The environmental benefits of using cloth diapers are huge. I've heard the excuse that cloth diapers use more water because of the added laundry. However, according to the Real Diaper Association (2012), the use and manufacturing of disposable diapers brings about 2.3 times more wasted water than cloth diapers, not to mention the 60 times more solid waste and 20 times more raw material used (e.g. crude oil and wood pulp).
Think about all of the energy required to manufacture disposable diapers and the waste that it produces. Wells (2012) lists the stages of disposable diaper manufacturing.
1. Raw Materials Acquisition
2. Materials Manufacture
3. Product Manufacture
4. Product Use or Consumption
5. Final Disposition: Landfill, Incineration, Recycle, Reuse
Recycling just sends everything back through steps 2 or 3, resulting in more energy and waste. The fact that people reuse disposable diapers is an extremely sad fact for another post.
Although disposable diapers come with instructions to dump poop into the toilet before tossing them in the trash, less than 0.5% of waste from disposable diapers actually ends up in the sewer system where it belongs (RDA, 2012). Which means all of that poop and pee ends up sitting in a landfill, wrapped up in a diaper that won't decompose for hundreds of years. And then what happens if that poop somehow gets out of the diaper and into the ground? Not only is there a possibility of soil contamination, but also ground water contamination (Wells, 2012)
Cloth diapers, on the other hand, can be used hundreds of times on multiple children. They don't need to ever be in a landfill. Prefolds and flats can be turned into household rags after they've worn our their diaper use. Some pockets, AIOs, covers, etc. have replacement kits that can be used to fix wear and tear problems. Many cloth diaper companies will repair used diapers. Families that are completely done using their cloth diapers can resell them or donate them to friends or a charity (Wells, 2012).
Here are some tips to avoid using excess water and energy to wash cloth diapers: Have enough diapers to only need to do laundry every few days instead of every day to save on water use. Line dry your diapers to save energy used by a dryer. The sun is an awesome stain remover!
What do you do to save energy and reduce waste while using cloth diapers? How else do you stay eco-friendly? I'd love to hear from you!
Real Diaper Association. (2012). Why choose cloth diapers? Retrieved from http://www.realdiaperassociation.org/diaperfacts.php
Wells. K. (2012). Changing Diapers: the hip mom's guide to modern cloth diapering. Waterford, ME: Green Team Enterprises.