Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers: Environmental Impact
ESTIMATED READING TIME: 4 MINUTES
We make choices in everything we buy. Virtually every product we purchase has some impact on the environment. We need to determine which alternatives are less harmful and choose to use these products and practices whenever possible.
It is the cumulative effect of all our seemingly insignificant choices that has led us to our “drawing on the capital” rather than “living off the interest” of our earth’s resources. Do we drive to the park or ride our bikes? Do we take juice boxes or a jug of water? Do we put the clothes in the dryer or hang them out to dry. Cloth vs. disposable diapers represent one of many common choices in our society that needs to be considered in the light of environmental concerns.
Mummified diapers are filling landfills
From birth to toilet training each child will use approximately 5,300 disposable diapers. It takes 440-880 lbs. of fluff pulp and 286 lbs. of plastic (including packaging) per year to supply a single baby with disposables. They are the 3rd largest single product in the waste stream behind newspapers and beverage containers. In areas where paper, glass, tin cans etc. are collected for recycling, diapers make up an even larger portion of the garbage.
Landfill sites do not provide the conditions necessary for diapers to decompose. They are in effect “mummified” and retain their original weight, volume and form. Human feces can contain harmful pathogens and when feces are placed in our landfill sites, as with disposable diapers, there is potential for public exposure (via rodents, pets, insects, birds or groundwater).
Disposable diapering uses 37% more water than cloth diapering
Disposables appear to produce less sewage because in them, human waste goes to dump sites. This practice violates World Health Organization guidelines and is technically illegal. Washing cloth diapers at home uses 50-70 gal. of water every three days. For perspective, a toilet-trained person, flushing the toilet 5-6 times a day, also uses 70 gal. of water every three days. Waste water from washing cloth diapers is relatively benign while the waste water from pulp, paper and plastics contain solvents, sludge, heavy metals, unreacted polymers, dioxins and furans. The potential environmental impacts of the disposal of these materials are considerable. Although cloth diaper use also emits air pollution, the air pollution from the manufacture of disposables is far more noxious. Pulp bleaching emits dioxins and furans into the air, as does incineration. Incineration often produces toxic air emissions and toxic ash.
In Canada and the US more than 20,000,000,000 disposables are discarded into landfill sites each year!
Being informed and including environmental considerations into our decision making is essential to preserving a healthy earth for future generations.