Friday, July 13, 2007

Getting to the bottom of cloth diaper debate


Saving the earth, one question at a time
By ADRIA VASIL

Q I recently heard cloth diapers are just as bad as disposables. Is this true?

A Get your rattles out – the battle of the nappies is heating up again. You heard right, a four-year-long British study has just concluded that cloth diapers are as damaging to the environment as the plastic type. While the media is jumping on the story with glee, the whole thing is giving environmentalists a bad case of diaper rash – and with good reason.

Yes, the government-funded report did look at the life-cycle costs of three options: home-laundered cloth, commercially laundered cloth and disposables. And yes, the hefty 200-page paper weighed everything from the dirty oil extraction process involved in making plastic diapers and the water and pesticides used in growing cotton to the electricity needed to iron fold 'n' pin types.

In the end, the study concluded that all three are neck and neck. The electricity used to wash and dry cloth diapers is just as damaging to the environment as burying disposable diapers in landfills. The results actually landed the British government in hot water for spending $30 million on its Real Nappy promotional campaign. But is the study right?

Environmentalists don't think so. They're freaked because they say the report is hinged on some old-fashioned assumptions about cloth diapers that only looked at the habits of 200 washable diaper users (versus the 2,000 surveyed on disposable diapers). The UK's Women's Environment Network says warm water washes in A-rated (i.e., Energy Star) machines, for example, reduce climate-changing pollutants by 17 per cent (not to mention all the water savings).

The report also factors in a good chunk of tumble-drying when parents should be air-drying their nappies, not just to save a lot of power but also to make them last longer. If you're one of the 10 per cent the study says irons your cloth bum wraps, all I have to say is you gotta chill out. You're wasting hydro, and your babe doesn't need a smartly pressed bottom!

Investing in diapers made with unbleached, pesticide-free fibres like hemp, bamboo or organic cotton puts you even further ahead, especially if they are stitched locally and used on more than one kid.

Thanks to the outcry, the British government has supposedly promised to reassess the cloth diaper thing. Keep your eyes peeled for yet another report at some point in the future.

Need another reason to stick with cloth? A German study linked use of plastic diapers to male infertility. The plastic keeps their boy parts hotter than cloth, which ain't good for long-term sperm health.

Keeping cloth nappies green

• wash in cold or warm water

• skip the dryer and hang to dry

• pass on chemical detergents

• only flush poop-filled liners

• buy more diapers so you wash full loads

2 comments on "Getting to the bottom of cloth diaper debate"

littlemonstercallum on July 13, 2007 at 7:38 AM said...

I remember hearing something last year about cloth nappies not being as environmentally good as thought due to the washing machines/tumble dryers. I do think if less pressure was put on parents about these issues (much like breast feeding) parents may be more willing to try and use these methods. Personally I used disposables, I know bad bad bad Mummy (I also didn't breast feed, even badder Mummy)but at the time I just wasn't interested in doing the whole cloth nappy thing, I wanted to spend every second with my son. I'm not sure if I'd do things differently if I had another child, I might be persuaded to use cloth nappies.

momofmany on July 13, 2007 at 9:20 AM said...

I hear ya! Something in us doesn't like to be told what to do. I use them because they simply work better (no blowouts of poopies), they keep baby dry (with a fleece inner) and with 6 kids, I am saving untold amounts of money. I have a friend who is due with her 8th any day now tell me (she just started cloth with her 7th child) that she is much more diligent with laundry overall since cloth diapering. She doesn't see it as more work, just more motivation to get that part of her day done. So apart from being "good" or "bad" for the environment, cloth nappies have huge benefits in other areas too :o) Amy

 

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