Friday, August 13, 2010

The Great Diaper Debate

This post is all about diapers. If that doesn't interest or apply to you, I won't be offended if you head back to Facebook, or Go Fug Yourself, or wherever it is you spend your time online. Though I do think that the disposable diaper stats might be interesting and relevant even to people who aren't in the diaper trenches themselves.

We had the obligatory diaper discussion before Alice was born. I was pretty sure I wanted to go the cloth route but with so many different options and factors to consider, I had to do some research and make sure Jon and I were both in agreement. 

Disposable diapers began changing the landscape of babies' bottoms in the mid-20th century. In 1955, virtually every baby in America wore cloth diapers. Pampers were in introduced in 1961 and 30 years later, about 90% of babies wore disposable diapers exclusively. Clearly, disposables are still the predominant choice in the U.S., but many parents are taking a second look at the health, economic, and ecological impact compared to today's cloth and reusable options.

Here's what I found out:

Disposable Diaper Cons
  • About 18 billion disposable diapers end up in landfills each year and can take as many as 500 years to decompose, due to the synthetic materials and lack of oxygen.
  • Disposable diapers are responsible for about 500 million tons of untreated waste in landfills, which can contaminate ground water.
  • Disposable diapers are the third largest source of solid waste in landfills, after newspapers and food and beverage containers (also fairly inexcusable). Disposable diaper waste is estimated to total about 2 billion tons.
  • It takes upwards of 82,000 tons of plastic and 1.3 million tons of wood pulp (about 250,000 trees) to manufacture the disposable diapers for babies in the U.S. alone.
  • One study found that disposables use 3.5x the energy, 8x nonregenerable raw materials, and 90x the renewable material as cloth diapers. Disposables also use 2x the water, even when growing the cotton for cloth diapers is factored in.
  • Disposable diapers may lead to male infertility due to a prolonged increased scrotal/testicular temperature.
  • Disposable diapers expose babies to potentially dangerous chemicals (sodium polyacrylate, dioxin, tolune, xylene, ethylbenzene, styrene, isopropylbenzene). 
  • Disposable diapers have been linked to asthma (see dangerous chemicals, above).
  • Disposable diapers increase diaper rash. One study by a major disposable diaper manufacturer found that the incidence of diaper rash has increased from 7% in 1955 to 61-78% in the last 40 years. According to another study, 54% of 1-month old babies had diaper rash, 16% had a severe rash.
  • Disposable diapers can prolong potty training (because they prevent the feeling of wetness). Disposable diaper-wearers are toilet trained by 36-42 months on average. Cloth diaper-wearers are potty trained by 24-30 months on average. In 1957, 92% of children were toilet trained by 18 months of age.
  • Delayed potty training = higher cost over time.

Cloth Diaper Pros
  • The average cloth diaper is used 100-150 times before enjoying a second life as a rag.
  • Waste is treated and processed through the sewer system.
  • Laundering cloth diapers at home only adds about 2 extra loads of laundry per week, or 4-5 extra toilet flushes a day, on average. 
  • Using a diaper service economizes water usage even more.
  • Diaper services may also pH balance cloth diapers to match baby's skin.
  • Convenient velcro diaper covers and all-in-one products make cloth diapering easier than ever, no pins!
Today's parent also has a lot of products to choose from in the cloth diapering arena. bumGenius makes a conscientiously manufactured, organic cotton, one-size-fits-all, one-step, no-stuff, washable, reusable cloth diaper. You can diaper your child, and even future children, for a one-time investment of about $250-500. I seriously considered these, but decided I didn't want to have to worry about doing all that laundry. Sherry, of, wrote about how well the bumGenius diapers are working for her family. You can read that here.

The bumGenius Organic One-Size All-In-One

We eventually decided to use a diaper service, which typically costs the same or less than disposable diapers. You can't beat the convenience of having someone take your dirty diapers away to launder for you, and deliver a fresh supply each week! Plus, they provide the diaper pail, bags, and deodorizer, and the diapers are treated with an odor neutralizer, so they never stink up the nursery!

Then, we just had to decide how to cover the cloth diapers. My mom used rubber pants over cloth diapers for all of her kids, my mother-in-law actually sewed her own rubber pants. Today there are all kinds of different options on the market. After reading tons of user reviews on Amazon, I decided to try the product with the most 5-star reviews and haven't regretted my decision at all. 

Thirsties Diaper Covers

Thirsties diaper covers are made from a single layer of polyester laminate. You just fold the cloth diaper into thirds, lay it inside the diaper wrap, and velcro tight! They are breathable and waterproof, can be rinsed clean after small messes between washings. The inside elastic gussets can get a little dingy after too many rinses, but have always come clean in the machine and you can't really see them when they're on baby anyway, so it's cool. We ordered size x-small to start, which are meant for babies 6-12lbs. At around 14lbs, the x-small is still fitting Alice perfectly with tons of room to grow, so we can get a lot more mileage out of these than we'd planned. We started with five covers, which seems to be a perfect amount but I wouldn't mind having one in every color! That's the the other plus over disposables or the rubber pants of yore, these are awfully cute peeking out of baby clothes. I must admit that I always try to color coordinate diapers to outfits...

We had accumulated a bunch of newborn disposables from various friends who hadn't needed all of theirs. We used them for a little over a week after Alice was born before we started noticing little beads of gel from the diapers left behind on her bottom. That, and some awesome blowouts finally prompted us to put the cloth diapers into play and we've never looked back. There's been hardly any leaking to speak of, they don't smell when they're dirty or wet like disposables, and Alice usually lets us know right away when she needs to be changed which helps keep her clean and dry. I hope that her aversion to a wet diaper will help with early potty training as advertised. The whole notion of diaper changing was pretty intimidating to Jon before Alice is born, but even he's become quite the cloth convert. Besides, every diaper change is another chance to see those cute baby buns!

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1 comment:

  1. We use BumGenius and love them. You do have to stuff them though.


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