Cloth Diapers to Help the Environment
Translation: Julie Summers
Shortly after I learned of my daughter’s existence, my boyfriend and I decided that we would use cloth diapers for her. Many people undoubtedly imagine big white cotton rags that you have to fold in a certain way, wrap around the baby, fasten with pins and then place a plastic cover over to keep them from leaking. And that’s really how it was thirty years ago. But thankfully, cloth diapers have evolved and greatly improved since then, and today most of them are used very similarly to disposable diapers.
Cloth diapers are all too rarely considered when it comes to diapering choices, in my opinion. That’s probably because people are generally not informed as to how simple they are to use, which is why I decided to briefly share my experience with cloth diapering. It’s also an appropriate topic for a publication in which environmental issues are at the forefront, as disposable diapers are extremely damaging to the environment. In this article, I’m going to present some basic information about cloth diapers, explain why we chose them for our daughter, and point out some websites where you can find helpful information on cloth diapering. Finally, I’ll go over the most popular brand names, as well as an informal survey I took among parents who use cloth diapers for their kids. I hope this article will encourage new or expectant parents to choose the most environmentally friendly diaper option for their babies.
Did you know that each baby uses about 6000 diapers in the first two years of life, not to mention many times that number of baby wipes? Many people use a plastic bag for each and every poopy diaper, each package of diapers and baby wipes are covered in plastic packaging, and we can’t forget all the trash bags used to contain dirty diapers. The main effect that disposable diapers have on the environment is clearly all the waste that piles up in landfills and takes 500 years to biodegrade. In addition, non-renewable natural resources are used to produce disposable diapers. In North America alone, 30 billion disposable diapers are thrown away annually. That number of diapers requires wood pulp from 250,000 trees, along with 90,000 tons of polypropylene plastic, which is produced from petroleum. The result is a great amount of environmental destruction, both in terms of production and waste products.
But we can’t forget that producing reusable diapers also affects the environment. Many are made of cotton, and growing cotton is not considered environmentally friendly. You have to use quite a bit of water to wash the diapers, as well as energy, detergent, and then even more energy if you use a dryer for each load. Both disposable and reusable diapers leave a mark on the environment. The only thing we can do is to do our best – choose more environmentally friendly varieties, reduce our energy consumption by washing cloth diapers at a lower temperature, and drying them on radiators instead of in the dryer, for example. All things considered, reusable diapers are generally a more environmentally friendly option despite their drawbacks. That’s reason number one, two, and ten that we chose cloth over plastic.
The next benefit we recognized with cloth diapers is the cost. If each child uses about 6000 diapers in their lifetime, and each diaper costs 35 krónur, that’s a cost of over 200,000 krónur per child – not to mention the cost of baby wipes. On the other hand, with reusable diapers, you only need to have about 15 to 30 diapers, depending on how quickly you wash them. You can sell the diapers as your child outgrows them or buy second-hand diapers. Of course, you can also save them and use them for your next child. With these strategies, it’s easy to limit the cost of cloth diapering even more. Most parents who choose cloth diapering also have reusable rags instead of disposable baby wipes for cleaning the baby’s bum instead and so-called PUL bags for dirty diapers, which both go in the wash with the diapers. Cloth diapers have a higher up-front cost, but they give you better control over how much you spend.
Cloth diapers have even more benefits: children wearing cloth diapers are less likely to get fungal infections, diaper rash or other rashes, and cloth diapers smell less and are less likely to leak. You never run out of diapers, and you don’t have to take the trash out so often. Besides all of the above, they’re also soft and pretty, which certainly doesn’t hurt! So, there are clearly numerous benefits of using cloth diapers.
When I started getting to know cloth diapers and how to use them, I had all sorts of questions. There are tons of brands, varieties and subvarieties, and to tell you the truth, I was completely lost. But I quickly realized that was completely unnecessary. The only thing you need is a little organization and a few minutes each day to do laundry. Initially, it does demand a bit of extra work, i.e. to find the right diapers for your child and get into a laundry routine. But once you’ve got a handle on those things, you don’t even have to think about it.
If you want to take the plunge but aren’t sure where to begin, I’d like to point you to some helpful information. First of all, the booklet Taubleyjur fyrir Byrjendur (Cloth Diapers for Beginners) is an absolute must for parents new to cloth diapering. It’s a sort of handbook or guide for parents who are considering using cloth diapers. You’ll find information about the basic diaper types, the number of diapers you need, instructions for washing and handling dirty diapers, and much more. You can find the booklet online (translator’s note: this booklet is in Icelandic, but there are loads of English-language resources online too!). I also recommend that you join the Facebook groups Taubleiutjatt, which is for general discussion about cloth diapering, and Taubleiutorg, which is a sales page for both new and second-hand diapers.
In closing, I’d like to share the results of an informal survey I conducted on a Facebook page for parents who cloth diaper regarding the most popular diaper brands. A little disclaimer: what parents prefer and what works best for each child can vary greatly. According to my survey, the most popular brand by far is Bumgenius, which received twice as many votes as Totsbots, which was next in line. That was followed by Alva and finally the Icelandic brands Obbossí and Hnoðrar. A lot of other brands also received votes, including Grovia, Blueberry, JóGu, Best Bottoms, and Chelory.
Now you’re all ready to educate yourself and give it a go! Good luck.