Plastic Free July Day 26: Diapers
(Back to the challenge summary)
I have a 5 and a 8 yo, we’ve been diapers free for 3 years. My experience is not recent but things haven’t changed much so it should be ok. Before my first daughter was born, I bought a stack of cloth diapers, different brands (I was in France at that time), different sizes, beautiful colors, organic cotton, bamboo… I was so motivated! Then she was born, the chaos started and I gave up cloth diapers after 2 weeks.
We switched to the most eco-friendly disposable diapers possible, it cost us an arm and a leg (thank you Amazon for the subscription discounts) but for us at that time it was the best solution.
When my second daughter was born, I still had brand new beautiful cloth diapers in our closet, but I never used them either. I knew nothing about plastic pollution and I thought that biodegradable diapers were a very good option.
Fast forward to today: if I had a baby now, I would give these reusable diapers a serious try because the disposable alternative creates so much waste and cost so much more money.
This would be a new plastic-free challenge for sure. No new baby planned so I’ll have to wait until I’m a grandma ;-)
I know I gave up so who am I to ask other moms to make the choice of reusables. Whatever choice you will make, don’t beat yourself up. Having a baby changes a life, especially when it’s the first one. So all I want to say in this blog post is take your time to compare options, read, watch videos. Below is everything I should have known to feel less overwhelmed about cloth diapering.
WHY SWITCHING FROM DISPOSABLE TO REUSABLE DIAPERS?
18 billion diapers are discarded in the US every year
It’s 82,000 tons of plastic and 1.3 million tons of wood pulp (250,000 trees). They almost all end up in landfills : they are not recyclable, some models are compostable in a dedicated facility but these are still very rare.
As for anything disposable, these numbers are the tip of the iceberg: they don’t include all the emissions and pollution to make, transport and dispose of these diapers again and again.
Myth: you probably have read that diapers “decompose” in landfills in 200 to 500 years. They don’t; I know I’m repeating myself but plastic doesn’t decompose, plastic breaks apart in smaller and smaller pieces, microplastics and nanoplastics.
Most synthetic disposable diapers still contain chemicals that babies should never be in contact with
These chemicals may cause or worsen childhood asthma and respiratory problems. The soft, sensitive skin of babies is also prone to rashes and allergic reactions.
- Dioxins: diapers bleached with chlorine may contain a by-product, dioxins, a highly carcinogenic compound.
- Sodium Polyacrylate: a super absorbent chemical compound found in the core of the diapers. It can leak and be in contact with the baby’s skin, causing skin irritations and respiratory problems.
- Fragrances: babies organ systems are very sensitive to chemicals. The scents found in many diapers are strong and chemical-laden, harboring unnecessary irritants with the potential to cause health issues like diaper rash and respiratory symptoms. Equally concerning, manufacturers are not required to disclose the chemicals used in fragrances as the FDA allows them to consider their fragrances "trade secrets."
- Dyes: another cause of skin irritation and allergic reactions
- Phthalates: In some disposable diapers, phthalates may be used as part of the process to create a waterproof outer liner. They have potential toxic effects to the developing endocrine and reproductive systems, which infants are particularly vulnerable.
To learn more, check out this article, an excellent resource to understand better how disposable diapers are made and why some of the chemicals used can be dangerous for babies.
Disposable diapers cost way more than cloth diapers
- Cloth diapers budget: $300 to $400 upfront. You can find many second hand ones, in great condition, sometimes brand new. The additional cost of laundry is under $10 a month.
- Disposable diapers: several thousand dollars per child, depending on the brand. For low income families diapers are a significant budget and can be a real issue.
SUSTAINABLE OPTION #1: ECO FRIENDLY DISPOSABLE DIAPERS AND COMPOSTING SERVICE
Eco-friendly diapers are the most expensive option, but as I was explaining at the beginning, this is the choice my husband and I made for our kids because we needed something easy, non toxic and better for the environment.
There are many brands on the market now, with many claims. I used Nature Babycare years ago, I would definitely recommend them.
It turns out they are #1 in this very detailed comparison study
These are the characteristics recommended when choosing a disposable diaper:
- Chlorine free
- Fragrance free
- Dyes free
- Phthalates free
Some brands don’t put all these informations on their website, so you may have to contact them to ask.
What about “biodegradability”? Even though some disposable diapers are said to be biodegradable, it will take them decades to decompose in a landfill (I couldn’t find a number because it depends on the materials used and each model is different). And did you know that poop disposed of in a landfill could seep into the water table and contaminate our drinking water? This I didn’t know! But don’t jump on the conclusion that all kinds of disposable diapers are the same: the eco-friendly ones are safe and non-toxic for babies and that makes a big difference.
Now, here’s an option that lowers the impact of disposable diapers and makes them a good zero waste and plastic-free choice: a service that provides you with compostable diapers and collects the dirty ones to compost them in their facility! And they also offer a cloth diapering service, amazing!
In the Bay Area, we are lucky to have Earth Baby and Tiny Tots. If you know another one let me know, I will add it here.
What I find awesome with this service is that it closes the loop, nothing goes to landfills! Downside: because it’s so convenient and eco-friendly, it’s still the most expensive option.
If companies who make cheap and toxic disposable diapers were fined for making such a polluting product that impacts families health, maybe their diapers wouldn't be so cheap. But this is another debate.
SUSTAINABLE OPTION #2: CLOTH DIAPERS
(Picture credit: Ana Goes Green)
Cloth diapering is an amazing plastic-free solution and it will save you thousands of dollars.
It can feel overwhelming, it’s understandable. That’s why, since I’ve never really used cloth diapers, I spent quite some time looking for the best explanation videos. Which brands, what’s the whole process, laundry… ? Everything is in there and honestly it doesn't seem that complicated. As for anything zero waste, it takes a good organization.
I hope this will be helpful. And if you have another great resource to suggest, please let me know, I’ll be happy to share it!
Video 1: Cloth Diaper Routine
Video 2: Laundry Routine
Video 3: The Dark Side of Cloth Diapering