Jan 062009

Over the weekend I was enjoying my early afternoon french toast at Just Breakfast when a couple of young mothers occupied the table next to mine.  They were soon embroiled in a heated (but good natured) debate on the environmental impact of disposable diapers versus cloth diapers.

Now, I’ve always avoided this debate for three reasons: 1) I choose not to be around infants in diapers anyway so it’s not really my decision to make, 2) I believe there are more pressing concerns in today’s world than environmental impact, and 3) aren’t cloth diapers clearly better for the environment?  However, I’m also a person who values knowing the truth more than being right all along, so I decided to investigate “disposable mother’s” claims that an independent study proved they were less damaging to the environment than cloth diapers.

Google led me to an article in London’s Sunday Times “Blow to image of ‘green’ reusable nappy” which was published back in October 2008 and shares the results of a £50,000 study by England’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).  Amongst that report’s conclusions-

The report found that while disposable nappies used over 2½ years would have a global warming , impact of 550kg of CO2 reusable nappies produced 570kg of CO2 on average. But if parents used tumble dryers and washed the reusable nappies at 90C, the impact could spiral to 993kg of CO2.

In other words the government determined that disposable diapers have a smaller carbon footprint than cloth diapers. Those responsible for commissioning this report were biased, which is always the problem with studies of this sort. Of course, as the article makes clear, in this case the bias was towards cloth diapers. Since the results came out in the opposite direction, DEFRA “has told its media managers not to give its conclusions any publicity”.

Knowing there’s always more than one side to any news story I headed out into the ‘green’ blogosphere to see what environmentalists had to say about this article.  Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find a single environmentalist who said “Wow, I was wrong, disposable diapers are better than cloth diapers”.  Nope, instead I found all sorts of rebuttals to the findings and claims that the study was biased or “bad science”.  For example, Jennifer Lance wrote at Eco Child’s Play

I don’t think the report considered the impact on landfills of disposable diapers, and I think that further research needs to be done. I can’t embrace these findings, as there are many factors that were not considered. What about diaper services that reuse the same cloth diapers many times for many families? I don’t know any families that just dispose of their cloth diapers when their children have completed their toilet learning. If they are still in good shape, they are passed on to other families. If they are stained and falling apart, they are used as rags. I still think using cloth diapers was the best choice for my children’s health and the environment despite this report.

Further evidence that environmentalists are the most stubborn of idealists who are more concerned with perception than reality lies in the comments on that post-

I’ve read that report – it was buried for a reason. Not only was it bad science but it made a lot of assumptions that are simply not true. Like you mentioned, cloth diapers get reused for up to five children. The water used to wash cloth diapers is about the same as the amount used by the same number of kids to flush a toilet – so a child in toilet training uses the same amount of water as a child in diapers. It also ignores much of the steps required to produce and transport disposables. I actually wrote a blog about it, but yes, you are right to question and ultimately dismiss this study. It wasn’t out of embarrassment for the results – but for the way they were obtained and, therefore, their inaccuracy.

I don’t think I believe this report at all. I’m sure the footprint required to make the disposable diapers wasn’t included, as well as certain other factors.

I agree that they must have overlooked the landfill issues. The carbon is only a part of the issue overall, but so many people pay attention to just that fragment.

We heartily (and I mean heartily!) disagree with the findings of this study! After pouring through each bit of research, we found that it contains several flaws which make it rather inconclusive. If we really thought disposable products were the same as washable, wouldn’t we all be eating on disposable plates, using disposable clothing, and skipping cloth rags for paper towels? There’s something undeniably obvious about the fact that cloth is fundamentally more eco-friendly.

That’s a very interesting report but I’m afraid when it comes to the environment I can only be supporting the use of cloth diapers.

As you can see, most greenies simply dismissed the scientific evidence out of hand, not giving a single fact to back up their beliefs. But let’s take a look at their objections, shall we…

1) “It’s bad science“-

From reading the article and the comments all of the claims of “bad science” are based on intuition and feelings instead of facts.  Notice the language used: “I don’t think the report considered“; “I’m sure the footprint required to make the disposable diapers wasn’t included, as well as certain other factors“; “they must have overlooked“; and, of course, my favorite – “There’s something undeniably obvious about the fact that cloth is fundamentally more eco-friendly“.  Not a snippet of evidence that there was “bad science” involved here at all, just a lot of feelings and certainties without any scientific backing.  (I was unable to find Amber’s blog post which supposedly contained some actual arguments against the study, BTW, if someone can send me a link I’d love to read it.)

2) “The water used to wash cloth diapers is about the same as the amount used by the same number of kids to flush a toilet“-

I’m not really sure what the point of this statement is.  The comparison is cloth diapers versus disposable diapers.  Magically potty trained at birth children aren’t really relevant here.  Besides, aren’t cloth diaper users still flushing the solid waste down the toilet?  I’d hate to think they’re transferring soiled diapers directly to the washing machine where the fecal matter would mix with their other clothing.

3) “Only looks at carbon footprint“-

While it’s true that this study only looked at carbon footprint, that’s because they’ve already studied the other impacts. The last study commissioned by the UK government was concluded in 2005 and was a lifecycle analysis for the Environment Agency which took four years and cost more than £200,000.  According to the BBC (emphasis mine)-

Whether parents use disposable or cloth nappies makes little difference to the environment, a report has concluded.

The Environment Agency studied the impact of three types of nappy from their manufacture to their disposal.

Disposable nappies, bought by 95% of parents, led to 400,000 tonnes of waste dumped mainly at landfill sites.

But re-usable nappies affected the environment in other ways, such as by the water and energy used for washing and drying them, it found.

The agency says it is the most independent and thorough study yet carried out in the UK.

It compared the environmental impact of disposable, home-laundered flat cloth nappies and commercially-laundered cloth nappies delivered to the home.

So, even when manufacture, transport, etc are taken into account there is still no environmental benefit to cloth diapers.  Which brings me to the world’s most annoying objection-

4) “The impact on landfills“-

According to the same BBC article cited above, disposable nappies only made up 0.1% of rubbish at landfill sites in the United Kingdom. So diapers aren’t having a massive impact on landfills.  And then there are companies like Knowaste that recycle diapers, removing 98% of a disposable diaper from the trash stream and turning the different materials into plastic wood, roof shingles, vinyl wood sidings, shoe insoles, wallpaper, and biogas or green energy. So there doesn’t have to be an impact on landfills at all!

Besides, the whole concept that we’re “running out of room” to put our garbage and/or have landfills is absolutely ridiculous.  If you took every man woman and child currently living on the Earth (6,706,993,152 as of July 2008) and moved them all to Australia we’d each still have roughly a third of an acre of our own private land (Australia is roughly 2,967,909 sq mi. There are 640 acres in a square mile which means there are 1,899,461,760 acres in Australia.  Divided by the Earth’s population, we each get 0.28 acres).  That would leave the entire rest of the planet empty.  Do you not think we could fit both recreational area as well as vast amounts of landfill space on all of North America, South America, Africa, Europe and Asia?  Of course I’m not suggesting that we undertake such a ridiculous plan, but it should clarify that the Earth has plenty of empty land that could be used for waste disposal.


Just as I didn’t expect to learn that cloth diapers were not better for the environment than disposables I also didn’t expect this post to be nearly this long. Seems I was wrong on both counts. Thanks for sticking with me all the way to the end. It seems science has spoken pretty loudly: there is essentially zero difference in environmental impact between disposable and cloth diapers. So the remaining question is, why won’t the environmentalists accept these simple facts? If you have the answer to that question I’d love to hear it.

Comments are always welcomed and even encouraged.  If you have an opinion (either way) please take a moment to comment below so we can all become better educated.

  29 Responses to “The Scoop On Poop: Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers”

  1. I always love when a diaper company sponsors a “fair report”….

    At the end of the day, cloth or disposable diapers have their place – however. When one examines what’s actually IN a disposable diaper, the results are a little scary from a health an environmental perspective.

    A cold washed, sun dried, and natural fabric, reusable diaper, is going to come out smelling like roses comared to a synthetic plastic disposable diaper.

    And if parents are buying for the environmental concern alone, they can certainly make the cloth option as green as possible.

    What I’ve found in my experience, is that the environmental impact of diapering, is one of the least concerns of parents using cloth. With Cost, Health, and convenience (YES! Convenience) being bigger priorities.

  2. Welcome, Kiera!

    Perhaps I didn’t explain things very well in the post, but neither of these studies was sponsored by a diaper comapny (cloth or disposable). They were both funded and performed by government agencies in the UK. And the British government, as you may know, has been pushing cloth diapers for years now spending billions of pounds on their programs. Thus, the sponsors were not happy with the results of the study either.

    I’m in no position to argue the health, cost or convenience issues. This post very specifically only deals with the environmental impact. And on that score alone, it seems like we have a wash (pun intended) ?

    EDIT to add: Just read the post you linked to and I find it ironic that you still recommend throwing diapers in the dryer to fluff them up ?

  3. Thanks for a really interesting article.

    As an avowed cloth nappy user I found it very interesting and it prompted me to read further. Thank you.

    Your comment that there are more pressing concerns in the world today than our environmental impact intrigues me. Especially considering that we are losing vast swathes of pristine environments on a daily basis, increasing numbers of species are being pushed to the brink of extinction and we are making our planet uncomfortable even for ourselves.

    It is the little choices that we make every day – from eating less red meat, to choosing reusable nappies, to recycling and keeping things out of our landfills – that are of paramount importance. By choosing to consume less, we have more at our disposal to be able to affect real change in other areas – more money, and more time.

    There are many reasons why I choose to use cloth nappies. The environmental impact was one. After reading around I am still convinced that my cloth nappies are kind to the environment in ways that matter to me and that disposable nappies are not.

    The study made certain assumptions about the use of cloth nappies that would push up their environmental impact:
    1. The study overestimates the number of reusable nappies required
    2. The study assumes nappies will be dried in a tumble drier rather than outside on a line
    3. Assumptions are made about the temperature nappies are washed at (eg a cold wash or a wash below 60°C will result in a lower level of energy use)
    4. The study makes assumptions about the type of chemicals used to clean the nappies – baking soda & vinegar are more than satisfactory
    5. I live in New Zealand where our electricity is generated differently from that in the UK, which again reduces the impact to the environment for reusable nappies.

    Reusable nappies are also much, much kinder on the finances than disposables. There is no need to spend vast sums of money on an expensive nappy system – you can make your own for under $100. And if you live in an area where you pay for your rubbish collection by the bag – well you stand to save money there too.

    The study found that for disposable nappies the majority of their environmental effects were in the manufacturing processes and waste management. Personally (and this is just my opinion here!!) knowing what goes into making a disposable nappies and the chemicals involved in their manufacture, I am less comfortable with these impacts on the environment.

    It seems a strange argument that we have unlimited space available to dump our rubbish. While technically you have a point, if you think about it the rubbish has to displace something. Generally it tends to be irreplaceable wildlife habitat, beautiful eco-systems . . . that sort of thing. I am not convinced that we can simply add up all the land available and feel assured that it will all be ok and that we can keep consuming and throwing away with wild abandon.

  4. Welcome Meg, and thanks for your insight! I do hope you continue your research – that’s ALWAYS my point – to get people to questions their assumptions and do their best to lean the truth.

    However, then you immediately get into one of the problems I have with environmentalists. You make broad assumptions such as “we are making our planet uncomfortable even for ourselves.” The planet is not, in any way, uncomfortable for me or the people around me. Nor has it become less comfortable over my lifetime. You may find it less comfortable, but that does not mean that everyone does. Do you really think the cavemen were more comfortable than the majority of people today? After all, they had a “pristine” environment to enjoy during their brutal and short lives.

    As for what I find much more pressing than environmental issues, the simple answer is: Freedom. If you’re interested, do some reading over at one of my other blogs, Philaahzophy, where I discuss the meaning of freedom, how we keep losing more of it and what we cna do to get it back (amongst MANY other things). Freedom relates to the environment in the sense that most people who consider themselves green also insist on stomping on my freedoms and the freedoms of others in order to bring about the environmental change they desire. That’s simply not acceptable in my book – not to mention that true freedom would actually be a much better way to solve most environmental problems. But that’s a post for another day. If you’re interested, just let me know and I can elaborate more.

    Back to the post, your comment, and the study…

    I’m glad that you’re comfortable with your decision to use cloth diapers. I am not endorsing wither “camp”, just trying to get the information out there and discussion happening. As I stated in the article I was only discussing the environmental impact of diapers – cost, health, etc are topics for another day. However, you fall prey to the same mistakes I mention in the article.

    1) These studies did NOT make the assumptions you assert. They asked people what they were doing. The data came from real life people, not from assumptions.

    2) Since the major impact of disposables is in the manufacture and disposal, then it seems cloth is even worse than most people assume. After all, half of the “problem areas” are already being solved as a result of the recycling methods mentioned in the article. All that remains is the will to make use of them.

    As for landfills….

    I’ve never been to New Zealand, though I understand it is beautiful and also relatively small in relation to the spaces I’m used to dealing with here in California. However there is massive amounts of unused land in the United States (and the entire Western Hemisphere) that is no longer anything close to “irreplaceable wildlife habitat, beautiful eco-systems . . . that sort of thing.” We’re talking about land that’s already been used for something and is no longer in use or that is exactly the same as hundreds (or thousands) of square miles around it. I assume you live in a house, Meg. And I assume that before that house wa sbuilt there was some precious eco-system in play there. But that didn’t stop you from moving in, did it?

    Living things use resources. The fatc is we have plenty of space left for people to dispose of their waste should that be what they desire. If that’s not what you desire, then fine, don’t do it. But at the same time, please stop making decisions for me and mine. (That is, of course, not a personal attack, but a general statement to all).

    I look forward to hearing more from you, Meg!

    EDIT TO ADD: Oh, and thanks for the link from Twittermoms! I hope it will bring more discussion of the topics (and that this comment responds the two “off the mark assertions” that I made).

  5. Thanks for your reply. I have a few points of contention – surprisingly enough!

    1.When I said we were making the planet uncomfortable even for ourselves, I was refering to human beings as a collective group, not as individuals. You may not be feeling it, in many ways I am not particularly uncomfortable on a day to day basis – but there are many people for whom environmental degradation is having a huge impact. Natural disasters can be made even more disasterous in areas that are severely deforested. The families in the path of the recent coal slurry spill in Tennessee are probably feeling the effects of environmental devastation pretty strongly right now. Residents of the Maldives and other low lying areas are probably more than a little concerned by global warming as rising sea levels threaten their homes. The increasing numbers of city residents suffering respiratory problems due to heavy smog/air pollution are more than likely feeling a little uncomfortable about/because of environmental degradation.

    While you may be in the fortunate position to be able to ignore environmental issues, that does not mean that they do not exist and are not a pressing concern for humanity.

    At no point did I advocate returning to the primitive, hunter/gatherer existence of cavemen, or imply that such a lifestyle would be more comfortable given that they lived in a more pristine environment. We, in the developed world, have attained a level of ease in our lives that I’m sure any Caveman would aspire to. Now if we could just commit to taking better care of the planet we inhabit, we could have the best of both worlds.

    2.I would be interested for you to elaborate how pursuing personal freedoms would help the environment.

    I am a strong believer in the fact that freedom is not simply the right to do as you please, or the right to believe what you will. With those rights come responsibilities. No man is an island – we live as part of society and function in what is effectively a closed eco-system. The effects of our choices and lifestyles ripple outwards and impact on other people and on our environment. When it comes down to it, we are not free to act on our desires with no consideration to others if by doing so we are restricting their freedoms.

    3.I think you misunderstood my comment regarding the assumptions made by the study. I realise full well that the study collected data from participants and didn’t just make the data up from thin air. But the study drew conclusions from that data – and ‘assumptions’ is simply a synonym for that. The conclusions may hold true for the data they collected, but they cannot sensibly extrapolate that data out to apply everywhere. For example, in New Zealand disposable nappies make up some 1.9% of rubbish in the landfill, and most people hang their washing outside to dry rather than using a drier, not all people soak nappies in bleach or equivalent etc.

    4.There is not unlimited land available for us to throw our rubbish into the landfills. Maybe it was a bit of a romantic notion to say they would displace pristine environments – but they do displace something. Farmland, people’s homes, wildlife habitats. We aren’t making more land – and garbage in landfills takes lifetimes to decay and is known to leach toxins into groundwater. If we keep throwing our rubbish away into landfills we will end up living in a tip – or condemning future generations to live amongst our rubbish and its hazards.

    I find it hard to believe that there is land in America, or anywhere, that is simply ’empty’ space. After relatively short periods of time, even seriously degraded land tends to regenerate with some sort of ‘evolutionary’ flora and fauna.

    You are right, human beings (like all living things) do use resources, we live in houses, we eat, we produce waste. But there is no reason why we need to continue to use more than our fair share of resources in callous disregard of future generations or of our fellow travellers on this planet. All the evidence points to this being an unwise choice.

  6. Glad to see you back, Meg 🙂 Hopefully others will weigh in as well.

    On to the points…

    1) The collective “we” of human nature is a wonderful thought experiment, but that is all it is: a thought experiment. There is not, in reality, such a collective “we”. Human beings are individuals all with their own goals, desires, motivations, and tolerance levels.

    As for global warming, the evidence is still heavily disputed and there is still less evidence of a global warming catastrophe, than there was for an “imminent ice age” back in the 1970s. And let’s not forget the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Ag. The fact is, we’re still only scratching the surface of understanding climate change and no where near being able to predict future climate conditions. Hell, we can’t even predict next week’s weather, much less next decade’s.

    And who says I “ignore” environmental issues? I most certainly do not. They just aren’t my top priority as they’re long term problems and many obstacles in the way to solving them. Which brings us to…

    2) All of the words you wrote ring true, but they have (if I may be so bold) led you to the wrong conclusion. Rights do come with responsibilities. Unfortunately, government tends to remove both the rights and the responsibilities. Allow me to give you a “greenish” example…

    Should I walk over to your house and pour a gallon of used motor oil onto your lawn you would have recourse against me, correct? And , it would be fairly simple for you to receive a judgment against me in any reasonable court of law existing today (or from an arbitrator in a free society). However, should a corporation dump hundreds of gallons of oil on your property you would be in court for years, bankrupting yourself in the process and your chances of success (in today’s court system) are slim at best. Should a government agency do the same you can’t even go to court as they have sovereign immunity. In a free society the corporation would be as easy to sue as the individual because it would not have a government to rewrite laws in its favor. The government agency would clearly not exist.

    Most environmental damage in modern society is really a result of “the tragedy of the commons”. Since no one is personally responsible for “the environment” many don’t care if it gets polluted. Any problems that arise will be “someone else’s problem”. Removing “the commons” removes this problem. Once someone owns something, they tend to care for it. I recommend reading Ecology, Liberty and Property: A Free-Market Environmental Reader, should you get the chance. It’s introduction is available online here. The concepts are also discussed in Free Market Environmental Protection by Bruce Yandle punblished at EcoWorld.com.

    It really is a huge issue, but here’s one stellar example (from Yandle’s article):
    Today, practically all of the freshwater fish in the United Kingdom are owned by private parties, and have been for generations. The property of the angling clubs is protected by common law. If a polluter, be it a city, and industry or government enterprise, damages a fishery, the angling clubs brought suit. In the last 20 years, some 2,000 suits have been brought. Five have been lost. The result: The rivers of England are clean, in some cases cleaner than drinking water standards require. Market forces can protect water quality.

    3) Well, of course, the study only covers a certain area of the planet. However, I’ve yet to see any studies finding otherwise (that weren’t sponsored by an agency seeking the result the found). Should you have any I’d be glad to discuss them.

    4) Of course there’s not “unlimited land available”. I never claimed any such thing. But you ned to admit that we are also nowhere near “running out of land”. When I was a kid (30 years ago) I was told that by the year 2000 we’d be overrun with garbage. Yet when I drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles (which I do regularly) I don’t see any garbage-strewn landscapes. I see vast tracts of land sitting idle.

    Do I believe that we should do nothing to conserve or “waste less”? I do not. But that doesn’t mean that we’re “running out of space” on the planet. Show me one piece of evidence that we are and I’ll gladly trumpet it from the rooftops. A little time wandering around Google Earth will show that there is plenty of unused land on th eplanet. Is there “something” on it? Depends on how you define something. But I return to the fact that no one living today seems to complain about clearing the land that they use to live, only about the land that others use.

    As for your final point, it all comes down to who determines “our fair share of resources”. In fact, there is no such thing. My share of natural resources consists entirely of what I am capable of gathering and using. And once again I must ask where is this “all evidence” that points to our current choices being unwise? My article has numerous references to confirmable facts, your assertions have none.

    ((No hard feelings, of course, all is said in the nature of intellectual debate.))

  7. Aahz

    I would have to say that your arguments leave me fairly nonplussed and completely unconvinced. I guess we will have to agree to disagree.

  8. My arguments weren’t intended to convince, Meg – simply to present some basic facts in the hope that people actually think about them instead of disregarding them out of hand (as Mon seems to have done). I appreciate your input and contribution to the conversation. I only wish there was some research I could investigate to better understand your view.

  9. I just wanted to respond to one specific argument that seems to be brought up time and time again. Some people seem to object to the study partially on the grounds that cloth diapers could be washed in cold water, which would result in a lower carbon footprint and/or less environmental impact. This comes back to the idea that there are “more pressing concerns in today’s world than environmental impact,” to steal the author’s line. For me, the safety and health of my child is more important than environmental impact.

    Many baby health sites advocate washing cloth diapers in water that is a minimum of 160 degrees Fahrenheit in order to kill “most” of the forms of bacteria commonly found in babies’ waste. If you want to kill “all” forms of bacteria commonly found in babies’ waste, they recommend boiling cloth diapers at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The lesser of these numbers, 160 degrees Fahrenheit, is the equivalent to 71 degrees Celsius. That’s still a higher temperature than the 60 degrees Celsius temperature used in the study. Still, 71 degrees Celsius will only kill basic infant waste bacterias like e-coli and staphylococcus aureus. Babies don’t have the same mature immune systems that we adults do, so they are far more prone to infection.

  10. This is so funny. Although of course, too many thinking like this is partly why the world is in the mess it is in.

    And what I mean by ‘thinking like this’, I mean thinking in a self-absorbed way.

    I had plenty to contribute at the beginning, but then read the ridiculous responses in the comments. So I’ll leave this author to his/her own opinions.

    HOWEVER, I would say that we shouldn’t be married to our ideologies in the face of facts or common sense (after all facts can and are manipulated). For example, simply using cloth diapers and then completely disregarding the use of a tumble dryer, what powder and other products one uses, and so forth, is blind and stubborn.

    Other than that, there is a lot skewed here towards this author’s own ideologies.

  11. What in the article is skewed toward an ideology, Mon? I have no ideology when it comes to cloth vs. disposable. I was only interested in learning the truth. The truth seems to be that they’re roughly equal. Unlike Meg (and presumably you) I didn’t walk into the argument with a strong opinion either way. Unfortunately, none of the visitors thus far have even tried to offer any evidence to support either disposable or cloth diapers in terms in their environmental impact.

  12. I go for the cloth diapers as it’s more ecofriendly. Do you know disposable ones take 1000 years to vanish from this planet?

  13. Welcome, Vivian. Did you read the post? There is no evidence in either of the studies cited that cloth diapers are more “ecofriendly”. Where did you get this information? Can you PLEASE point me to some evidence of this assertion?

    And how, exactly, do you ‘know’ that disposables “take 1000 years to vanish from this planet”? What is this based on? There weren’t disposable diapers a thousand years ago. And if you read the post you’ll see that they’re fully recyclable, meaning they can “disappear’ in a matter of days.

    But this is exactly the type of knee-jerk reaction that I expect from environmentalists these days. Ignoring the data and making assertions based on nothing.

  14. >>should clarify that the Earth has plenty of empty land that could be used for waste disposal.<<

    I sell disposable baby diapers and this article even made me upset. What about our children’s children, or their children. The planet won’t always be so spread out. We are working on carrying more cloth diapers at our store, for they really are more ecofriendly for generations down the line.

    This article’s lack of ecological understanding makes me want to carry more cloth diapers.

  15. And the environmentalist’s lack of reading ability is really upsetting me. Numerous studies have shown that there is essentially zero difference between cloth and disposable diapers in terms of environmental impact. And those studies WERE NOT taking into account the ability to recycle disposables. Which means disposables (when recycled) are actually BETTER for the environment.

    But all of you people who CLAIM to care about the Earth refuse to accept the truth simply because it would mean admitting you were wrong at some point. Facts are facts and by refusing to accept them you’re all doing far more harm than good.

    If you’ve got some EVIDENCE to the contrary, feel free to post it. Until then I hope you all enjoy the hypocrisy of doing more damage while polishing your halos and refusing to look at reality.

  16. I read your article and infact question this same subject on my site. My objective is to get all my readers to do research whenever they are questioning a parenting decision.

    When I researched this subject, I read that the results of the UK study displeased the environmentalists who conducted it. They wanted to keep the results underwraps. I suggest to anyone who truly has a desire to make an informed decision- research both sides. We are all responsible for our choices.

    The above exchange is very interesting too, but distinguish between facts and opinions…there’s a difference. Once you have the facts, you can make an informed decision and live with it.

  17. Thanks for the article above. I found it interesting and helpful, as I myself am currently investigating the differences between cloth and disposables for my first baby. Since they both have essentially the same environmental impact, now I can simply focus on the impacts of health and convenience. Although, to be honest, the environmental impact was the least of my concerns anyway. It’s nice to know there are people who understand priorities in the same way I do.

  18. Very interesting article – thanks for pulling all that info together. I too am investigating the differences between cloth and disposable for my first baby.

    I would agree that when recycled, disposables are probably better for the environment. But how many disposable diaper users actually recycle? And how easy would it be to have it recycled? Probably not as easy as recyling a soda can which I can conveniently toss into my recycle bin which is collected from my house weekly.

    I also wonder if the difference comes down to each individual. Perhaps the way that most people are using cloth diapers (washing at high temperatures, using bleach, and using their dryers 4 times a week) would be as harmful to the environment as using disposables and not recycling them. But what if I chose to use cloth diapers and washed them with cold water without bleach and line dried them? Would the environmental effect that I have be better or worse than if I used disposables (and didn’t recycle them)?

  19. as the father of a new born baby, I can tell you how difficult a job it really is. Making him wear the diaper is the hardest job, but fortunately I have help 🙂

    Regarding cloth vs disposable diapers, I believe that cloth diapers are better, in the long run, while disposable diapers are just a quick fix solution.

  20. I have noticed that there are many environmental-impact issues like this one where people just assume that one thing is better for the environment than another due to oversimplification. A good example of this is the “importance” of using recycled paper. No matter how much you try to tell people that the process that is necessary to recycle paper creates more environmentally hazardous waste than just cutting down trees correctly (i.e. not “clear-cutting”) and just making it out of renewable wood, they regardless still always feel the need to recycle!

  21. Excellent point, Floyd!

    I share your headaches in trying to show people the realities of recycling as well. Recycling has become worse than religion, because at least the religious acknowledge their beliefs are just that: beliefs. While so-called environmentalists have the same fervor but insist their views are science-based reality – despite the evidence to the contrary in many cases.

  22. Interesting article. I would like to comment on a few points:
    – Washing diapers (or any article of clothing) in 90 degree water is going to destroy that article quickly. I doubt that many people would be using water over 60 degrees on a regular basis and the fuel burned to raise the water temperature that last 30 degrees would be substantial.
    – There may be lots of land out there that could be used for landfills, but these places are often far from heavily populated areas. Transporting waste a long distance is certainly not eco friendly.
    – Landfills are not made to handle sewage.
    – It may be possible to recycle disposables, but very few of these facilities exist.

  23. Where do you get your information, Doug? Because you’re citing “facts” that I find no evidence of, and I expect much more from someone who sells cloth diapers for a living.

    1) Washing temperature-

    You say that people won’t wash in water over 60 degrees on a regular basis. This piqued my curiosity so I went scouring the web for washing machine water temperatures and found the following-

    A Maytag Repair Manual states: “Check the water heater. It should be set to deliver a minimum 120° F (49° C) hot water at the tap.” and “REMEMBER: In wash water temperatures below 65° F, detergents do not dissolve well or clean well. Care labels define cold water as up to 85° F.”.

    An appliance repair man states in an online forum: “Hot water should be close to 120-140 degrees F. Warm water fill should be 100 degrees F. Cold water is approx 60-80 degrees F.” About.com agrees with these numbers.

    Apparently in Germany washing machines display actual temps instead of just “Hot, Warm, Cold”. According to posters on an English-Test forum thread: “Well, the temperature panel of my washing machine has five levels: 95° [203°F], 60° [140°F], 40° [104°F], 30° [86°F] and funnily enough: cold.” and “The maximum temperature is 90° C, the lowest 30° [86°F]. ‘Cold’ is also an option. I have never used a temperature above 40° C. [104°F]”

    2) Proximity of empty land-

    Well, here in Morgan Hill we’re less than 20 miles from the 10th largest city in the United States (San Jose – pop. ~1,000,000) and those 20 miles are almost all empty and largely unused.

    Care to cite a source to support your assertion otherwise?

    3) Landfills and “sewage”-

    We’re not talking about sewage here, we’re talking about human waste products. According to Snohomish County, WA’s Public Works department: “Landfills are designed to safely handle substances such as dog waste, cat litter, and dirty diapers.”

    4) Few diaper recycling facilities-

    Can’t argue with you here. Of course, the reason there are few of these facilities is simply because there is not enough demand for them. In other words, not enough people care enough about disposable diapers to convince entrepreneurs to be willing to fight through all the government regulations required to start such a business. Want more diaper recycling? Convince your government to drop all the regulation!

    I look forward to your response!

  24. Before you imply that my response is biased because I “make my living” from selling diapers please explain how your site is different from mine? If someone clicks on one of the links on my site and goes to Amazon and makes a purchase, Amazon pays me 4% to 8% commission.
    If someone clicks on one of the ads on your page you are paid a commission, so please leave the “holier than thou” crap out of the discussion.

    1) Water temperature – The reference to temperature was based on one of the above comments and it was stated in degrees centigrade, so that was the temperature scale I used.

    2) Empty Land – It may look empty to you but just try and find a piece of land to build a dump on. If San Jose were to announce tomorrow that they were planning to build a new landfill between the city and Morgan Hill I expect there would be considerable negative response. Now maybe I’m wrong because I don’t know your area at all, but it would NOT be difficult to find historical evidence of MANY instances where it has taken municipalities a long time to find a site to build a new landfill because of adjacent landowner objections.

    3) Landfills and Sewage – “We’re not talking about sewage here, we’re talking about human waste products.” What is your definition of sewage?
    According to biologyonline.org sewage is: “Waste matter carried away in sewers or drains. Human waste, often toxic to many organisms which can be treated in a variety of ways to eliminate its dangerous components.”
    To write that all landfills are properly designed just because some bureaucrat told you so is ludicrous. I’ve seen with my own eyes enough landfills (mostly in smaller centers) to know that what I’m looking at is a hole in the ground and nothing more.
    I can also see that waste handling is improving, but don’t tell me that there is little difference between the proper treatment of sewage and dumping it in a landfill.
    4) Recycling – There are too many government regulations to start any type of business, but do you really think we should convince government to eliminate them all? I think not.

  25. This site is called “Philaahzophy” and was built for me to share my thoughts on an essentially random selection of topics that pop into my head.. Your site is called “The Best Cloth Diapers” and seems to serve no other purpose than to send people through links to make you money. But, running a site exclusively about diapers seems to be putting yourself forward as an expert on the subject. There’s a pretty radical difference there, my friend.

    You couldn’t find a single article or statement to support your theory that landfills aren’t designed to handle poop? Strange that the EPA page on Landfills doesn’t mention that fecal matter is prohibited from landfills. I cited that municipal site because it’s the only mention of human waste and landfills I could find on a fact based site. Probably because it’s not a problem. But I guess we’ll just have to take the word of an anonymous poster citing their own life experience on that one.

    And, of course people raise hell whenever a new landfill is built. But that doesn’t mean we’re “running out of space”, it just means there are a lot of whiners who don’t want to “pay” the price for modern society. There’s plenty of land around and it’s plenty close to major population centers. Just like the recycling plants, people would rather kvetch about something, force regulations on others, and/or make up “facts” then deal with reality.

  26. A lot of people just don’t have the energy to deal with cloth diapers. I remember it was all my parents used but if there’s no environmental impact it’s not surprising there’s been a surge in the disposable market.

  27. This is an interesting discussion- there are pros and cons to both types of nappies, and I guess in the end it comes down to your own preferences, circumstances and priorities. It’s good if you can use reusable nappies and nappy bags, but it can be a lot to deal with. I think in any case it’s important to think about both options before you make a decision.

  28. I have to say I didn’t expect that sort of conclusion. I’ve been told pretty much my whole life that cloth diapers are the more environmentally safe. Thanks for the post, if nothing else, you’ve inspired me to do some research.

  29. Oh. My. Gosh. THANK YOU!
    I was just about to write a post about this…but, I’m feeling validated after reading your VERY thorough post. I’m going to link to it…if that’s okay. Abbie

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