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Greener Diapers: Cloth Better than Disposable for People and the Planet

Apr 28, 2017 10:47AM

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Disposable diapers are the third most common consumer item in landfills. When even those labeled “eco-friendly” are covered by other debris after being discarded and hidden from sunlight and air, they don’t readily biodegrade.

Producing disposables also makes major demands on water, energy, nonrenewable resources like oil and renewables like wood. Many brands contain harmful ingredients such as polyacrylate, dioxin, phthalates and heavy metals that can be absorbed by a baby’s soft, developing skin and promote rashes.

According to SmallFootprintFamily.com, 90 to 95 percent of American babies annually generate 27.4 billion single-use plastic diapers, or 7.6 billion pounds of garbage. While comparable statistics on adult diapers aren’t available, Euromonitor International forecasts a 48 percent increase in U.S. sales to $2.7 billion in 2020, up from $1.8 billion in 2015. In a decade, sales of diapers for adults could surpass those for babies at Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble, attributed to bladder control issues related to health and age, according to the Urology Care Foundation and Mayo Clinic.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association advise that in all cases, fecal matter and urine should be rinsed and flushed down the toilet instead of put in the trash, so that contaminants don’t enter groundwater and potentially spread disease. Traditional cloth diapers are the way to go for several reasons beyond budget:

• Using cloth facilitates earlier potty education by quickly communicating to the baby when they are wet. New cloth diaper systems like Nicki’s Diapers can be easily cleaned in regular and high-efficiency washing machines. Some popular brands are listed at DiaperPin.com.

• The nonprofit association at RealDiapers.org helps connect local groups of mothers to communicate and share best practices in use, cleaning and potty training, such as learning a baby’s cues for needing to go. It also hosts informative events such as the annual national Great Cloth Diaper Change.

• Cloth diapers in good condition can be resold on eBay and sites like DiaperSwappers.com.


This article appears in the May 2017 issue of Natural Awakenings.

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