Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable: The Environmental Impact

Posted by Jason Rector on

Cloth diapers or disposable diapers? This question continues to baffle new parents that care for the environment.

The answer, however, is less complicated than you think! Disposable diapers pose a massive threat to the environment. Once dumped in the landfill, they continue to remain there for over 500 years. They’re made from toxic raw materials and leave an alarming environmental footprint.

Cloth diapers on the other hand are an eco-friendlier choice. They are made of biodegradable content and are fully recyclable. Diapers made of organic cotton are typically the “best friends of nature.”

Deep dive into the article to further decode the cloth vs. disposable diaper conundrum. 

Disposable Diapers

What are disposable diapers made up of? What is the amount of environmental footprint they leave? What happens to them once they’re used and thrown away? Read on to understand.

They Remain in the Landfills (For Centuries!)

Nearly 3,000.

That’s the number of diapers babies would use in their first year alone, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics. Taking the average of 6 diapers a day, a baby would end up wearing up to 8,000 diapers until they are potty trained.

These numbers only bring us to one question: How many diapers end up in landfills each year? The answer according to an EPA report is 27.4 billion or 3.4 million tons. 

Moreover, according to an Environmental Protection Agency report, disposable diapers make up about 7% of nondurable household waste in landfills. The numbers could go on, but you get the idea – there are billions and billions and billions of non-degradable diapers that remain in landfills today, as we speak.

They Include Trace Amounts of Plastic

Here’s the truth no parent is a stranger to: Most disposable diapers carry trace amounts of plastic and plastic takes a very, very long time to decompose.

A quick science lesson – bottles made of plastic take about 450 to break down!

What’s more, plastic is just plain hazardous for human consumption, and we’re not talking about actively swallowing it through drinking or eating. We’re talking about what happens when it comes in contact with a baby’s skin through disposable diapers. A look at these latest studies shows how plastic is now very much present in human blood.

They Leave a Massive Environmental Footprint

Consider the number of trees that go into the manufacturing of diapers. Add in the amount of plastic these diapers need for manufacturing. Now, plastic is made from petroleum and the process of manufacturing diapers demands several chemicals. Not to mention the amount of water. These chemicals and water then seep right back into the environment as waste.

Then comes more plastic packaging and transportation. Transporting disposable diapers to countless stores across the world through airplanes and trucks eats up massive energy.

The transportation process then comes full circle when it’s time for used diapers to hit the landfills. This includes the energy used to manufacture garbage backs, the trucks to carry those garbage bags to landfills, and the equipment required to manage it all.

The environmental footprint disposable diapers leave behind is alarming!

They’re Responsible for Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Not only do disposable diapers take several centuries to decompose, but they also trigger colossal greenhouse gas emissions during the transportation cycle. This cycle starts with the manufacturer, proceeds to the store, then to the consumer, and finally to the landfill.

Studies also reveal the release of countless ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons that are absolutely insidious to the ozone layer.

Cloth Diapers

Let’s now understand where cloth diapers stand in the game.

Nature Loves Cloth Diapers

Given there is barely any waste that cloth diapers lead to, they are clearly a far eco-friendlier option. They don’t typically include any toxic chemicals or plastics which makes them a friend to the environment.

Sure, some of these might include synthetic covers but the best ones are always made with natural and organic raw materials. You can also find cloth diapers that come with inserts made from cotton and hemp. Using diapers with inserts also helps lower water consumption.

By finding the right diapers, you can not only lower the environmental footprint of diaper use but you can also keep your little one’s skin protected from countless hazardous chemicals.

They Can be Used for Years

The greatest advantage of cloth diapers is their amazing usability! When cared for properly, these diapers can be used for more than three years. This makes them a lot less wasteful than disposable ones.

They Can be Reused (Over and Again)

The best cloth diapers boast the highest quality of fabric and absorbability. This means many parents get second-hand diapers for their newborns. After use, the very same diapers can be passed on so other children can use them. The result? You help reduce the lifetime of waste and environmental damage that typically stems from the use of diapers.

They Can be Recycled

Consider this: disposable diapers are used just for two hours but take up to 500 years to decompose in landfills. Organic cloth diapers, on the other hand, can be used for over 3 years and you can still reuse them!

Although cloth diapers do require water to clean, they still substantially lower the consumer’s environmental footprint in the long run. Unlike disposable diapers, cloth diapers can be recycled through a variety of different programs once your baby is potty trained.

Organic Cloth Diapers are the future

Cloth diapers are made of cotton. Many argue that cotton is typically grown by using unpleasant synthetic pesticides. However, diapers made from organic cotton solve this problem. Organic cotton farmers must often meet stringent criteria for their products to be certified as organic. Here, the harmful pesticides are replaced with “good” (beneficial) insects that prevent the “bad” insects from damaging the plants. To whiten the cotton, bleach is then replaced with safe peroxide.

In other words, there is no place for harmful chemicals when it comes to growing and producing organic cotton fibers. Not only is organic cotton good for the environment but it is also absolutely safe for your baby.

The Final Verdict

Disposable diapers are nothing short of “poison” to the environment. When it comes to cloth diapers, however, using those made from organic cotton is the safest bet. Organic cotton diapers offered by BabeeGreens, for example, don’t have a single harmful chemical in them. They can be used, reused, and recycled endlessly.

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