Factions in The Great Diaper Debate will argue their cases and causes fiercely but, when the dust settles and the wounds heal, neither will have gained the least advantage. Science leads you to an impasse. Your personal preference determines which diaper emerges as “the best.”
Here is our UK view on this question (“nappy” is British English for “diaper”):
“No green winner in nappy debate”(BBC News on Thursday, 19 May, 2005)
Some 675,000 children are born in the UK each year. Whether parents use disposable or cloth nappies makes little difference to the environment, a UK Environment Agency (SEPA) 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.
The study was supported by surveys of more than 2,000 parents who were questioned on factors such as the number of daily nappy changes and the size of washing machine loads.
Tricia Henton, director of Environmental Protection at the Environment Agency said:
“Although there is no substantial difference between the environmental impacts of the three systems studied, it does show where each system can be improved.”
She said that parents using reusable nappies can improve their impact on the environment by looking at how they wash them, such as using a bigger load at a lower temperature.
The study found most people washed nappies at 60C.
Ms Henton added that it was hoped manufacturers would use the study to improve the environmental performance of their products and the quantities going into landfill.
Disposable diapers have a slight advantage on the comfort index. Manufacturers process and reprocess those exceptionally absorbent paper linings to assure their softness and their wicking properties. Disposable diapers also feature elasticized legs and waistbands, so that each diaper custom fits your baby’s shapeliness even when she squirms, struggles, and tries to assert her right to natural nakedness. Disposable diapers also contribute to your “comfort” as measured by ease of use. They transport easily, effortlessly disappear after a change, go on in a flash and come off even quicker, and often come in handy for spilled drinks and jostled dinner plates when you and baby go out for dinner.
Both sides of the debate can make a case for economic advantage; experts say this, too, ends in an impasse, but your calculations may vary. Reusable diapers require an initial investment and then periodic updates. A bundle of cotton diapers costs little more than a single economy pack of disposables, which your baby will use-up faster than you can say Great Diaper Debate. The recurring cost of disposables, including the cost of your time and the gas in your car, ultimately balances against the cost of repeated laundry. Laundry arguably eats up more of your time and adds more to your energy costs than repeated trips to the diaper store, especially if you shop strategically and launder aggressively.
In the end, it probably comes down to style. What kind of fashion statement do you want your baby to make this season?
Now Read About Sustainable Diaper Disposable Services – the eco-friendly way to dispose of disposable diapers.