The Environmental Benefits of Choosing Cloth Diapers

By: Robert Thomson


There has long been a debate about the environmental benefits of choosing cloth diapers over disposable diapers, between environmentalists and diaper-making companies, and between parents on both sides of the line. Advocates of disposable diapers point out that the diapers are as good as cloth, cost-effective and convenient. They also point out that diaper manufacturers are constantly working on producing healthier, more environmentally safe diapers. Obviously, advocates of cloth diapers disagree.

The Environmental Cost of Disposable Diapers

Over eighty percent of American parents use disposables as the diaper of choice. While a wonderful thing for the diaper manufacturers, this may not be such a good thing for the environment. Almost 20 billion disposable diapers are thrown into landfills each year, around 10,000 tons. After several studies, scientists believe it will take about 500 years for the final remains of a single diaper will be gone.


While some say this means disposables are not really "disposable", others are more concerned about environmental costs. Each year, disposable diaper manufacturers use over 75,000 metric tons of plastic and 1 million metric tons of wood pulp. Environmental programs can quite easily point out that's a lot of trees being used up, just to be thrown away.


Many advocates of cloth diapers believe the potential health risks are an even larger concern. Most parents that use disposable diapers just throw the diaper away. Unfortunately, this means that wrapped up in those 20 billion disposable diapers are several tons of fecal matter, urine and any diseases a child may have.

In addition, disposable diapers use chemicals in them that turn to gas as the diaper disintegrates. Tolune, xylene, ethylbenzene, styrene and isopropylbenzene are all contained in one disposable diaper, wrapped around the child.

Choosing Cloth Diapers

For all these reasons and more, many parents are moving back to cloth diapers, especially since they've improved and are no longer just a rag and two safety pins. Cloth diapers have gone Velcro, which makes putting them on as convenient as disposables. The environmental benefits of choosing cloth diapers takes care of the chemical issues, and cuts down on the amount of plastic and wood pulp used each year.

While advocates of disposable diapers point out that cotton production and cloth manufacturing use chemicals and treatments as well, advocates for cloth diapers point out that you only have to buy them once. That's a difference of maybe 100 cloth diapers per child, compared to over 5,000 disposable diapers.

Likewise, environmental health concerns are addressed with cloth diapers. Instead of throwing away a soiled diaper and leaving untreated fecal matter exposed to the elements, cloth diapers are washed. The fecal water is then taken to a sanitation treatment facility along with other blackwater and treated before being released back into the environment.

The environmental benefits of choosing cloth diapers over disposable diapers are still in debate, and probably will be for quite some time. It is a matter of controversy, and may end up being a matter of "agreeing to disagree".

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