If you are expecting a baby you’ve probably already started compiling the so-called new baby checklist. Having been through that, I’m positive – you can cut on at least half of the items usually recommended. But you can never skip on diapers. There are many options available on the market, no matter which one you choose – disposable or cloth, or cloth with compostable inserts…You’ll be changing your baby between 8-12 times a day in the first weeks, then between 4-8 times a day until…she’s potty-trained. And that’s a lot of changes…

What research says about diapers? Which option is safer for your baby, which one is kinder to the environment?

Disposable diapers

A cocktail of chemicals is involved in their production that eventually leaks into the environment. Though most diaper manufacturers don’t list all the ingredients and by-products of their products on the packaging, typically these are made of soft, fluffy pulp which is produced by chemically treating wood fibers. (SourceChlorine-based bleaching agents are used for treating the pulp. During the manufacturing process, substances called organochlorides are produced, including dioxin considered to be “the most toxic substance ever produced” (Source) We don’t know how much of the toxins stay in the final product, the amount is believed to be insignificant to cause any negative health impact. But, yet, it is better to stay on the safe side, especially when your baby’s health is concerned.

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that about 20 billion disposable diapers are dumped in landfills each year, accounting for more than 3.5 million tons of waste. What’s more, disposable diapers take about 500 years to decompose.

How do cloth diapers compare?

An interesting report by  U.K. Environment Agency comparing cloth and disposable diapers throws a different light on the environmental impact of different types of diapers. The numbers cited in the report say that cloth and disposable diapers tend to come to a near tie in overall environmental impact.

“The most significant environmental impacts for all three nappy systems [disposable, cloth and reusable commercially laundered diaper system modeling] were on resource depletion, acidification, and global warming. For one child, over two and a half years, these impacts are roughly comparable with driving a car between 1300 and 2200 miles.” the report says.

Compared to cloth diapers, disposable diapers seem to have a larger carbon footprint, but the electricity used to wash reusable diapers cancels out most of the difference. Disposables appear to produce less sewage but it’s because they are thrown away in the landfills where they fail to decompose for long periods of time. Disposables have a greater impact on ozone depletion, thanks to CFCs released as they decompose in the landfill. Some authors claim that “cloth diapers generate more toxic waste that can impact human health, because of the electricity, detergent, and softener used to wash them.” (Source) While others reasonably argue that wastewater from washing cloth diapers is relatively benign while the wastewater from pulp, paper, and plastics contain solvents, sludge, heavy metals, unreacted polymers, dioxins and furans. (Source)

BOTTOMLINE:

No doubt, cloth diapers have their significant footprint, but with a great potential to reduce it. You can switch to energy- and water-efficient laundry machines, green detergents or environment-friendly hybrid diaper options that combine cloth pants with compostable inserts and incorporate Cradle-to-Cradle design. (see bottom of page for more information)

In addition, cloth diapers are usually free of dyes and many of the chemicals found (though in minute amounts, they say) in disposable diapers. But it depends on the brand, of course.

To gain a better insight into the safety and footprint of available diaper options, please, check out the resources below.

Stanford Magazine – Article

A new design of cloth nappies with a compostable liner may be the solution to diaper sustainability. You can wash the outer cloth diaper less frequently, and either compost the soiled inner layer or flush it down the toilet. gDiapers, a specific brand, has “Cradle-to-Cradle” certification, validating its biodegradable diaper technology.

 

Environmental Impact of Disposable Diapers

Disposable diapers are a popular consumer product, especially in the U.S. Although they offer convenience, they do have several dangerous environmental drawbacks. Not only do disposable diapers account for a lot of the trash taking over the nation’s landfills, but they also pose serious risks to the environment and people alike.

What’s in disposable diapers – and are they safe for your baby? | BabyCenter

It’s hard to imagine life without disposable diapers. After becoming widely available in the late 1960s and early 1970s, disposables are now the norm in much of the world – and for good reason. There’s no denying that throwaway diapers are a major convenience for many parents.

Cloth Diapers and your Baby’s Health: What you Need to Know

Have you ever considered what disposables are made of? How did they get to be so white? How do they manage to absorb so much? Disposables are made mostly of soft, fluffy pulp which is produced by chemically treating wood fibers.

 

More information on how diapers can affect the development of your baby:

 

Cloth AND Disposable! How Diapers Can Affect Your Baby’s Development

Diapers are a part of everyday life with a baby. Cloth and disposable each offer advantages and disadvantages. For optimal motor development, there are some important considerations that tend to affect cloth-wearers more, but can also affect disposable-wearers. Note, this article address typical development and babies not experiencing hip dysplasia.

 

Changing Diapers Is As Much About Babies’ Brains As Their Bottoms – Kindred Media

We are conflicted about diaper/nappy changing these days. As a society, it makes us uncomfortable. It is distasteful, involving dirty, smelly bodily substances. It is anxiety provoking, requiring the exposure of babies’ genitals. It is inconvenient, necessitating a pause in the midst of whatever other activity a parent has underway.

Disposable diapers or cloth diapers? Is there a more sustainable solution?

Well, diaper manufacturing has leveled up to a new dimension. A diaper brand gDiaper, established in 2005, has developed the concept of compostable diapers. Their product is planet friendly, made of soft cotton and breathable nylon combined with disposable inserts. It is certified Silver by the world leader in ecologically intelligent design – Cradle to Cradle. Wet inserts can be composted to create nutrient-rich soil in 50-150 days! Learn more about the project and how it can make your diaper dilemma much easier:

compostable insterts diapers

Getting Started with Hybrid Diapers

Learn more about which diapers and accessories to buy, how to use our diapers, how to properly dispose of inserts, and more.