November 18, 2014

Cloth vs. Disposables Revisited

We recently went on a 2 week trip and I had to switch to disposables since it was difficult to wash diapers while we were gone. The ease of the disposables had me asking myself again why we use cloth diapers. Is it because it's more environmentally friendly or because they're safer for the baby or because it's cheaper?

(You may be surprised at my conclusion!)
Are cloth diapers more environmentally friendly than disposables?
Each baby can go through 3800 (article) disposable diapers in 2.5 years and those all go into the landfill. They could take 100-500 years to degrade (article) and there is worry that they will contaminate the ground water. Cloth diapers use lots of water to wash, but it also takes lots of water to make a disposable diaper. Human fecal matter is also considered biohazardous waste and is actually illegal to throw into the garbage in some places. (It actually says on the packaging for disposables that the fecal matter should be flushed down the toilet and the rest of the diaper thrown out. Surprise, surprise!)

The problem I have with using this as a reason to cloth diaper is that there is so much other garbage that similarly fills landfills and similarly take a long time to degrade. If I don't go to the lengths of buying only biodegradable wrappers for all my food, etc, then why make it an issue only for diapers?

This is not the reason, I cloth diaper. I throw out lots of other plastics, etc and there's no reason for me to make this change only for diapers.

Are disposables safe for babies?
This article talks about what are in disposable diapers. Seems like the main concerns of a disposable diaper's contents are dyes, perfumes, and dioxins.

Dyes and Perfumes: It's easy to find even cheap diapers that are dye free and perfume free.

Dioxins: The only disposable diapers that wouldn't contain dioxins are ones that are chlorine free diapers such as the brands Seventh Generation and Earth's Best. (Dioxins in diapers are a byproduct of bleaching.) As for the ones that are treated with chlorine, they contain small amounts of dioxins. This article gives the results of research on dioxins in diapers: "exposure to dioxins from the diet is more than 30,000-2,200,000 times the exposure through diapers in nursing infants." Dioxins are mainly obtained through eating animals and animal biproducts and are especially present in seafood. The only way to significantly reduce dioxins in your diet is by becoming vegan.

This is not the reason I cloth diaper. Since I don't cut out dioxins in my diet by being vegan, there is no reason for me to try to reduce it in the diapers since the amount in diapers is so much less than in food.

Are disposables more expensive than cloth?
So it all comes down to expense for me. Which is cheaper, cloth or disposables?

The initial cost for cloth diapers is more. But for under $200 you can get 6 Flip Diaper Covers and 24 OsoCozy, Unbleached Indian Cotton, Premium Fit Prefolds at Caterpillar Baby and free shipping since it's over $75 if you're in Canada. (You can tell where I shop!)

After the initial cost, it would depend on how much it costs to do a load. For most people, it wouldn't cost much. And in the past, it has always been cheaper to wash diapers than to buy disposables. However, we recently moved into an apartment building and using the coin laundry to wash my cloth diapers costs me $4 a load every other day. If I used disposables, I would probably go through 12 a day for all three of my babies, one of which is mostly potty trained. (I have a 3 year old, almost 2 year old and 6 month old. Do the math, and each disposable diaper would have to be 16 cents or less to be cheaper than washing my cloth diapers.

Using Walmart's online shopping guide, I'd have to buy in bulk to get a comparative price in disposables. (It would definitely not be cheaper to buy disposables if I were avoiding the dioxins by buying chlorine free diapers.)

In size 3: Parent's Choice Giant box cost 13 cents per diaper
          Huggies Snug & Dry Econo Plus box cost 16 cents per diaper
          Pampers Baby Dry Econo Pack Plus box cost 16 cents each

For chlorine free: Seventh Generation are 48 cents per diaper
          Delora diapers are 46 cents per diaper

In size 4: Parent's Choice Giant box cost 14 cents per diaper
          Huggies Snug & Dry Econo Plus box cost 18 cents per diaper
          Pampers Baby Dry Econo Pack Plus box cost 18 cents per diaper

Because of the cost of doing coin laundry, the prices for disposable diapers are actually pretty comparable to the cost of washing the cloth diapers. If I count the time it takes to wash and prepare the cloth diapers, it really makes more sense for me to stop cloth diapering. (Especially if I buy the disposables on sale.)

Since I throw out lots of other plastics and such in the garbage in other forms, it doesn't make sense for me to avoid adding to the landfill only in the area of diapers.

Since I am not vegan, it doesn't make sense for me to avoid dioxins only in the disposable diapers when there is so much more in my diet.

Because we now use coin laundry, it is no longer significantly cheaper for me to cloth diaper.

In the end, I do believe I will keep most of my cloth diapers for when we aren't using coin laundry anymore. But for the time being, it makes more sense for my family to use disposables. (I know, shocker!)

disclaimer: Keep in mind I'm not an expert. I'm a mom who is looking for answers myself. Please feel free to leave any insightful comments you might have.

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