Are cloth diapers better for your baby and the environment? -


Are cloth diapers better for your baby and the environment?

Several decades ago, the only choice parents had for a baby diaper was a piece of cloth and a few safety pins.

When disposable diapers hit store shelves in the 1960s, all of that changed. Demand grew for diapers turning these plastic, cushiony pads into a multi-billion dollar industry.

In recent years, however, cloth diapers have made a comeback with some parents opting to use the cloth variety over the toss-away kind.

If you were to visit your local landfill, you would find discarded diapers buried deep inside that are probably older than you.  

Experts say it takes more than 200 years for a disposable diaper to decompose. This means generations of baby waste is building up which is just one reason why cloth diapers are growing in popularity, especially among parents who are concerned about the environment.

Kelley Crowe has two children, and she prefers using cloth diapers.

"It's just a better choice environmentally, financially and realistically," Crowe said.

A baby goes through about 5,000 diapers before they are potty trained. Ninety-five percent of parents in the US use disposable diapers which are the ultimate convenience.

According to Consumer Reports, parents spend up to $2,000 on disposables diapers until their little ones are potty trained versus about $400 to build up a starter stash of waterproof shells, liners and inserts—all of which are reusable on the baby you have now, plus any other children you may have in the future.

"I never in my life thought I'd be excited for a box of cloth diapers arrive at my house," Crowe said.

The cloth diapers of today, however, aren't like the ones your mother or grandmother used.

According to their website, Stacy and John Shinas started their company,, as a way to "...educate other parents like ourselves on the advantages of natural baby products while providing them at fair and affordable prices."

"With modern cloth diapers, you've got Velcro, you've got snaps, adjustments, they go from birth to potty, this diaper will last from eight to 35 pounds," Shinas said.

There are even biodegradable liners and custom spray nozzles so you never have to get too close to your child's feces.  

"I have not found a difference in levels of how disgusting it is changing a blowout in a cloth diaper or a disposable," Crowe said.

Stacy Shinas and her husband started their company after she discovered the super-absorbent polymers inside disposable diapers were ending up on her infant's skin.

"There are a lot of chemicals on the disposable which I did not feel very comfortable with them being on my child," she said.

While the Consumer Product Safety Commission hasn't received reports proving disposable diaper materials cause health problems, the moms we observed at the Guinness World Record Cloth Diaper Change say cloth diapers cause fewer diaper rashes and their kids potty train faster because they can feel what disposables wick away.

"There's this reaction–‘I did something…now I'm wet,'" Shinas said.

Before you victoriously rise up as a cloth convert, it's important to know the environmental issues, first.

The truth is that both cloth and disposable diapers impact the environment, but in different ways.

Disposables require materials to manufacture and ship to stores, and they spend lifetimes in landfills. Cloth diapers use extra electricity and water for washing and drying.

Even though Shinas' water bill increased about $4 per month, she plans to continue using cloth diapers.

"It's just adorable. Is that a good reason because they are just so cute," she said while laughing.

But every baby's bottom and every parent who keeps the child clean is different.

Deciding whether to use disposable or cloth diapers essentially comes down to what works best for your house and budget. Ultimately, it depends on what's best for the care and comfort of your cooing baby.  

It is important to note, not all daycares will accommodate cloth diapers, but some will. So, talk with your daycare provider before deciding to make the switch to cloth diapers.

If you don't have $400 up front to invest in the 24-or-so cloth diapers you need to get started, you can buy used ones, commonly referred to as restashes, online.

Copyright 2013 America Now. All rights reserved.

Additional Information:

The following information about diapering a baby was obtained from (Source:

  • An estimated 95% of U.S. families use disposable diapers.
  • Research suggests that both disposable and cloth diapers affect the environment negatively, just in different ways.
  • Disposables require more raw material to manufacture, generate more landfill solid waste and take an extremely long time to degrade.
  • Cloth diapers use up electricity and water for washing and drying. If using a diaper service, consider the fuel and pollution they create.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics does not have a position on the cloth vs. disposable debate. Nor does the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Flushable hybrid diapers allow soiled, biodegradable liners to be flushed down the toilet into the sewer, rather than a landfill.
  • Chlorine-free disposables cut down on toxins and organic cotton diapers do not contain pesticides.
  • Concerns have been raised by the Green Guide Institute but concrete evidence is still lacking.
  • Sodium polyacrylate crystals (the super absorbent ingredient in disposables) were linked to toxic shock in tampon users but diapers remain outside of the body and toxic shock may be caused by poor usage habits and not materials.
  • The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has not received significant reports of health problems, injuries or safety concerns related to disposable diapers.
  • Diaper rash can be caused by friction, moisture, urine, feces or yeast.
  • There is no consensus on whether disposables or cloth diapers are best for reducing risk. The key may be changing the diaper frequently.
  • If the rash is caused by an allergic reaction to dyes, parents can switch to dye-free diapers.      
  • Many day care centers require disposables and will not accommodate cloth.

The following information is from Consumer Reports (Source:

  • Parents change thousands of diapers by the time the child is 2-3 years old.
  • Expect to spend $1,500 to $2,000 or more on disposables by the time your baby is out of them.
  • "Eco-friendly" disposable diapers (biodegradable or not bleached with chlorine) will cost an average of $1,600 to $2,500 depending on number of diapers changed per day.
  • Cloth diapers require the start-up cost of waterproof covers, cloth diapers, diaper inserts (for absorbency) and flushable liners (contain mess and eliminate need to rinse cloth diapers before depositing into pail). This will cost hundreds less in supplies over the years since they are reused and can be used on more than one baby.

The following information is from (Source:

  • The side you come down on in the environmental argument depends on which aspects of the environment you value most (landfill waste, water waste, electricity, etc) so choose on convenience, cost and comfort.
  • Disposables are more convenient and compact. Cloth diapers require more hands on effort.
  • Parents of babies who wear disposables often run out at inconvenient times but cloth diapers can be reused or delivered.
  • Babies who wear cloth diapers tend to get diaper rash less often than those who wear disposables diapers since with disposables they sit in their own urine longer, when the dampness of the diaper is hard to gauge.
  • To gauge comfort, try rubbing a cloth diaper versus a disposable diaper against your cheek.

The following information is from the (Source:

  • Marion Donovan invented the disposable diaper in the 1950's and in 1961 partnered with the creator of Pampers.
  • If planning on using cloth diapers for multiple children, higher quality diapers will last longer and may be more cost effective over time.
  • Disposables are now marketed for every need imaginable: newborn to toddler, sensitive skin, leak protection, crawlers, swimming, etc.
  • Biodegradable disposables are designed to start breaking down in the landfill but can be problematic for when wet.
  • Look at price per diaper not price per package.

The following information is from (Source:

  • The average baby goes through 5,000 diapers before being potty-trained.
  • 95% of diaper changes use disposables.
  • Diapers make up 3.4 million tons of waste or 2.1% of US garbage (in 1998) according to the EPA.
  • There is no evidence that sufficient traces of the chemicals remain on the diapers to harm babies.
  • No studies indicate that sodium polyacrylate, the gel-like absorbent substance used in disposables, harms babies wearing the diapers.
  • Sodium polyacrylate was removed from tampons in 1985 because of its link to toxic shock syndrome (a bacteria-caused illness) but has not been proven in outerwear like diapers.

The following information is from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (Source: <

  • CPSC and Health Canada reviewed consumer reports involving Pampers Dry Max diapers but none have been identified as the specific cause of diaper rash.
  • CPSC received nearly 4,700 reports about diaper rash from April to August 2010 with most coming in May.
  • Most babies exhibit diaper rash at least once, contact your pediatrician if it becomes problematic.
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