Cotton Diapers – Do You Choose Organic or Not?

Organic cotton prefold cloth diapers

We were surprised when we asked customers about organic cotton diapers because their reasons for choosing organic don’t always match what we know about the benefits of organic. We recommend organic over non-organic, but our reasons might not be what you expect.

We’re stepping back slightly from our laundry series this week in celebration of the Great Cloth Diaper Change coming up this weekend. There will be events around the world Saturday, April 20th at 11:00AM local time, when babies will have their cloth diapers changed for a Guinness World Records global event. If you haven’t registered yet for an event local to you, you might still be able to squeak in.

What makes it organic?
Organic isn’t just a matter of avoiding use of pesticides and other chemical inputs then calling a product organic. “Organic” is a label that is given following certification to detailed standards. Without the certification, a product can’t be labelled “organic” even if it is grown or processed exactly as certified products are. The certification doesn’t make the product clean; the process makes the product clean. But, the certification is your assurance about the process.

In the field. In the U.S., the Department of Agriculture runs the National Organic Program (NOP). For textile fibers, this program sets standards only up to harvest. Short of organic, there are other efforts to reduce the worst toxic pesticides, like the Sustainable Cotton Project’s Cleaner Cotton.

In processing. For post-harvest processing, you will often see a GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification. A whole product can be certified organic by GOTS.

Fiber content. Globally, the Textile Exchange certifies the Organic Content Standard (used to be Organic Exchange [OE] Standard).

Looking for NOP, GOTS, or OE/OCS certifications is your assurance that products are certified to organic standards.

Is Organic Better for the Environment?
Absolutely. The most important reason to buy organic is the reduction of toxins, even known carcinogens, in the environment. It takes a lot of chemicals to grow conventional cotton. When it takes 1/3 lb of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers to produce one cotton T-shirt, you can begin to see how the impact of three dozen prefolds builds. To give you some idea of scale, every year 6.9 million pounds of chemicals are sprayed on conventional cotton in California alone. Organic food and fiber both avoid most of the agricultural and industrial chemicals of conventional food and fiber. Most. Is organic the only answer? Not at all. There are issues with some organic standards, but that shouldn’t keep you from looking for the cleanest solution to your needs. When you buy cotton diapers, whether certified organic as a whole product or just made with organic cotton, you reduce the chemical burden on the environment. You reduce the pollution of air, water, and soil that will get back around to you.

Is Organic Better for the Skin?
No. This is one of the reasons our customer claim for choosing organic, but no studies show that organic cotton is better for your skin or for your health than conventional cotton. Organically grown cotton is not inherently softer than conventional cotton, though the quality of organic cotton can sometimes be better as it grows without exposure to toxins. There are no pesticide residues in conventional cotton. Certainly, organic is better for your health in the global view, as it reduces environmental pollution, but that benefit is indirect. When either conventional cotton or organic cotton has been treated with other chemicals in the processing, that is another matter. When you are told that organic feels cleaner on your skin, though, you are hearing a marketing pitch not scientific fact.

Is Organic Expensive?
Sometimes. Organic food and fibers do cost more than conventional, but that is really only expensive if you are not counting the external costs of the toxin burden of conventional cotton. As long as the production is more expensive, the organic products you buy will be more expensive. But, organic isn’t that much more expensive when compared with equivalent products made with conventional cotton. When you look at a one-time expense like organic cotton prefolds, the difference in cost isn’t so great that it would keep most families from using organic. When cost of the initial investment in diapers is an issue, simple prefold diapers are the affordable option we recommend.

Is Organic Worth It?
Yes. Despite the fact that your baby isn’t exposed to pesticides through conventional cotton diapers and the sometimes higher price tag on organic diapers, it is worth it to choose organic because you reduce the overall toxic burden in our world. You reduce toxins in the field; for the workers; downstream in the air, water, and soil; for yourself; and for your baby.

As one follower wrote, organic “feels better. . . on my conscience.” For a lot of our customers, this is the key. We recommend organic cotton diapers primarily because it lowers the chemical burden on world—the whole, interconnected world that leads right back to us and our babies. We are concerned with the big picture, and we feel better about organic.

Do you want to read more about organic cotton?

Read the story of Patagonia’s switch to organic cotton over the past 20 years. It wasn’t easy, but it was the obvious choice for them once they understood the real impacts of conventional cotton. Their quest for better choices doesn’t end with organic cotton, though. They continue to push boundaries.

If you aren’t already convinced that it’s important to choose organic fabric, especially for your baby, read this article on getting rid of chemicals in fabrics from O Ecotextiles. When it comes to direct chemical exposure, the issue isn’t about organic in the field; it’s all about the processing.

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