Going Green: Cloth or Disposable (Diapers)?

The great baby quandary: cloth diapers or disposable diapers? For

me, I knew we would go straight to the disposable diaper aisle and we wouldn’t look back. However, experts have weighed in on the debate and perhaps it’s not as straight-forward as I once thought. Now that I’ve examined this issue with an open mind, I would certainly consider trying cloth diapers.

It’s not surprising to know that 95% of families in the United

States still choose disposable diapers. There is something to be said for the ease of taking off a dirty diaper, throwing it in the trash, and not giving it a second thought. However, what is the long-term impact this has on our Mother Earth and what about the cost of diapering?

There is no doubt that disposable diapers require more raw material

to manufacture and they take up more space in the landfills. Disposable diapers are now manufactured with the intention that they are biodegradable. Unfortunately, in order for something to decompose, it must be exposed to air and sun and that’s not what happens to most disposable diapers in landfills. They are buried with the rest of our trash. The other environmental concern with disposable diapers is that human fecal matter is going into our landfills where it can leach into groundwater and possibly spread disease. Some disposable diaper packages and company

websites recommend fecal material be flushed down the toilet before the diapers are put in the garbage. (Who knew? I had no idea! I’m fairly certain that is not occurring in most households around this country, including mine.)

I’ve always thought that cloth diapers were the for sure choice for the environment and I still think that to be the case because there is less waste. However, there is some conflicting research on that issue. Cloth diapers can use up large amounts of electricity and water for washing and drying. Plus, in larger metropolitan areas, commercial diaper service delivery trucks consume fuel and create air pollution.

With regard to convenience, cloth diapers have come a long way since our parents and grandparents used them. Forget the folds and the concern of sticking your baby with pins. Cloth diapers now come with velcro and snaps. They are specifically shaped to fit babies to prevent leakage and waterproof bands around the waist and legs make for an even better fit. The removable linings of cloth diapers now make the change of a diaper quick and easy. However, keep in mind that the cloth diaper will never be as absorbent as the disposable diaper and therefore requires changing more often.

With regard to comfort, there is definitely something to be said for the softness of cloth diapers, but disposable diapers are known to be more breathable, so that’s really a toss-up, and just depends on the individual baby’s preference.

There is also the cost issue to consider, especially in today’s economy. I’m not an expert on calculations but everything I’ve read about cloth diapers seems to suggest they are the least expensive choice. Most of the expense for cloth diapers is at the beginning, when the cloth diapers are purchased. The good news is that if you buy quality cloth diapers, those can last through more than one baby as your family grows. The continuing cost for cloth diapers is in the laundering service, if you choose to utilize a laundry service. Diaper services are available in larger cities,

but my research shows it is not available in Billings yet. (Darn!) The good news is that laundering cloth diapers yourself will save even more money! Disposable diapers don’t cost more up front but the expenses continue for the duration of the time your baby wears diapers. Whether using cloth diapers or disposable diapers, there is always the added cost of wipes.

Locally, in Billings, The Joy of Kids sells GroVia cloth diapers from The Natural Baby Co., which is a Bozeman, Montana company. When I contacted The Joy of Kids, they were full of helpful information about cloth diapers and they reported a definite increase in the number of local families switching to cloth diapers.

Deciding to use cloth or disposable diapers depends on your lifestyle, personal preference, finances and what you consider to be a better choice for the environment. Some parents combine the two, using cloth at home and disposable when they are going to be out all day or when they travel. The choice that is right for you and your baby may be different from the one that's right for other families. Consider all of your options carefully when making a decision.