Disposable diapers, on the national level, have been a topic of discussion for some time because of their negative environmental footprint. This environmental awareness has also led to a social pointing-of-fingers at playgroups and parenting sites. The people who cloth diaper their babies are the best, and the people who don’t just don’t care about the environment, right? Well, it’s not that simple, you know that.
While there are a lot of people who choose disposables for pure/mythical convenience, i.e., no extra laundry (true) and, no mess (myth!) A lot of people do not have the convenience of being environmentally friendly.
The choice between cloth or disposable diapers, could easily be described as a “white person problem.” While the process of cloth diapering might be thought of as more time-consuming, and inconvenient, there certainly is a convenience, in being able to make this personal, and financial decision. In order to successfully use cloth diapers you need:
Financial Costs: While the accumulated, total cost of cloth diapers is less, the immediate, out of pocket cost, is more than purchasing a one-month supply of disposables. This can be a huge factor for people of lower income choosing disposables over cloth; it’s a difference between say an immediate, one-time cost of $300-500 for cloth, versus a continual monthly cost of $70-100 for disposables. The latter is a lot easier to swing for people on a month-to-month paycheck.
*I feel a rebuttal coming on: Making you’re own cloth diapers out of shirts, towels and other cloth: This is a great alternative, but it is time consuming, and for someone working 50-70 hour weeks this might not make personal sense.
Access to, or funds for washing machine/diaper service: This is an extra cost, and if you live in an apartment, or public housing you will likely not have a personal washing machine, and most laundromats will not let you wash diapers in their facility.
*If you have the time, you can wash diapers at home by boiling water on the stove, again another time and personal cost.
Stay-at-home parent/caregiver: Did you know that day-cares only accept disposable diapers? So, if you’re of lower income, and are unable to be a stay-at-home parent or provide in-home care for your baby you will likely send your baby to day-care, meaning you must use disposables.
All of this being said, I think cloth diapers are great, and I plan on using them when I have children, because I have the convenience of making this decision both personally and financially. It’s important to be aware of the social and financial costs for people, and why that might lead to a parent not making an environmentally friendly diapering decision, so let’s not point fingers.
Below I’ve linked to some websites, which debunk, and sometimes confirm some myths of cloth diapering, such as (inconvenience and mess) and other sites that discuss the why’s and how-to’s of cloth diapering. For more information and testimonials on cloth diapering, check out some of the sites below:
“The vast majority of licensed day care centers do not accept cloth diapers, and require parents and caregivers to provide a steady supply of disposable diapers.”
“What about those that only have access to community laundry facilities? It can be done! Many families do use cloth with limited access to washing machines. I recommend going with a simpler diaper like prefolds and/or a hybrid system like Flip. The covers can be wiped out or hand washed easily and the durable inserts may handle being washed just once a week better than more complex diapering systems.”
“For cloth diapering, each family will probably need about 6 dozen diapers10. The cost of cloth diapering can vary considerably, from as low as $300 for a basic set-up of prefolds and covers11, to $1000 or more for organic cotton fitted diapers and wool covers…. This means the cost of cloth diapering is about one tenth the cost of disposables12, and you can spend even less by using found objects (old towels & T-shirts).”
“…. A number of scientific studies have found that both cloth and disposable diapers have environmental effects, including raw material and energy usage, air and water pollution, and waste disposal. Disposable diapers add 1 to 2 percent to municipal solid waste, while cloth diapers use more energy and water in laundering and contribute to air and water pollution.”
If you’re going the cloth diaper route, this site rates some brands.