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The Facts: Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers

by The Canadian Cloth Diaper Association

Confused About the Issues?

Image: Baby tossed aside near trash can

Let's not throw the baby out with the diapers.

Image: FuzziBunz Perfect Size Diaper

FuzziBunz Perfect Size Diaper
Click for more info: US | CDN | UK

The cloth vs. disposable diaper debate has become more and more complex, but it doesn't have to be.

In this article, you'll find THE FACTS and a comparison of direct quotes from both sides. Make your decision an informed choice.

Here are some points to consider . . .

Convenience

Cloth diapers aren't what they used to be! Now they are pinless and painless.
Innovative designs in fitted diapers and Velcro®-closing covers make modern cloth diapering equivalent to disposables in convenience.
The fit, the comfort and the leak guards are all there for your baby's cotton comfort. Plus cloth diapers are breathable, and chlorine-free.

Diaper services even deliver and pick-up at your door! Are disposables that convenient?

Diaper Rash

The most common cause of rash is extended exposure to a hot soiled diaper.
A disposable diaper hides evidence that the diaper needs to be changed, often resulting in bacteria-caused rashes.

Dryness

Disposables will hold about 7 pounds of fluid, but how long do you want your child in a used diaper?
A dirty diaper is a dirty diaper, and should be changed to prevent bacterial infections.

Non-absorbent liners can be used in cloth diapers to keep baby's bottom drier, and also make rinsing unnecessary.

Image: Changing Diapers - The Hip Moms Guide to Modern Cloth Diapering, by Kelly Wels. Publisher: Green Team Enterprises; First edition (October 1, 2011)

Changing Diapers: The Hip Mom's Guide to Modern Cloth Diapering
Click for more info: US | CDN | UK

Cost!

Disposable diapers are the most expensive diapering method. Diaper service will save you about $1,200, and washing your own will save you about $1,800.

Health

Disposable diapers contain trace amounts of the carcinogen DIOXIN, as well as large amounts of chemicals for absorbency and perfumes.
Cloth diapers are natural fibres and, if washed professionally, they will have the proper Ph and no chemical residues.

The Environment

You have probably seen advertising which states that disposables are as gentle to the environment as cloth, but are they really?

Not according to Environment Canada . . .

Not according to Canadian environmental groups . . .

Not according to your common sense . . .

Here's what each side has to say on the issues . . .

Diaper Rash

Disposable diaper manufacturers state:

Clinical studies have shown less diaper rash with Pampers® than with cloth.
-- source: Proctor and Gamble, Diapers and the Environment, 1991

Objective reports state:

Numerous studies have failed to show that diaper rash is any more common in healthy babies using cotton diapers.
Babies may get a rash from the perfumes in some (disposable) diapers.
-- source: the Toronto Board of Health, The Diaper Decision, October 1990

Image: Soap Opera - The Inside Story of Procter and Gamble, by Alecia Swasy. Publisher: Simon + Schuster; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (September 1, 1994)

Soap Opera: The Inside Story of Procter and Gamble
Click for more info: US | CDN | UK

Overall Environmental Impacts

Disposable diaper manufacturers state:

If you weigh one against the other, there is no environmental winner. and
It's six of one, half a dozen of the other.

-- source: Proctor and Gamble. Pampers® print ad, 1991

Objective reports state:

Cloth diapers have already been recognized by Environmental Choice (Environmental Canada) as offering environmental advantages when compared with 'disposable' diapers.
Using diaper services makes them even better.
(1)
Cloth diapers are eligible for the Ecologo provided they are home washable and 100% reusable. (2)
-- source: (1) Environment Canada, Environmental Choice Guide-lines for Diaper Services
(2) Environment Canada, Reusable Cloth Diapers, 1990

Solid Waste

Disposable diaper manufacturers state:

Disposable diapers account for approximately 2% of the solid waste that goes into landfills.
-- source: Kimberly-Clark, Huggies Diapers and the Environment.

Objective Reports state:

Disposable diapers make up at least 15% of municipal solid waste after 'blue box 2000' items and yard waste are removed. (1)
They represent the 3rd largest single item (after newspapers and beverage and food containers) in the municipal solid waste stream. (2)
The average child uses close to 5,000 diapers (3)
It takes 440 to 880 pounds of fluff pulp and 286 pounds of plastic (including packaging) per year to supply one baby with disposable diapers. (2)
-- source: (1) Ontario office of Waste Reduction educational material April/92 (Centre and South Hastings office)
(2) Environment Canada, Reusable Cloth Diapers, 1990
(3) John Krauser, Associate director, Ontario Medical Association, Letter to the Toronto Board of Health, April 12, 1991.

Image: Diaper Changes - The Complete Diapering Book and Resource Guide, by Theresa Rodriguez Farrisi. Publisher: M. Evans + Company; 3 edition (October 6, 2003)

Diaper Changes: The Complete Diapering Book and Resource Guide
Click for more info: US | CDN | UK

Water and Sewage

Disposable diaper manufacturers state:

Cloth diapers consume 4 times more water and produce more sewage (than disposables).
-- source: Proctor and Gamble, Diapers and the Environment, 1991

Objective reports state:

Single-use diapers use 37% more water than home laundered or diapers service laundered reusables. (1)
Disposables appear to produce less sewage because in them, human waste goes to the dump sites.
This practice violates World Health Organization guide-lines and is technically illegal.
Another consideration is that the wastewater from washing cloth diapers is relatively benign,
while the wastewater from pulp, paper and plastics contain solvents, sludge, heavy metals, unreacted polymers, dioxins and furans.
The potential environmental impacts of the disposal of these materials are considerable
.
(1)
-- source: (1) Lehrburger, Mullen, James, Diapers: Environmental Impacts and Lifecycle Analysis, January 1991

Image: Whitewash - Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Womens Sanitary Products and Disposable Diapers, by  Liz Armstrong and Adrienne Scott. Publisher: Harpercollins (May 1993)

Whitewash - Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Women's Sanitary Products and Disposable Diapers
Click for more info: US | CDN | UK

Energy

Disposable diaper manufacturers state:

Home laundered diapers use 2 times more energy (than disposables).
-- source: Proctor and Gamble, Diapers and the Environment, 1991

Objective reports state:

Single-use (disposable) diapers consume 70% more energy than the average reusable diaper per diaper change.
-- source: Lehrburger, Mullen, Jones, Diapers: Environmental Impacts and Lifecycle Analysis, January 1991

Air Emissions

Disposable diaper manufacturers state:

Home laundered diapers create two times more air emissions (than disposables).
-- source: Proctor and Gamble, Diapers and the Environment, 1991

Objective reports state:

In total, cloth diaper use emits more air pollution.
However, the air pollution from the manufacturer of disposable diapers is far more noxious.
Pulp bleaching emits dioxins and furans into the air, as does incineration.

-- source: Lehrburger, Mullen, Jones. Diapers: Environmental Impacts and Lifecycle Analysis, January 1991

Composting and Recycling

Disposable diaper manufacturers state:

Disposable diapers are 80% compostable. (1)
A demonstration project in St. Cloud, Minnesota sponsored by Proctor and Gamble showed that soiled disposable diapers
can be composted effectively in a municipal composter.
(2)
-- source: (1) Proctor and Gamble. Pampers® print literature, 1991.
(2) Proctor and Gamble. Questions and Answers, Paper Diapers and Briefs, 1991

Objective reports state:

Significant composting facilities do not exist in Canada. An alternative to composting is recycling, which was tried in Seattle in 1991.
That study concluded recycling of this single item would not be economically feasible at any scale. Taxpayers money would be mis-spent in any recycling attempt.
(1)
-- source: (1) Seattle Solid Waste Utility. Letter to project participants, December 12, 1991

 


 

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
The Canadian Cloth Diaper Association (CCDA), 1537 Welch Street, North Vancouver, B.C. V7P 1B5.
The CCDA is a federally incorporated non-profit organization whose mandate is:
To educate the public about the advantages of cloth diapers and to encourage their use, in order to reduce landfill pollution, preserve our forests and avoid risks to our children's health.

 


This article compliments of Born to Love.


The Diaper Facts column:

How Do I Get Started With Cloth Diapering?
Cloth Diapering With A Diaper Service
How Do I Wash Cloth Diapers?
Expensive to Wash Cloth Diapers?
The STINK on Stinky Diapers
Why are my cloth diapers and covers stinky?
Here's my Stinky Diaper Solution!
Why are my cloth diapers and/or diaper covers leaking?!?
How Do I Make My Diaper Covers Last?

Other articles that might be of interest:

How to Choose the Perfect Cloth Diapering System
Feeling Confused About Your Cloth Diapering Decision?
Diapering Expert Shares Secrets!
Do Cloth Diapers Seem Too Expensive?
Frugal Diaper Washing
Frugal Diapering
Frugal Baby Tips: Make Your Own Baby Bum Sweaters!
Your Choice Does Make a Difference!
What's Wrong With 'Disposable' Single-Use Diapers?
Environmental Concerns - What Do They Mean For You and Your Baby?
Environmental Concerns II - Looking at Both Sides of the Issue

 


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Last updated - June 28, 2016