Choosing which type of diaper is best for you (and your baby) is not going to be an easy task. Cloth diapers have become a lot more high-tech, giving today’s parents the convenience of disposable diapers. From an environmental standpoint, there has been much debate over the impact of disposable diapers versus that of cloth diapers.
In the USA, it is estimated that roughly 5 million tons of untreated waste and a total of 2 billion tons of urine, faeces, plastic and paper are added to landfills annually through the disposal of disposable diapers.
The traditional cloth diaper is reusable, will last for 75 - 100 washings (at a minimum), and can be saved for the next child. In addition, cloth diapers can be recycled at the end of their useful life to make cotton rags.
On the other hand, pro-disposable advocates say that cleaning cloth diapers uses more energy, contributes to the load on sanitary sewer systems and adds to the potential water pollution. In addition to which, manufacturers need water to grow the cotton to make cloth diapers, diapers need to be laundered, and parents need to do additional loads of laundry if cloth diapers leak. Disposable diapers, it is said, are getting better at not leaking, thereby reducing the additional laundry loads required for clothing and bed linens.
Although some disposables are said to be biodegradable, in order for these diapers to decompose, they must be exposed to air (oxygen) and sunlight. Since that will be highly unlikely at a landfill, decomposition, can therefore take several hundred years.
Moreover, while cloth diapers are a good alternative to disposable diapers, they aren't necessarily environmentally pristine as some of them have bleached cottons, so the environmental by-product dioxin is still generated.
The bottom line
There really is no one best type of diaper that is good for every family. Parents should make their decisions based on their lifestyle, finances, personal preferences and concern for the environment. This may lead you to using one type or the other, or a combination of the two. When considering your environmental impact, one should also assess the local conditions, such as the water supply, potential for water and air pollution and solid waste disposal options.
At first glance, it appears that cloth diapers are the best way to reduce the load on our waste disposal sites; however the laundering of these also appears to use a lot of water, which could present a problem in periods of drought, or drought-prone areas.
The choice that is right for you and your baby may be different from the one that's right for your friend and her baby. The best thing to do is know the advantages and disadvantages between cloth and disposable diapers and choose the one that best suits your sensibilities.