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Choose eco-friendly cloth diapers

By Jennifer Spero |
It takes two trees per year to keep one baby in disposable diapers, yet the conventional cotton used to make traditional cloth diapers is heavily treated with pesticides and other chemicals.

Choosing cloth diapers instead of disposables decreases landfill waste and protects your baby from dangerous chemicals. Though there is some debate around the issue, many experts believe that cloth diapers may also conserve energy, water, and natural resources. Opting for cloth brands can go a long way toward minimizing your eco-footprint, but keep in mind that conventional cotton is grown using chemical pesticides. So boost your cloth diapers' eco-friendliness even further by choosing cloth diapers made from eco-friendly fibers, like organic cotton, bamboo, and hemp. Using diapers made from these materials supports sustainable agricultural practices and means that no dangerous pesticides or chemicals were released into the environment.

Find it! Cloth diapers made from eco-friendly materials

From fitted to all-in-ones, options in the realm of cloth diapers have greatly expanded since their early days, with new styles geared toward increasing convenience and comfortability. (For a guide through the somewhat confusing world of cloth diaper varieties, see this Cloth Diaper Information Guide.) ].) Our picks offer cloth diapers made of eco-friendly materials, as well as more traditional cloth diapers, diaper covers, fasteners, and other diapering products.

Before you buy

Cloth diapers are available in a variety of styles (pre-fold, fitted, all-in-one) and materials (conventional cotton, organic cotton, wool, hemp and more). Before you buy, look into what style and material will work best for your lifestyle and will be most comfortable for your baby. Choosing organic and eco-friendly diapers is the best way to lower the environmental impact of diapering, but be prepared for higher price tags.

Choosing eco-friendly cloth diapers helps you go green because…

  • Fewer non-biodegradable, disposable diapers end up in landfills each year. Cloth diapers also keep human waste out of landfills, protecting human health from a potentially dangerous ground water contaminant.
  • The manufacture of cloth diapers requires one-third the amount of energy, one-tenth the raw materials, and half as much water as disposables, even when cotton growing and diaper laundering are factored in..[1]
  • Cloth diapers are not treated with the same chemicals and bleaches that disposable manufacturers use, keeping potentially harmful toxins out of the environment and away from your baby.
  • Cloth diapers made from eco-friendly materials keep dangerous pesticides and chemicals out of the environment during the growing process. They are also usually undyed and unbleached, avoiding more potential environmental contaminants.

Although many debate the benefits of choosing reusable over disposable, when all the eco-factors are weighed, cloth still comes out on top.

To reuse or single-use?

By 1991, 30 years after disposable diapers were introduced, 90 percent of American babies were wearing single-use, disposable diapers.[2] Today, more than 18 billion disposable diapers end up in landfills each year in the US, and they take as many as 500 years to decompose. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), disposable diapers are the third largest source of solid landfill waste.[2] TThe manufacturing of disposable diapers for babies in the US uses 82,000 tons of plastic and 1.3 million tons of wood pulp (250,000 trees) each year. [3] If disposable diapers were replaced with cloth reusable diapers for one baby, more than 300 pounds of wood and 50 pounds of petroleum could be saved in just one year.[4]

According to the Landbank Consultancy for the Women's Environmental Network, manufacturing disposable diapers requires 3.5 times as much energy as manufacturing cloth diapers, and 20 percent more raw materials like crude oil.[2][4] And, throughout their life cycle, from manufacture to disposal, single-use diapers waste 2.3 times more water than cloth.[4]

Disposable diapers can also contain chemicals that may leach into the environment when they are disposed of in landfills. Disposable diapers can contain dioxins, Tributyl-tin (TBT) and sodium polyacrylate.

Human waste contamination is another environmental concern associated with disposable diapers. Nearly 5 million tons of untreated human waste end up in landfills every year.[5] Discarded human waste can contain bacteria and viruses that cause intestinal and other illnesses that are excreted through the digestive tract, such as polio and hepatitis.

Conventional cotton's dirty secrets

Conventional cotton is treated with insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, which can find their way into groundwater and the oceans. Cotton accounts for one-quarter of the insecticides used in the world.[6] Production of conventional cotton results in about $2 billion worth of harmful pesticides and fertilizers being sprayed on the global cotton supply each year.[7]

It is considered to be the world's most pesticide-intensive crop. The various chemicals used to treat conventional cotton can harm beneficial insects and soil micro-organisms and adversely affect the health of humans and wildlife. Additionally, up to 70 percent |genetically modified organism (GMO) seed is used in conventional cotton farming in the US.[8]

Controversies

The controversy over whether it is more environmentally sound and safer for a baby to use cloth or disposable diapers has been alive and well since the late 1980s. Disposable diaper advocates have claimed that the process of laundering cloth diapers wastes water. But current research finds that washing cloth diapers at home uses less than 70 gallons of water every three days — the same amount of water used by flushing a toilet five to six times a day.[3]

Related health issues

There are several important health risks to consider related to the use of conventional diapers. Between plastic, bleach, absorbency gels, glues, dyes, and fragrances, disposable diapers contain a wide range of chemicals that can be absorbed through baby's skin or breathed in.

  • Disposable diapers also contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) — a toxic chemical known to cause hormonal problems — and sodium polyacrylate, which is used in disposable diapers to make them more absorbent. TBT was found to cause toxic shock syndrome when used in tampons in the 1980s.
  • Disposable diapers may also cause or aggravate diaper rash. From 1955 to 1991, when disposable diaper usage was on the rise, the occurrence of diaper rash increased from 7 percent to 78 percent.[1]

Glossary

  • genetically modified organism (GMO): A GMO is created by merging the genetic make-up of two organisms, resulting in a desired byproduct that could otherwise not be found in nature. Engineering GMOs is a common practice in conventional farming, and studies have shown that GMOs pose significant environmental risks such as killing off living, natural organisms and becoming immune to pesticides.
  • Tributyl-tin (TBT): A fungicide that is moderately toxic to mammals.

External links

Footnotes

  1. Ideal Bite - Would you wear chemically treated paper underwear?
  2. National Association of Diaper Services - Why Use Cloth?
  3. Mothering - The Joy of Cloth Diapers
  4. Real Diaper Association - Diaper Facts
  5. The New Parents Guide - Diapers, Diapers & More Diapers
  6. The Green Guide - Toys
  7. Earth Justice Foundation - The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton
  8. Organic Exchange - About Organic Cotton brochure
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