Cloth diapers are still better for the planet than any disposables when you look at all of the factors. Chlorine free disposable diaper makers say their diapers are a safer alternative for diapering your baby and that they are better for the planet. While I am all for avoiding the use of chlorine (and the creation of carcinogens such as dioxin) avoiding chlorine is just one step towards a greener diapering alternative. These disposable diapers are still made with plastic, super-absorbent petroleum based gels, and they still use non-renewable resources. For each of the 95 percent of parents who still use disposable diapers, 6,000 or more disposable diapers are going to end up in a landfill for hundreds of years.
I am glad that there are chlorine free disposable diapers for those who simply won’t consider the advantages of cloth diapers, but I still believe that cloth offers a better alternative for your wallet, for the planet, and for your baby.
Disposable anything is not good for the planet. We wash our clothing, our dishes, and even our reusable water bottles to help cut down on resource use and the huge landfill problem we are creating for future generations. It just does not make good environmental sense to have every baby born lead to the tossing out of 6,000 paper and plastic diapers, and an equally massive stack of disposable diaper wipes, plus the packaging they come in and plastic bags to enshrine them for posterity.
Washing cloth diapers uses about the same amount of water as an adult flushing the toilet 5 times a day, yet no one suggests we all move to using paper underwear to save water. Studies that make resource use for disposable diapers look equal to cloth diapers are often based on washing methods no one actually uses (raise your hand if your home water heater is set to 190 degrees – now go turn it down before your kids get scalded!). They also make line-drying diapers seem like a Herculean task when lots of moms and dads do it easily. Air-drying diapers can be done on a simple clothing rack if you want to do even more to lower your carbon footprint. These studies also consistently ignore the 18 billion disposable diapers headed for US landfills each year.
Second, chlorine free diapers and wipes are not cheap. They will cost you about $2,200 for just two years worth. If your child is in diapers longer, the the cost goes up. The larger sizes are sold for 40 or even 50 cents each. Cloth diapers, even really nice ones, will cost you from $200-600 for the whole two years. Best of all, if your child takes a little longer to potty train, you can usually keep using the same diapers. If you have a second child, cloth diapering becomes almost free since you can use the same diapers again. If you don’t need them, there are organizations such as Cloth Diaper Foundation that lend cloth diapers to low-income families that will happily take good second-hand diapers.
Finally, disposable diapers that are chlorine-free are not chemical free. If you choose to use cloth diapers, you can find them in many different fabrics so you can choose what is against your baby’s skin. Choose a stay-dry lining or go for all-natural fibers, you can even choose organic. Add an unscented, biodegradable laundry detergent and you have a simple system for keeping your baby’s bottom chemical free.