Saturday, September 01, 2007

The diaper debate

Yep, I'm researching diapers. This is the type of good time you can have when you're about to become a parent for the first time. It used to be a night out with the girls and martinis. Now, it's spending Saturday night reading article after article online about diapers. I think I've determined a potential course of action as far as diaper usage is concerned, one that is (at the very least) cognizant of the fact that we have an environment and that our actions will impact said environment, and one that will take into account our needs as new parents.

What I learned about diapers:
  1. Net energy used in one year - A disposable diaper uses 29% less energy than home laundered systems and 20% less energy than commercially washed diapers.
  2. Despite a higher reuse rate for home laundered cloth diapers, the home laundering system is energy intensive, using more energy than commercially laundered diapers.
  3. Commercially laundered cloth diapers use a third less water through laundering and approximately 30% less energy.
  4. There are two types of solid waste: postconsumer and industrial. Cloth diapers produce nearly the same amount of industrial and postconsumer waste - the difference is a result of commercial diapers being thrown out earlier than home laundered cloth diapers. Of the three options, disposable diapers produce the most solid waste, nearly twice as much as cloth diapers. (This includes substances thrown out: the diaper, child waste, and packaging.) (No real surprise here. The disposable diapers are filling up our landfills.)
  5. Cloth diapers produce more waterborne waste. (Waste produced by raw material production, irrigation of cotton fields, laundering steps, and sewage treatment.) The waste from disposable diapers primarily comes from manufacturing and fuel-related processes.
  6. The highest level of atmospheric waste comes from home laundered cloth diapers. The laundering process at home is so energy intensive that home laundered diapers produce more atmospheric waste through laundering than exhaust from transporting commercial diapers. (Yikes.) However, it is hypothesized that air-drying home laundered diapers could reduce the energy used by up to 37%, potentially leaving home laundered diapers as the preferred diaper.
  7. Disposable diapers are preferred but they do produce substantially more solid waste. Cloth diapers produce half as much solid waste but use more water volume and produce more waterborne waste.
  8. On average, a baby will need his/her cloth diaper changed ten times per day or his/her disposable diaper changed five times per day.
  9. Cloth diapers can make potty training an easier endeavor because the toddler immediately experiences the discomfort in his/her diaper.
  10. Super absorbent disposable diapers perform best in reducing skin wetness, thereby are most likely to prevent diaper rash. Cloth diapers offer the next best line of protection against rashes. Regular disposables provide the least protection.
  11. Most daycare facilities require children to wear disposable diapers for convenience and hygiene. It also reduces diaper leakage and contamination of the day care setting when children wear super absorbent disposables instead of cloth diapers with plastic pants.
  12. Home laundered cloth diapers is the least expensive diaper option.
What this means for us:
The various articles I read range from one to ten years old. During this time the market has been flooded with energy-efficient washing machines and dryers and the introduction of organic diapers - all things meant to decrease our impact on the environment. So, we've come up with a plan that we hope will work but realize may need to be tweaked to fit the R.A.'s needs, as well as our own.

It begins with gDiapers, a diaper that is neither cloth nor disposable. gDiapers have a washable, cotton outer part and a plastic-free flushable refill. (Because, they are plastic-free, it is okay to toss wet inserts into a compost. Just be sure you flush the poopy ones, that's what the gDiaper was designed for.) We would like try using these during the day when at home.

For nighttime and traveling, we'd like to try Seventh Generation (recommended by Sara). Chlorine-free diapers that are super absorbent and earth-friendly. Bonus - you can buy these in ginormous packs from for a very reasonable price.

And then, once the lil' guy is older and we start to think about potty-training, we'll switch to commercially laundered cloth diapers for the day, hoping the uncomfortable feeling the kid gets when he fills his diaper will prompt him into toilet-using bliss.


B. E. Busby said...

Not included in your diaper calculus are:

1) You lot seem to be active a fair bit -- visiting folks and places. Do you really intend to hoik[1] around even a soiled outer wrapper after the RA has an "event?"

2) Parental duties can be pretty (not to say oppressive) daunting in the early times, oh first-timer. Do not underestimate the amount of time you'd rather dedicate to diddling around with little Roscoe Albermarle (or other RA name) than angsting over your green-factor. Get Al Gore to fix his 10,000 sq ft house energy consumption before beating yourselves up too much.

3) The 7-gen thing (Betty seems to know about these folks through Whole Foods aisle browsing) seems like a good bet for trading money for guilt (think "carbon credits").

4) For the sake of your adult and thus well-developed olfactory systems, invest in one of those used-diaper containers with an automated airlock system. See, for example:


Cathy said...

Wow! I give you a lot of credit for doing so much research. Your solutions seem like good ideas (all three of them). I'm sure if you start with the gdiapers right away you will get used to that as being a Way of Life, just as you would have gotten used to throwing diapers away and emptying the bin all the time.
I looked into cloth diapers for awhile when Liam was showing a reaction, but we're still using disposables. I believe it would be hard to make the switch, but I think it's great that you're going to start off on the right foot with the diapering thing. Like I said, if it's what you've always done, it won't seem like such a hassle. (And from the sounds of the gdiaper, it doesn't seem so hard.) You'll just figure out a system that works for both home and the outside world.

Cathy said...

This morning, while changing Liam's diaper, a thought occurred to me. If you're going with these gdiapers, I change my vote for the changing table - since it would make more sense to have it in the bathroom...I like the white one from Target. =)

Noodle said...

Definitely go with the bathroom table and carrying soiled covers isn't too bad. I just carry around doggie bags. I do need to restate my love of seventh generation since I've been schooled by my dad (big kahuna in the paper products companies). Apparently all the claims that 7th gen. makes (e.g. no latex, no bleach, bla, bla, bla) are also true for most commercial diapers. And apparently the 7th gen are brown not b/c they are recycled but b/c they use the bark of the tree. other diapers use the inside of the tree and then use the bark for other things. one of these days i'll manage to call 7th gen and get their input. for now i just wanted to give you the latest i heard in my research.
i do love that you've become granola :) never saw that coming...