Sunday, February 26, 2006

gb #11 cloth v disposable

An odd thing happened when I began to investigate the environmental benefits of cloth diapers versus disposable diapers. Many friends whom I considered eco-aware if not eco-friendly volunteered their opinions that cloth diapers are no better for the environment than disposable diapers. It seemed improbable to me that using 30 or 40 cloth diapers was no better for the environment than using 8,000 disposable diapers during a baby’s early years. Further consideration has turned up what I might have suspected- propaganda. In the early 1990’s as some states considered banning the use of disposables (the third largest source of solid waste in landfills and remember what is in them) Proctor and Gamble, the largest manufacturer of disposables, commissioned a study. Miraculously this study found cloth no better for the environment than disposable. Never mind that the study was later found misleading by Great Britain. Future studies by other groups not funded by this industry have not upheld this finding.

The truth is that the environmental impact of a diaper of any type depends upon what is used to produce it, how many times it is used, how long it takes to decay (some disposables taking 500 years to break down) and many other factors. Is the cotton for the cloth grown using pesticides? It’s like a game of chess, any move completely changes the match. For me I’m going with common sense. Washing 30 or 40 diapers as two loads of laundry per week seems a bit less wasteful than throwing away 8,000 diapers that may take up to 500 years to decompose. This doesn’t even address the fact that cloth diapers are better for the health of the baby because the waste isn’t concealed as well and therefore doesn’t stay against the skin for as long. The chemicals that hold the urine in the diaper are also questionable. Plus what would you rather have against your skin, plastic and non-woven fabric or cotton? And we’re not talking diaper pins any longer. The new cloth diapers are Velcro and have elastic.

My wife and I will use disposable diapers some times, especially when we’re traveling or asking others to look after our child. I am not going to be hardnosed about this subject. I think future conditions will necessitate a return to cloth for all of us. I am not however going to automatically buy into the easy idea that disposable diapers are not bad for the environment. Please offer me evidence for or against.

Read more here.

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