diaper manufacturer shows that the incidence of diaper rash rose from 7.1% to 61% between 1970 & 1995, coinciding with the increase in disposable diaper use.

Have you ever read the following warning on a package of disposable diapers?  IMPORTANT:  When disposing of soiled diaper, empty contents into toilet.  I did not realize myself that disposable diapers should be emptied into the toilet before being discarded…but as inconvenient as it may seem it does makes sense.  The diapers end up at the landfill, containing viruses from human feces (including live vaccines from routine childhood immunizations) that can leak into the Earth and pollute underground water supplies.  In addition to the potential of groundwater contamination, air-borne viruses carried by flies and other insects contribute to an unhealthy and unsanitary situation. One way or another, the waste caught by cloth diapers is likely to enter our sewer systems and is properly treated before re-entering our water. 

The solution saturating most disposable wipes can be very harsh and contain questionable chemicals that we don't often recognize.  In contrast, reusable cloth wipes can be used and laundered alongside cloth diapers and are a great alternative to disposable wipes.  Cloth wipes allow the flexibility for you to use plain water to cleanse your baby’s bum or for you to mix up your own chemical-free brew or use a premade solution whose ingredients you trust.

Ah yes…The Environment

As mentioned before, a single baby goes through about 9,000 diaper changes before they are potty trained.  That adds up to about 2 tons of used, non-biodegradable waste per baby when disposable diapers are used!  In 1988, over 18 billion diapers were sold and consumed in the United States that year.*5*  Over 92% of all single-use diapers end up in a landfill.*5* (Where do the other 8% go?  EWWW!)  Estimates suggest that 82,000 tons of plastic and 1.8 million tons of wood pulp (1/4 million trees) are consumed each year in the production of disposable diapers.  In 1988, nearly $300 million dollars were spent annually just to discard disposable diapers, whereas cotton diapers are reused 50 to 200 times before being turned into rags.*5*  In contrast, you will only need about 50-60 cloth diapers for the entire diapering period!  What a difference! 

No one knows how long it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose, but it is estimated to be about 250-500 years, long after your children, grandchildren and great, great, great grandchildren will be gone.*6*

Disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills, and represent about 4% of solid waste.  In a house with a child in diapers, disposables make up 50% of household waste.*6*

Disposable diapers generate sixty times more solid waste and use twenty times more raw materials, like crude oil and wood pulp.***

The manufacture and use of disposable diapers amounts to 2.3 times more water wasted than cloth.***

The manufacture and use of disposable diapers amounts to 2.3 times more water wasted than cloth.***

In 1991, an attempt towards recycling disposable diapers was made in the city of Seattle, involving 800 families, 30 day care centers, a hospital and a Seattle-based recycler for a period of one year. The conclusion made by Procter & Gamble was that recycling disposable diapers was not an economically feasible task on any scale.*7*

In Sum…

The truth of the value of cloth diapers is self-evident upon inspection of the facts.  Your child’s health is so important to you; so too is the health of the planet upon which he or she will depend; and hopefully generations will carry on this Earth with the respect, economy, and healthfulness of your choice of cloth diapers today.

Thank you to the Real Diaper Association for all your tireless efforts collecting these studies! 

*Armstrong, Liz and Adrienne Scott   Whitewash: Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Women's Sanitary Products and Disposable Diapers, What You Can Do About It. 1993. HarperCollins.  

**Greenpeace.  New Tests Confirm TBT Poison in Procter & Gamble's Pampers: Greenpeace Demands World-Wide Ban of Organotins in All Products. 15 May 2000.

***C-J Partsch, M Aukamp, W G Sippell Scrotal temperature is increased in disposable plastic lined nappies. Division of Paediatric Endocrinology, Department of Paediatrics, Christian-Albrechts- University of Kiel, Schwanenweg 20, D-24105 Kiel, Germany. Arch Dis Child 2000;83:364-368.
Click here or go to http://adc.bmjjournals.com and search by the title of the study.

***Allsopp, Michelle.  Achieving Zero Dioxin: An emergency strategy for dioxin elimination.  September 1994.  Greenpeace.  http://archive.greenpeace.org/toxics/reports/azd/azd.html

*5*Lehrburger, Carl. 1988. Diapers in the Waste Stream: A review of waste management and public policy issues. 1988. Sheffield, MA: self-published

*6* Link, Ann.  Disposable nappies: a case study in waste prevention.  April 2003.  Women's Environmental Network.

*7* Stone, Janis and Sternweis, Laura. Consumer Choice -- Diaper Dilemma. Iowa Sate University - University Extension. ID.# 1401. 1994.