Around Earth Day there is a lot of talk about which baby products are best for the environment. Watch out for the lie that disposable diapers are either a better choice or that they have the same environmental impact as cloth diapers. It isn’t true, and it’s easy to trace the source of this misunderstanding.
In 2005, a study came out in the United Kingdom comparing the lifecycle analysis (the overall impact) of cloth diapers with disposable diapers. Unfortunately, the study stacked the data in favor of disposable diapers, using best-case future projections for disposable diapers and no data for low-impact reusable cloth diapers. Even this flawed study and its follow-up a few years later found very little overlap between the highest impact cloth diaper and the lowest projected impact for disposable diapers. If they had bothered getting current low-impact data for cloth diapers or using projected future data for cloth diapers, there would have been no significant overlap. If they had considered all of the external costs associated with oil and gas used to make plastic, impact would not even be close.
In the body of the study, the data show that careful washing and drying of cloth diapers makes the environmental impact of cloth diapers far less than the environmental impact of disposable diapers. That isn’t what they wrote in the conclusion, however, so disposable diaper companies, even those that market themselves as so-called eco-disposables, dig no further than one line in the study to justify their claims.
The data does not support the claim. If anyone tries to tell you that the impact of disposable diapers is less than or equal to cloth diapers as marketers take advantage of Earth Day, set them straight. Don’t accept greenwashing. Read the review of the UK diaper studies at What a Waste to get the real scoop.
Lower the Impact of Your Diapers
The key to lower impact for cloth diapers is washing and drying. This is true of all of your home laundry.
The takeaway is obvious: wash with care; care how you wash.
Reusable cloth diapers leave disposable diapers sitting, fuming in the landfill when it comes to real impacts and the way real parents wash their cloth diapers.
How do you lower impacts of reusable cloth diapers?
* Use Energy Star rated washing machines.
* Wash diapers at 140 degrees.
* Air dry.
* Use washable wipes and liners.
* Use low-impact detergent.
* Use organic products.
* Reuse diapers for the next child, then give them away or sell them to another.
From What a Waste, a project of Real Diaper Association.
Read more about the UK study: “Flawed Impact Studies Review”