Choosing cloth diapers is an important step for new families to consider in a sustainable household.
“All they do is eat, sleep, cry, and poop.” That’s one of the warnings heard over and over again by new parents to be. “And make sure you’ve got plenty of diapers, because you’re going to need them!” This statement isn’t entirely inaccurate. The average newborn will soil up to 10 diapers a day during their first month! It’s no wonder new parents feel they spend the majority of their first days together elbow deep in diapers. It’s a lot of work changing all those diapers, not to mention cleaning them! Enter the disposable diaper. In the 1940s parents breathed a collective sigh of relief when they heard of the development of a new product, the disposable diaper. “What? No more washing, scrubbing, bleaching, drying?” Just use it, pop it in the trash, and grab the next freshly cleaned diaper?” Then they rushed to the store to buy their first box of Johnson & Johnson diapers. This was in 1948. By 1961 the beloved Pampers were issued by Proctor & Gamble and the world of parenting would never be the same. Unfortunately, neither would our landfills or our environment…
Similar to many other inventions of the mid-twentieth century, ahem water bottles, diapers have become an ecological nightmare. Popping up not only in our landfills, but basically left behind anywhere families congregate including beaches, parks, rivers, not to mention plugging up toilets. The key thing to remember, is that diapers are disposable, not biodegradable. Those diapers left behind stick around. The estimate is 250-500 years in fact. That means those ten diapers a day being used by each parent are piling up, and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
By 1980, only 40 years after their introduction, American babies were blowing through 1.93 million disposable diapers a year. This made up 1.4% of all household disposable waste. Over time, diapers did go through some alterations, super-absorbent polymers came into play, reducing their size by 50%. However, the use of diapers are still increasing. More and more people can afford to buy disposable diapers, the population is increasing, and families are targeted for convenience rather than environmental impact. By 2006, American babies wore 3.6 million tons of diapers, this is almost double the amount they used in 1980. Diapers also increased to 2.1% of all household waste.
Today, we are increasingly aware of the impact our choices have on our fragile environment, and people are beginning to rethink the easy way out, preferring more sustainable solutions. It’s no surprise then, that more and more families are choosing to use cloth diapers in their household.
Below are a few options for making your diaper use more sustainable
Choose cloth diapers
If you choose to go with cloth diapers, don’t worry. You won’t be stuck with a single cloth towelette and clothespins like parents of the past. The beauty of cloth diapers today is the ingenuity modern designers have employed in making them not only easy to use, they’re also very cute! There are also a number of diapers to choose from. Each one is a little bit different in the way they’re used, fit, etc. They’re often referred to as systems.
Most cloth diapers have two parts – the cover and the insert. Some inserts snap in, others slide into a pocket within the cover. You’ll want to think about whether you’d rather work with the pocket or snap-in liner. For covers, you want to consider velcro vs snaps, and whether or not you prefer sized diapers, or those that grow with the baby. Also, different diapers fit different babies.
Some of the more popular diapers to checkout include gDiaper offering the option of reusable or disposable liners, Thirsties which are made in the US, FuzziBunz, and BumGenius the original pocket-style diaper (see above).
Find a diapering service
As the use of cloth diapering increases, so do the number of diapering services. You may be surprised, even in small towns they’re springing up. In general, these services provide the collection can and inserts – you wash your own shells. Many also offer a pick-up and delivery service. If you’re having trouble finding one online, ask around at your local baby stores (our second-hand baby store offers ours). Birthing centers, hospitals, and midwives may also know where to direct you. Services can run as low as $75 a month. For many that’s well worth not having to mess with washing diapers.
Checkout biodegradable diapers
If cloth diapers don’t work for you, or even if you need an alternative some of the time, there are some biodegradable diapers starting to make their way on to the market. Some serve as inserts for your reusable diaper shell, others are their own diaper entirely. gDiaper, one of the more popular cloth diapers offers disposable inserts for those times when cloth is especially challenging. gDiaper disposable inserts are made primarily of plant-based, naturally-derived and non-petroleum ingredients, pure essential oils and gentle preservatives. Nature Babycare is a swedish brand diaper, though not entirely biodegradable, it does offer some biodegradable components.
Use cloth diapers during the day and disposables at night or for travel
There are times when you’re so exhausted from a 3 am feeding that the last thing you want to do is mess with cloth diapers. Or perhaps you’re in the middle of a road trip across the US and have no way to clean your diapers during your travels. Let’s face it, these are the times when disposables just might make sense. If this is the case, it’s ok. Just remember to use cloth as much as possible, and keep o,……mne bag of disposables on hand, in case you need a bit of extra help. Parenting, after all, is not easy. And sometimes all you want is something to make it run a bit more smoothly.
If you do decide to buy disposable diapers, there are some brands that offer a more earth friendly choice. Check out Seventh Generation’s Free and Clear Diapers. These are made without fragrances, latex, petroleum, and chlorine. They offer a hypoallergenic product, less likely to irritate baby’s sensitive skin. The Bambo Nature Diaper boasts the Nordic Swan Eco-Label green label certification. The manufacturer has regular environmental inspectures and hte diapers are made without chlorine, phthalates, and other toxic chemicals. Earth’s Best are made with renewable materials including corn and weight and are made without chlorine, latex, dyes, and perfume.
Try a few diapers, wait until after the baby is born before you pick one system.
If you’re choosing to go with a cloth diaper, most recommend you get one of each before the baby is born, try them out, and then buy more of the system you like after your bouncing infant has arrived. Many people stock up on diapers at the baby shower, so consider asking folks to give you gift certificates for diapers rather than stocking up. You’ll be able to choose your own diaper after your bundle of joy has arrived.