Monday, May 17, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets - the truth about Cloth Diapers versus Disposables

Pampers recently called into question whether sustainable diapers are a better choice than disposables for the environment.  Sustainable diapers, like traditional cloth diapers and newer hybrid diapers such as G-diapers, have been a subject of some controversy lately.  Why?  Because more parents are making the switch to cloth diapers from disposables.  The combination of greater eco-consciousness and better cloth diaper designs has made cloth diapering an increasingly popular choice.  Cloth diapers are sustainable diapers making them both an earth friendly and budget friendly choice.

So naturally a smear campaign has begun.  In actuality the debate regarding cloth versus disposable diapers is pretty simple.  Pampers has a few arguments in favor of disposables that boil down to the following ideas (read their fact sheet here)

According to Pampers: 
Disposables are healthier for baby than cloth.  MYTH!
Disposables have to be changed less than cloth diapers but that doesn't mean your child isn't urinating just as much!  Pampers "keep babies' skin dryer and more comfortable by reducing leaks and locking wetness inside the diaper in."  So would you rather your child sat in their own excrement for a couple extra hours because they couldn't feel it thanks to a chemically produced gelatinous substance and a layer of paper or that you had to change them into a soft, dry diaper? Advances in cloth diaper design also call this fact into question.  Try an All in One with a microfleece liner and microfiber insert, like Fuzzibunz, and see which comes out on top in the cloth versus disposable diapers debate!

There's no clear winner in terms of environmental friendliness!  MYTH!
Pampers cites a UK study of the environmental effects of cloth versus disposable diapers here.  In a nutshell this is one of the most flawed studies ever produced on the subject as it focuses primarily on cloth diaperers who use a commercial diaper service.  Let's just be honest here if the average child uses over 7000 disposable diapers in their lifetime and they are all going into into landfills, well, you get the point.  Cloth diapers can have an even smaller carbon footprint if caregivers wash during low energy use hours and primarily line dry.

"Pampers diapers are made of materials that are also frequently used in a wide range of other consumer products."  Ok, this may be true, but it shouldn't make you feel better!

But perhaps my favorite Pampers argument is "biodegradability does not provide a meaningful benefit, since the preferred method of disposal for household waste in the U.S. is landfill or incineration. Very little degrades in a landfill no matter what it is made of – even newspaper – since landfills are designed to contain waste, protect the ground water, and keep air and water out" (  Where do you even begin with this?  If everyone jumped off a bridge....

Here's some fun facts about the cloth versus disposable diapers debate Pampers isn't highlighting.
- Bowel movements need to be dumped in the toilet according to Pampers instructions, because established health standards from WHO and APHA show soiled diapers can contaminate ground water supply.  (Pampers instructons, click here.  APHA policy statement on disposal of diapers)

- There is a group of over 1000 parents united on Facebook claiming Pampers dipers gave their baby bleeding, blistering diaper rash.  Pampers claims none of the materials in their new revolutionary, Dry Max technology are new (insert head scratch here) and that this is simply diaper rash and competitors lying. Nice.  Well, dear Pampers, my mother warned me back in my disposable diapering days that my kid sis, who is now 21, would bleed if she was put into pampers.  My mom said it was like the diaper was sucking the moisture from her skin.  HMMMMMM.... (Check out the Facebook group here)

- The material list for Pampers:
• Petrolatum – skin protectant
• Stearyl Alcohol – Enhances the smoothness and softness of the special formulation and helps condition the skin.
• Aloe Extract – moisturizer
• Polyethylene (a moisture-proof material) – A moisture-proof material used on the backsheet (outer cover).... See More
• AGM – absorbs fluid and keeps it away from baby’s skin
• Polypropylene – a synthetic material for the inner layer
• Polypropylene and Polyethylene – inner layer top sheet
• Masking Perfume (small amounts) – Added between the core and backsheet to mask the natural odors of diaper ingredients.
• Pigment/colorant – for leg cuffs and ears
• Elastic – Spandex elastic that is covered with polypropylene-based nonwovens to provide a snug fit around the legs.
Sure doesn't sound very natural or safe for the environment.  By the way, try finding this on their website!
The bottom line is that cloth diapering should be the norm.  We can't get trapped by the myth of convenience when it comes to cloth versus disposable diapers, or parenting in general.  We need to start realizing that being a conscientious parent is about making the best choices not the ones sold to us as convenient options.


Heather said... [Reply to comment]

Great point: "We need to start realizing that being a conscientious parent is about making the best choices not the ones sold to us as convenient options." - and lots of good info! Thanks!

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