I Can’t Afford Cloth Diapers

Baby counting money

When money is tight, it can be tough to squeeze out enough for diapers. We have a few tips to help you save money on diapers.

Consider these factors to save yourself money:

  • whether you choose cloth or disposable diapers;
  • which style of cloth diapers you choose; and
  • what to do if even the least expensive cloth diapers are too much for your budget.

Which diapers will save you the most money? The first choice most parents make is cloth or disposable diapers. Cloth diapers win the math every time.

Compare the cost of cloth diapers with disposable diapers over 5,220 diaper changes. (See our “Baby on a Budget” article to see how we came up with that number.)

Total diaper cost

  • $1,200 Disposable Diapers @ $.23/each (major brands)
  • $679 Disposable Diapers @ $.13/each (low-end brands)

Even a high-end option like one-size, all-in-one cloth diapers plus newborn size is less expensive than disposables for one child. If you need to cut the budget, you still have more inexpesive cloth diaper options.

  • $600 Cloth All-in-one (AIO) Diapers plus Newborn
  • $240 Cloth One-size AIO Diapers
  • $231 Cloth prefolds with sized covers
  • $177 Cloth prefolds with one-size covers

The problem, of course, is that you need to come up with that money all at once rather than $20-30 at a time. If you put away $12 per week starting in your 5th month of pregnancy, you will be able to buy a complete cloth diaper supply in your final month of pregnancy. All done!

Which style of cloth diapers is least expensive? If you are limiting your budget even within cloth diapers, there is actually one best choice: prefolds.

Budget choice: prefolds with one-size covers

We carry several choices of prefold and flat diapers. We like the Bummis Beautiful Basic Starter Package and the Bummis Newborn Cloth Diaper Package. Both are currently on special, so you save even more. (These are sized packages, meaning you need new diaper covers as your baby grows. To save more, buy prefolds separately with one-size diaper covers. These adjust as your baby grows.)

Bummis Beautiful Basic cloth diaper package

What if even cloth diapers cost too much? Volunteers across North America build local cloth diaper banks for low-income families.

If even a prefold package on special is too big an expense for your family, talk to us at bynature.ca about free or very low cost diaper options. If you are in the Simcoe County / Georgian Bay area, stop by the byature.ca store and fill out a diaper bank application. Outside that area, drop us a note, and we’ll help you find a cloth diaper bank in your area, if one is available.

How can you save a lot of money cloth diapering? For more tips, see the Real Diaper Association low-income cloth diapers tip sheet. They give details on starting small, upcycling, buying used, keeping wash simple, and, of course, diaper banks.

Cloth Diapering Basics

This month we’re responding to common comments by our customers, like “I don’t have time for cloth diapers,” “Don’t cloth diapers leak?” and “Aren’t cloth diapers gross?”

Image ©  | Dreamstime.com

The Real Cost of Cheap Imports

Cheap products at what cost

Last year, in answer to a lot of questions we received about why we focus so much on products made in North America, we outlined the issues with cheap imports. The real cost goes a lot deeper than price. Low price usually means that some of the real costs of materials, production, and transportation are externalized—meaning others pay the short-term and the long-term cost of the low price.

We want you to understand the basic issues that concern us with production away from home, away from the consistent scrutiny of regulations intended to uphold basic standards of labour, safety, quality, and environmental responsibility. We want you to understand how we see these issues as connected to genuine sustainability.

Cheap Products at What Cost?

Cheaper products sometimes carry hidden costs to labour, safety, quality, environment, and sustainability of your community.

We set high basic standards for every product we carry. We start by looking close to home, then across Canada, across North America, and only then do we consider looking overseas for products to meet your needs.

In “Cheap Products at What Cost?” we share with you the actual questions we ask before we consider a new supplier.

Imports at What Cost? Labour

The cost of cheap products is unfair labour

Outsourcing labour and importing cheap goods can mean that workers who produce those goods are not fairly paid. Those workers pay the real cost of cheap imports.

When we reach for cheap products, they don’t cost any less than the expensive products. They just externalize costs—that is, someone else pays the true cost of the product. When the factor that allows the cost to stay low is labour, the person who works in the field or in the factory for less than a fair wage is the one who pays. The real cost of goods includes the consequences of unpaid labor.

Organizations throughout the world investigate slave labour and child labour so you can choose products with some confidence that you know how they were made.

In “Imports at What Cost? Labour,” we look at the consequences of unpaid and underpaid labour.

Imports at What Cost? Safety

Baby chewing on plastic ring

Buying cheap imports that use inferior materials, shortcuts in assembly, or even badly copied designs to keep costs low can be a safety risk for your child.

When that product is inexpensive at the cost of safety, though, it is your baby who can pay. Injury or worse because of an unsafe baby product is part of the real cost of products that are made not to meet the needs of babies.

We take seriously standards of safety, quality of materials, and quality of work. We work with companies that understand the products they make and make they well.

Read “Imports at What Cost? Safety” to learn more about how you can be confident the products you buy meet high safety standards.

Imports at What Cost? Quality

At What Cost Quality

When you buy low-quality imports, you pay in safety and durability—and sometimes you pay at the store twice when you replace cheap products.

Quality isn’t necessarily your primary concern when you are looking for low-cost toys, diapers, clothing, and other children’s products. Many companies outsource production to keep costs low, which allows importers to sell to North American markets at lower prices than products Made in Canada or Made in USA. Often quality suffers for cost.

Quality and safety issues overlap. Quality can also mean an issue of durability when toys break as soon as children play with them.

Read “Imports at What Cost? Quality” to learn more about the toy recalls of 2007 that sparked a new wave of children’s product safety laws in Canada and the United States.

Imports at What Cost? Environment

What is the cost of imports to the environment

When we buy products made somewhere without tight environmental regulations, the price we pay doesn’t cover the costs of environmental damage. Those costs are paid by the state of origin, the local community, and the workers.

Products made in Canada or the U.S. are produced in compliance with strict regulations. When you buy imports, you have few assurances that making the products did not cause local harm through air or water pollution. Damage to environment and to health through the environment are part of the real cost of imports. We pay now, or we pay later, but we will pay.

In “Imports at What Cost? Environment,” read about the environmental impact in first Mexico and now China of production for export the North American market.

Imports at What Cost? Sustainability

Sometimes the cost of cheap imports is sustainability both local and global

Truly sustainable products don’t pass on real costs to others but accept and embrace the real costs, redesigning the product and the supply chain not to externalize the costs but to internalize the benefits.

Cheap imports are cheap precisely because they cut costs by cutting corners—pay less for labour, think less about quality, design less for safety, and don’t worry about the environment. Good business? Only in the moment. In the long term, these short-term savings leave us with big bills to pay.

Learn what sustainability looks like in “Imports at What Cost? Sustainability.”

What is the solution? Buy local. Local businesses are better at understanding your needs, and local businesses contribute to your community in ways that help you, them, and all of your neighbors.

Visit us at bynature.ca in Orillia, Ontario.

Hold on! Holiday Spending

Buy buy buy. Messages urging you to spend money for the holidays can be relentless. Turn on your critical thinking now before you buy more than you intend to.

According to BMO Financial Group, Canadians are ready to spend this holiday season. “Canadians expect to spend an average of $1,610 this holiday season – up from $1,397 in 2011.” Shoppers in the U.S. are expected to spend just about that much with an average of $749 each on gifts and decorations and another $762 each on travel.

Overwhelmed yet?

What better time to watch The Story of Stuff and think about the consequences of consumerism. Yes, have a great holiday season. Yes, give gifts. But, don’t get caught up in buying something you don’t want and won’t ever use for the sake of a sale.

Imports at What Cost? Environment

What is the cost of imports to the environment

Products made in Canada or the U.S. are produced in compliance with strict regulations. When you buy imports, you have few assurances that making the products did not cause local harm through air or water pollution. Damage to environment and to health through the environment are part of the real cost of imports. We pay now, or we pay later, but we will pay.

Give It to Me Quick

When we buy products made somewhere without tight environmental regulations, the price we pay doesn’t cover the costs of environmental damage. Those costs are paid by the state of origin, the local community, and the workers.


Issues

Having a child means environmental impact. There is no way around that fact. It’s just math. Every human being has an environmental impact, some have more impact than others, and the collective impact of all of us together is not sustainable.

Part of our personal impact includes the real environmental costs of the seemingly benign products we let into our lives. Making stuff has an impact, and sometimes that impact is far greater than it needs to be.

Implementation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) in 1994 meant a de-industrialization of Canada and the U.S. while factories and jobs moved to Mexico. Despite a Commission for Environmental Cooperation between the North American countries, pollution in Mexico was immediate and overwhelming near maquiladoras—factories in Mexico near the U.S. border producing goods for export.

Mexico, though, was an issue of the 1990s; in the past decade, industry and concern has shifted to China. Environmental impacts of moving industry to Mexico pale in comparison with impacts of massive growth in China.

Pollution in China is epic. Severe pollution not only creates an economic burden for the Chinese people, it threatens political stability.

“Pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death, the Ministry of Health says. Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water.” ~ “As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes,” Choking on Growth, part 1, New York Times, August 26, 2007.

Pollution is only part of the problem. Biodiversity loss, deforestation, and desertification over 30% of China’s land signal long-term problems. It isn’t just that growth is unsustainable; Chinese growth is sending them careening toward collapse. Chinese citizens certainly aren’t unaware of the impacts of these factories, and some protest. Especially since the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government has turned to environmental regulations and adjusted growth philosophies to lessen the impact of massive growth on their people.

It costs to make extraction and production processes cleaner. When those of us who live in places with tight environmental regulations take production to a place that doesn’t impose those regulatory costs, that means the price of the final product won’t have to cover the cost of environmental damage.

That doesn’t mean there is no cost to that environmental damage. Costs are simply externalized. Externality is a common concept in economics whereby the producer does not directly incur the inevitable cost. A business maximizes profits by forcing the problem onto someone else. In the case of pollution, the state might pay for clean up or for other consequences, the local community might pay through lower quality of life, and the workers might pay with their health.

Look at the tags on your baby’s clothing and the boxes for toys and car seats. Where are your baby’s products made? High environmental costs in exchange for low product costs will happen everywhere you don’t find tight regulation. And, sometimes, even where there is tight regulation, you end up with the high cost of environmental accidents.


Diaper Plant Explosion

When a Japanese chemical factory exploded in September, it became global news because of the chemical they make and how much they make of it. Nippon Shokubai Co makes 20% of the super-absorbent polymers used in disposable diapers globally. The focus of news stories was an anticipation of disposable diaper shortages around the world, but the rest of the story was the local environmental impact of an explosion and fire so big that local people thought it was another earthquake.

In addition to the everyday environmental impact of throwing 16 billion plastic diapers into landfill in the U.S. alone, accidents and the environmental impact of extraction and production have to be calculated into overall impact of diapers or of any product.


Clean Diapers

Some choices leave a child’s environmental impact higher than others. Using cloth diapers means avoiding the 8,000 disposable diapers you would have used and the waste they generate both as 3% of all municipal solid waste in the landfill [Lehrburger] and in production overseas where lax or non-existent environmental regulation allows companies to shave their costs through pollution.

Use any reusable diaper, even a cloth diaper made from oil or gas (polyester, PUL, microfiber, and so on), and you will lower your baby’s environmental impact. Make smart laundry choices, and you will lower the impact more. If you buy organic cotton prefold diapers with diaper covers made here in Canada by Bummis, you lower your impact even more. You don’t avoid all environmental impact of a child by choosing cloth diapers, but you lower that impact significantly.


The Institute for Sustainable Communities

For 20 years the Institute for Sustainable Communities has been helping communities around the world address environmental, economic, and social challenges to make their own community more sustainable. They train and inspire local people to improve quality of life.

Through the Environmental Health and Safety Academies in the provinces of Guangdong and Jiangsu where most Chinese manufacturing takes place, they are training thousands of factory managers every year in best practices to lower environmental impacts and boost efficiency through safety.

They want donations. The work they do isn’t simple. “We are not interested in quick fixes. When you give to ISC, you invest in lasting solutions to the climate change crisis.”


What You Can Do

Only buy imports if you know something about their manufacture. Favor products and brands that aren’t externalizing environmental costs by outsourcing to countries with loose environmental regulation.

Lower your overall impact with a focus on the three areas that account for 70-80% of the global total of environmental impact: transportation, food, and home energy.


Resources

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Imports at What Cost? Quality

At What Cost Quality

Quality isn’t necessarily your primary concern when you are looking for low-cost toys, diapers, clothing, and other children’s products. Many companies outsource production to keep costs low, which allows importers to sell to North American markets at lower prices than products Made in Canada or Made in USA. Often quality suffers for cost.

Over the past month, we’ve been looking at the real costs of imported children’s products. Today we look at quality of imported children’s products.

Give It to Me Quick

When you buy low-quality imports, you pay in safety and durability—and sometimes you pay at the store twice when you replace cheap products.


Quality Issues

Issues with imports overlap because they all lead to larger issues of sustainability.

Quality can be a safety issue. Last week, I wrote about safety and what you can do to ensure that you don’t buy unsafe children’s products. In some cases, safety issues are caused by inferior materials. As a matter of fact, the rash of recalls in 2007 of toys made in China and sold in the U.S. was the catalyst for safety law of 2008 after the U.S. CPSC recalled 276 different toys in 2007. Mattel alone recalled more than 20 million toys that year. A few of the recalls were for bad design, like the Easy Bake oven burn hazard and the magnetic Batman whose magnets fell off. Most of the toy recalls, though, were for lead in paint or other surface coatings. These toys were made in China with materials sourced in China.

How could so many low-quality toys come out of Chinese factories? Chinese officials wanted to know as well. Factories in China have to be licensed for export. After the recalls began in 2007, 1,726 factories in the province manufacturing the most toys, Guandong Province, were inspected, and 85% were found to be substandard. 44% lost their licenses, reducing the overall number of toy imports that year. When 70-80% of the toys sold in the U.S. are made in China, it shows on store shelves when Chinese factories fail so spectacularly.

What was the consequence of the toy recalls? A group of scholars from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) explored in 2009 consumer and stock market response to 2007 toy recalls. Parents surveyed said that they intended to change their buying habits, and researchers found a spillover effect in lower sales for non-recalled types of toys and for brands not involved in recalls. The whole industry suffered. Why didn’t consumers just avoid the offending manufacturers? Because “Consumers do not recognize manufacturers as well as they recognize brands and trademarks,” said Mara Lederman, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and one of the authors of the study. Consumers worried about the safety of all toys that year.

All of this because large toy manufacturers were cutting corners to squeeze costs and boost profits. None of the recalled toys were Made in Canada or Made in USA. Local toymakers weren’t wondering where they could get their hands on some of that cheap leaden paint or how to add a few exposed magnets to cut their costs. Small manufacturers often choose the highest quality materials and do highest quality work. They are making heirloom toys to last long enough that your child can save a favorite toy for their own child someday.

Durability is another cost issue. Inferior materials and faster work cost less, but they often result in products that don’t last as long. Making products that will break and need replacing is exactly the clever plan of Planned Obsolescence. You can’t stimulate demand by making toys that last a lifetime. The idea of making products that would last only for a limited time was a mid-20th century idea of American industry to ensure long-term sales. If toys didn’t break and diapers didn’t wear out, why would anyone ever buy more? They wouldn’t, and that would be the end of industry. You see your role in this process, of course. Once you are in the cycle, you must continue to buy as products regularly break or wear out.

The only way to release yourself from the cycle of replacing faulty, unsafe, or worn out products is to buy high quality products.


Lead-coated Toys of 2007

Lead in paint on toys made in China wasn’t the only story during the 2007 toy recalls, but it was the biggest story. In addition to the 20 million Mattel toys mentioned above, millions of toys made by other brands and under no brand at all were also recalled. It’s easier to relate to iconic brands, though, because we can recognize them so easily. Thomas the Tank Engine wooden trains are a product like that. In June 2007, 1.5 million Thomas & Friends wooden trains and components of 25 types were recalled. These colorful toys were coated in paint that contained lead. Now, to be clear, Thomas & Friends products currently sold are all certified compliant to the new toy safety laws.


Wooden Mite Cars

As an alternative to branded, mass-produced toy vehicles, we carry toys made from bamboo, recycled plastic, and wood. Among our favorites are the little Mites wooden cars and trucks. These are the same size as popular wooden train toys. The Mite cars are made in Vermont from local Eastern white pine and rock maple. The toymaker, Montgomery Schoolhouse, has been making wooden toys for 40 years. Like all other toymakers selling toys in the U.S., their products are also certified compliant to new toy safety laws.


Go-to Organization

ASTRA, the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, works hard to help consumers find quality toys. The members of ASTRA are specialty stores, individually owned neighborhood toy stores. ASTRA urges you to shop at your Neighborhood Toy Store on Neighborhood Toy Store Day, November 10th. Participating stores have entertainment, crafts, donations, or other events scheduled that day. Search for a store near you.

To ensure that you and your child have a positive experience, buy smart in the first place. In ASTRA’s Toy Buying Guide, they suggest that you “Focus on the kind of play a toy encourages, rather than on the features of the toy. (i.e. Think about what the child can do, rather than what the toy can do.)” They give helpful suggestions for each developmental level.


What You Can Do

As with issues of safety, you can ask for certificates, but this only tells you whether a product passed a test in a lab. What you really want to know is whether the product will last long enough to meet your child’s needs. A test doesn’t necessarily answer that question for you.

Shop at a local toy store or baby boutique where you come to know and trust the staff. They are experts in children’s products. As them about the quality of toys and other products before you buy.

Check customer service reports. If you do have a problem with a product, will the store help you solve your problem, or are you out of luck? This customer service site shows Toys R Us has a 7% positive rating. Their lowest score is in Issue Resolution. Ouch.

Check reviews . Start with the bad reviews and look to see how long it lasted for other buyers. Let other parents share their experience with you, and do them the favor of sharing your honest experience with both positive and negative reviews for products and for stores.


Resources

Seth M. Freedman, Melissa Schettini Kearney, and Mara Lederman, “Product Recalls, Imperfect Information, and Spillover Effects: Lessons from the Consumer Response to the 2007 Toy Recalls,” National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2009.

Eric S. Lipton and David Barboza, “As More Toys Are Recalled, Trail Ends in China,” New York Times, June 19, 2007. “China manufactured every one of the 24 kinds of toys recalled for safety reasons in the United States so far this year, including the enormously popular Thomas & Friends wooden train sets, a record that is causing alarm among consumer advocates, parents and regulators.”

Toy Buying Guide, Your Neighborhood Toy Store (ASTRA)

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