Wednesday, February 29, 2012

[Going Green] Cloth Diapers: The Facts that Won Me Over

Following up on my green baby initiatives, I've finally decided to write about our biggest 'green' challenge - cloth diapering .  It's taken me a while to write this post since you can basically find 1000s of personal experiences all over the internet.  I was originally turned on to the concept of cloth diapers, where else other than, at Young House Love years ago.

(I highly suggest reading their post to get familiar with the concept if this is new to you!  Their method isn't the only tried and true way, nor is it for everyone, but its a great intro to the concept.)

Cloth diapers have come a LONG way from the days pre-disposables.  I actually didn't even know that you could cloth diaper at the time I read that article.  Just something I never thought about and figured was antiquated with the invention of something that you could just toss after use. 

With our devotion to creating as little trash as possible, the thought of being another household filling a landfill, where plastic coated (and dirty) diapers will never fully biodegrade just made me sad.  I knew this would be the major selling point to the Husband and I also loved the financial savings we'd reap.  Lastly, there are some other benefits such as less diaper rash since there are no chemicals touching the baby's soft bottom and claims that children will potty train faster.

Since we haven't started our cloth diapering journey yet to share the experience, I thought I'd just share the facts that I've stumbled over in my research that won me over.  This is by no means meant to be propaganda and convert all my readers into cloth diapering hippies, but just sharing information I thought was informative.  Knowing is half the battle.

(all facts came directly from
  • In 1988, over 18 billion diapers were sold and consumed in the United States that year.4 Based on our calculations (listed below under "Cost: National Costs"), we estimate that 27.4 billion disposable diapers are consumed every year in the U.S.13
  • The instructions on a disposable diaper package advice that all fecal matter should be deposited in the toilet before discarding, yet less than one half of one percent of all waste from single-use diapers goes into the sewage system.4
  • Over 92% of all single-use diapers end up in a landfill.4
  • 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.5
  • 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.5
  • Disposable diapers generate sixty times more solid waste and use twenty times more raw materials, like crude oil and wood pulp.3
  • The manufacture and use of disposable diapers amounts to 2.3 times more water wasted than cloth.3
  • Over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby EACH YEAR.6
  • 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.17

(all facts came directly from
  • Disposables. For these calculations, let's assume that a family needs about 60 diapers a week. In the San Francisco Bay area, disposable diapers cost roughly 23¢ per store-brand diaper and 28¢ for name-brand. This averages to 25.5¢ per diaper. Thus the average child will cost about $1,600 to diaper for two years in disposable diapers, or about $66 a month9.
While starting a cloth diaper stash is nothing short of an investment up front depending on the styles you choose and quantity you keep on hand.  Our plan will have us investing about $500 (I'll give you the final figure when our collection is complete) for a stash that should last us through potty training (so somewhere up to 3 years) and any other future children.

Cloth diapers do require "extras".  Things like a diaper sprayer (not a necessity), specific detergents - though they can still be found at most grocery store you just have to do some ingredient checking, special balms for baby's bottom that won't repell, and accessories like 'doublers' for when the baby becomes a heavier wetter, and wet bags to store dirties before you are ready to wash.   However, that initial investment up front will most likely be met within the first year.

(all facts came directly from
  • Disposable diapers contain traces of Dioxin, an extremely toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process. It is a carcinogenic chemical, listed by the EPA as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals. It is banned in most countries, but not the U.S..1
  • Disposable diapers contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) - a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals.2
  • Disposable diapers contain sodium polyacrylate, a type of super absorbent polymer (SAP), which becomes a gel-like substance when wet. A similar substance had been used in super-absorbency tampons until the early 1980s when it was revealed that the material increased the risk of toxic shock syndrome by increasing absorbency and improving the environment for the growth of toxin-producing bacteria.3

Overall, these were the main facts that sold me on the idea.  However, we DO plan on using disposables while she is still wearing newborn sizes.  We decided to go with a stash of One Size (OS) diapers so until she fits in them without leakage issues, we'll use the Seventh Generation or Earth's Best disposables so we don't have have to stock up on tiny sizes that may only be used for a 1 week or possibly 3 months.  (Any 'crunchy' mamas out there with recommendations on more nautral disposable brands??)

When deciding on cloth, you definitely need to figure out what will work best with your lifestyle and budget.  Also, factors like daycare policies, shared or coin-op laundry facilities, or just never finding the right fit could change this option for a lot of people.  There are so many different options, this was a great site for me to learn the vast world of cloth diapering basics.

I'll follow up with a post when our stash is nearly complete, it's only about halfway there, about what we selected and why.  I'll also follow up once she is actually using them, and how it's going for us.  In the meantime, I'll be here,  warding off the side eyes from friends and family who say the all annoying phrases of "that'll never last"....  don't they know how stubborn I am??


  1. I'm really looking forward to reading about your experience with cloth diapers. I would love to use cloth for our next one but don't even know where to begin. Lots of luck to you!!

  2. We tried Bambo Nature and I was very happy with them. I think you have to buy them online.

  3. It drives me nuts when people say comments like "it will never last." We cloth diaper our twins and it is extremely doable. :)

  4. ChristinaD - I'll definitely be posting updates of how it's going and our experience!

    KlemmFamily - Thank you!! I bookmarked the site. I have no problem ordering online and it'll be nice to try different brands to see what works best.

    Shannon - it is the worst! Same with people insisting I'll be crying for an epidural. Maybe I will, but that'll be my decision, not theirs. Just because they would never last CDing, doesn't mean I won't! ::rant over::

  5. oh I love you for this post! I definitely think I'm going to do sposies until baby Q is big enough for the one size options as well. I'm so excited about CDing, it's almost embarrassing.

    I cannot even TELL you how many snarky remarks I've gotten when I tell people about cloth diapering. "oh just wait until he/she gets here..." is the biggest culprit. mind your business, people!

    1. I don't think there is anything wrong with getting NB sizes, but just don't think it'll work well with us, or the budget we want to invest. The judgemental remarks are the worst!

  6. I can't wait to read your next CD post! I also read the YHL (love them!)diaper post a long time ago, before I was even planning for a baby, and decided then that it is totally doable.

    I can't wait to see what you've decided on for your stash. Originally we planned on doing all Bum Genius elemenetals, we've got 6 so far, because of John and Sherry. But since reading more, I think we are going to also try some flips (mostly for overnight and the disposable inserts for travel) and another brand altogether, just in case the bum genius doesn't work for our LO... I haven't decided on what to try though...

    1. I have a few BG Elementals, but have more BG OS pockets (4.0s). I'm sticking mainly with OS Pockets or AIOs, but trying a few different brands. Might see what works best and then stock up on more of our favorites. Will definitely post about it again!

  7. Love this perspective and post! Can't wait to hear the process and how it's going. Our daycare doesn't allow for cloth diapers (sad face). And ignore the nay-Sayers! You guys are going to rock the cloth diapers out!!!

  8. I wish I had the time and patience for cloth. I will be using disposable unfortunately.

    1. No worries! It's definitely not for everyone, I think people should just do what works best for them, but always keep in mind that others may have different perspectives (and this goes with almost ANYTHING in life!)

  9. I think it's great that you made a conscious decision to do this, my friend did it as well and said it was surprisingly easy. I do know that you will save a fortune in diapers!! lol. Modern day diapering is definitely a very wasteful practice.

  10. Great post! I found your blog via Natasha of Schue Love and I'm your newest follower! My hubby and I are trying to make eco-friendly choices, and we're not parents yet but I know when that day comes we'll be cloth diapering! It seems like there are so many great, modern options that are good for your baby and the Earth, so I think it's awesome you're making this choice! xoxo


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