Wrap that bum in cloth, it’s good for the planet!

If you’ve read my previous posts you’ll know the primary reason I don’t use disposables is because of all the nasties that are in them…I don’t want those chemicals touching my baby’s delicate skin.  But I also don’t want those chemicals leaching into our soil, our water, or our air!  This leads me to my next post: cloth diapering for the environment.  This just happens to be my second top reason for using cloth diapers (a very, very close second).

It can be frustrating as an environmentalist to cloth diaper sometimes.  You know that cloth diapering is what’s best for the planet, and yet if you look online you are going to be bombarded with people telling you that you’re wrong.  You might even get people questioning your decision to cloth diaper to your face.  I’ve heard it all, from the “you are using way more water and electricity by cleaning them all the time” to “but we need those disposable diapers in the landfills so that we can use them to turn back into oil in 100 years.”  I kid you not, that was an actual argument someone was trying to make in an online forum about cloth diapering.  I quickly shot down her argument with a lengthy explanation of Energy Returned On Energy Invested (or EROEI) and how the energy that would be required to accomplish such a thing would make the resulting energy creation cost prohibitive.  The person gave up their argument after that.  I tried to find you the link, but it was over a year ago and now long buried.

What makes it even harder is that there are studies out there, and I’m sure you’ve heard of them before, that look at the environmental “costs” of disposables diapers vs. cloth diapers.  What are the findings of these studies?  They say that the environmental impact is almost the same whether you use cloth diapers or disposable diapers. 

Well, excuse me, but I call bullshit.

First of all I have yet to find an unbiased study.  The major study that everyone points to when making their case that disposables are no worse environmentally than cloth diapers came from Procter & Gamble.  One of their top 10 money making brands is Pampers.  Another study thrown about, one that is slightly more recent, is from AHPMA in the UK.  AHPMA stands for Absorbent Hygiene Product Manufacturers Association.  I’ll give you one guess on what the groups connected with this association make.  What do you know, you guessed it!  Disposable diapers. 

Here’s the thing: even if the studies are done by biased groups, the facts presented in these studies are fairly sound.  Which is why it’s so easy to say, “Well then, they must be right.”  But they are also woefully incomplete.  They don’t even begin to take everything into account…it would be nearly impossible to do so.  Just how do you go about comparing a disposable diaper made in China or Mexico to a cloth diaper made in the USA?  

You can’t! 

It just doesn’t equate.  A disposable diaper that starts life as a tree and a cup of crude oil, goes through process after process using oil and water to produce that final crispy white disposable, leaves in its wake a trail of dioxins and other pollutants.  It cannot be compared to a cloth diaper in terms of true environmental impact.  How do you compare getting the raw materials for a disposable diaper from an oil well to that of a cloth diaper from an organic cotton or hemp field?

Will one cloth diaper use more water over its life time than one disposable diaper?  Yes.  But will the water used to wash that cloth diaper get filled with toxins and have to be treated in order to get it safe to return to the environment?  No.  And if there is an accident and some of my washer water spills will it contaminate the ground water with those chemicals?  No.  But an industrial accident at the disposable diaper or paper pulp factory will absolutely contaminate the ground water.  So you see, you can’t just measure things in terms of gallons used!  When it comes to true environmental cost you have to take into account so much more.

Let’s also look at the actual use of the diapers.  With cloth diapers you have to properly dispose of fecal matter before washing.  It goes in the toilet, is flushed, and properly treated at the waste facility plant, just like the rest of your families waste.  Disposables diapers?  Well, despite the label on the box letting parents know that they are supposed to flush the fecal matter before tossing, most of it goes into landfills along with the diaper, a practice that is actually illegal because of the potential health ramifications. 

Also, during their lifetime most cloth diapers are used on multiple children.  A parent could buy a set of 24-36 cloth diapers and diaper all of their children with them, whether they have 1 or…how many are the Duggards up to now?  Okay, so I can’t guarantee that they will be just as absorbent on the 20th child as the first, but I think you get my point.  Even if you decide to just have one child there are other parents out there who want to buy your gently used, brand name, cloth diaper (I say brand name for a reason…I wouldn’t pay a penny for a new china cheapie, let alone a used one…I’ve learned my lesson there!  But I’ll write on that another day).  Cloth diapers will be used on multiple children, something none of these studies take into account.  That disposable diaper has a use life of about 2-3 hours, and then it’s off to the landfill.    

So, of course, that brings us to the end life.  Disposables go to landfills.  They do not biodegrade.  And don’t think buying the biodegradable diapers will make a difference.  They won’t biodegrade either in an air-tight landfill.  They will be there still in 500 years, long after your great-great-grandchildren are gone.  Cloth diapers on the other hand can then be pressed into use as a cleaning rag when they can no longer diaper a child.  Trust me on this, if nothing else: old cloth diapers make the BEST cleaning rags.

Anyways, what I’m trying to get at is this: it is not an apples to apples comparison.

I may not be a scientist, but I can say with certainty that if we truly did a comprehensive study looking at every aspect from oil well to land fill, from virgin forest to lumber mill, from cotton field to washing machine,  I’m confident we would find that disposables diapers are worse for the environment than cloth diapers.  Period. 

Do not think that I’m saying that cloth diapers don’t have an impact as well.  Of course they do!  Everything we do has an impact on the world around us.  But when you choose to use a product, like cloth diapers, that you can use and reuse…and reuse again on subsequent children, it is going to be much less harmful to the Earth in the long run than a single use product that is filled with chemicals and doesn’t biodegrade.

So, hopefully you’re still with me.  And if you are you might be wondering how to make your eco-friendly choice of cloth diapering even more eco-friendly!  If so, here are some ideas:

Use eco-friendly detergent, or better yet, econuts, when washing your diapers!  Econuts even has a liquid that is safe for HE machines.

Consider using a diaper that has natural fibers like organic cotton or hemp

Use a hybrid!  I understand that cloth diapering doesn’t fit for every house hold.  But there are some great options available that allow you to use cloth when you can, or use an eco-friendly insert when you can’t.  My favorite of these, Grovia, even has organic cotton for when you want cloth.  Diapers like Grovia can make it easier on a family wanting to make the switch from disposables.

Go wool!  Want to go all natural?  A wool cover or longies over your fitted or prefold cloth diaper is the way to go! 

Go used!  High quality, brand name, diapers will last for multiple children.  Not only will you be saving natural resources by going used, you will also be saving money!

And of course, line dry those diapers!  Not only will you be extending the life of your diapers but you will be using less energy at the same time.  And speaking as a mama who has bought used diapers before, I’m much more likely to buy the diapers that have been lined dried than dried in a dryer, so it really protects your investment in more ways than one!

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What I don’t know about disposable diapers

If there is one thing that starting this blog has shown me it is that I know nothing.  And since that is the second time I’ve written such a sentiment (and I’m only on my 4th blog entry) I am starting to feel a bit like Jon Snow.

So, I know nothing.  I’m fine with that because I enjoy doing research.

This week I want to talk about my number one reason for cloth diapering: to avoid the toxic chemicals that are in most disposables.  I went back and forth, started (and deleted) this entry about 5 times.  The thing is, I know this is a hot topic; the whole cloth vs. disposable debate.  But does it really need to be a debate?  I know, I know, what parenting topic isn’t a debate?

But I just want to be able to present the facts.

The problem is that there is so little information about it.  I can certainly tell you what is in most disposable diapers (Dioxins, Sodium Polyacrylate, and VOCs to name a few) and I can tell you what those chemicals are known to do (but I won’t because it’s disturbing, that’s why there are links!)  What I can’t tell you is that I’ve found scientific proof that diapering your child in a disposable diaper will cause your child to get cancer, asthma,  reproductive problems, or even severe diaper rash, because there isn’t any “proof.”  Is that because they don’t?  I DON’T KNOW!  But I should!  And so should you! 

As consumers we should have a right to know what is in the products that we are purchasing that will touch our baby’s delicate skin.  Why should a diaper be any different than shampoo?  Shampoo has to list the ingredients so that you are aware that you are dousing your head (or not) in petrochemicals known to cause cancer.

In my home if a chemical is shown to cause cancer (or any of the other major health risks), then I don’t want that chemical in my home, let alone touching my baby’s bum.  That’s it.  No, I don’t know for sure that putting my child in roughly 6,000 disposable diapers during their first 2-3 years of life will have a long term effect on their health.  But I am also unwilling to take that chance.  I’d like to think that there are regulations in place to keep us safe.  But time and again I think we’ve found that this isn’t the case (lead, BPA, Fire Retardant chemicals, and Parabens to name a few).   

So yes, I take care to avoid as many toxic chemicals as I can for the health of my children.  Is it easy?  Absolutely not.  I can’t afford to be buying $800 nontoxic cribs made with untreated wood and built by the Amish.  I can’t even afford to buy the $400 organic nontoxic mattress to go in a crib (although I will buy the non-organic, but at least non-toxic, version at a whopping $150 and feel that I did what I could to keep him from breathing in chemicals while he sleeps).   

But there is something that I can do that is easy.  I can use cloth diapers instead of disposables, because I can’t find anything that says “Yes, these toxins cause these health problems, and they are in almost all disposable diapers, but your baby is 100% guaranteed to be fine as a result of using disposables.”  And the fact that cloth diapers cost so much less than using disposables just makes for an added bonus!      

Excuse me while I shake my fist in anger

Every once in a while a great idea just presents itself to you.  I had this moment not too long ago after reading a highly disturbing article about low income families who, when faced with the decision of choosing between buying food or buying diapers they bought food (obviously!) and then cleaned up or dried out the used disposable diaper and reused it.  I was horrified.  Having a 7 month old baby myself it broke my heart to think of what a fellow mom must feel when making this choice…watch your children go hungry or put a diaper full of dried piss (or worse) back onto your baby’s bottom.  Being a cloth diapering mama myself I thought, “Well, how simple is this problem to solve?!  They need cloth diapers!”

A few days later I read another article, this one about how Finland gives a box to every expecting mama that has a lot of things they will need for their baby those first few months, including…cloth diapers!  I thought, gee, wouldn’t it be great if the US did that…of course they wouldn’t, but wouldn’t it be nice.  And so the light bulb appeared: a non-profit that gives out a box of baby supplies to low-income families that includes a cloth diapering set to last the child through all their diapering needs.

How obvious.

How simple.

And, oh, how little I know.

So I had this idea bouncing around in my head.  I start planning about how I could perhaps use something like indiegogo to get this idea off the ground.  And then I start researching.  Of course, others have already had this idea.

I found a local non-profit that gives out disposables to needy families.  Encouraged by a co-worker who I had talked with about the idea, I went to reach out to them.  My thought was perhaps we could introduce cloth diapers as an off-shoot of their existing program.  Do some cloth education so that the parents aren’t intimidated about using cloth.  But here is where my bubble burst, right on their FAQ page.  They do accept cloth diaper donations.  But they can’t always find a family who is able to use them.

Here is the reality, as presented in a letter on Help a Mother Out’s website about the cloth vs. disposable debate.  Families in poverty often can’t afford to wash the diapers at the laundry mat, if they can even find a laundry mat that allows cloth diapers.  And I know what you (might) think, as I did…“Why don’t they hand wash and line dry?”  When using prefolds especially this is really very doable, a bucket, a clean plunger, and a clothesline…voila!  But then I don’t live in a place where the landlord forbids the use of clotheslines, or has no place to have a clothesline, or perhaps they do but hanging something up unattended means it will probably be taken while you’re inside taking care of the baby.  Then you have the issue of daycare.  You need to go to work; you need to be able to have a place for your little one to go.  And if they won’t accept your cloth diapers, what then?

So now that I’ve done my research, I see the many barriers preventing low-income families from using cloth diapers, even though cloth would be cheaper and healthier for the baby (and better for the environment).

Does that make it right?  No!  Every mama should be able to put their child in a clean diaper.  Period.

So here is where I shake my fist in anger.

Because clotheslines should ALWAYS be allowed.

Because childcare centers should NEVER be allowed to turn a child away because the family uses cloth diapers.

Not allowing a family to hang a clothesline and take advantage of the free sun and wind contributes to a cycle of poverty.  It’s not just cloth diapers we are talking about anymore.  Not allowing a clothesline forces an already impoverished family to either spend what little they have to go to a laundry mat or go about in unwashed clothing.

If a parent takes their child to daycare supplied with clean cloth diapers, and a receptacle to keep the dirty ones in and they take the dirties home each day to launder, then there should be no reason to say no to cloth.  Living in Northern California, I’ve been fortunate I guess.  Finding a daycare that takes cloth just hasn’t been a big issue (now finding one that has space for an additional child…well, that’s much more difficult!)  But looking around on the web, it appears this is not always the case.  Some daycares, apparently, make the case that cloth diapers aren’t sanitary.  However, studies have been done proving that there is no more fecal matter found in facilities that allow cloth and ones that don’t (American Journal of Public Health Vol. 85 Issue 1 30-33).  Some will say it is against state regulations and unfortunately this is sometimes the case, but it is rare.  Some will say they will lose their National Association for the Education of Young Children certification if they accept cloth diapers, but yet that same certification will allow cloth is the child has a doctor’s note.  So, it seems like, in many cases, a child care center’s decision to forbid cloth diapers might really come down to a matter of convenience.  But there are cloth diapers available that, for a caregiver, is no different than putting on a disposable.  If the diaper already comes stuffed and ready to go a pocket diaper with a hook and loop closure is as easy as any disposable.  However, when your options are already limited based on what you can afford to spend on day care, or because it is who accepts your government assistance, then you likely aren’t going to walk away because they don’t take cloth.  Again, it creates a cycle.  You can’t afford not to go to work, but you can barely afford to buy the diapers required by daycare.

Things need to change.  Cloth diapering needs to become accepted as a norm.

But how can we bring about this change?  Isn’t that always the question?  And truthfully, I don’t know the answer.  But I will proceed with the only way that I can see for now: through education.

So stay tuned!

But, until change happens, I encourage you to donate to a local diaper bank or non-profit, like Help a Mother Out.  The need is real and it is now.  There is no reason a child should sit longer in his diaper than necessary or be put back into a used disposable because his parent can’t afford the next box of diapers.  I myself will choose a brand to donate like 7th generation, so that at least they won’t be exposed to the toxic chemicals (like sodium polyacrylate and dioxins) found in so many major brands.

Save your clothes (and diapers), line dry!

When my first son was no more than 2 months old we gathered everything we owned, moved out of the condo we were renting, and headed back to Greece.  In one of my many suitcases was a set of organic cotton prefold diapers and 6 one sized covers.  I had made the decision to cloth diaper when I had watched a friend of mine changing her sons diaper there the summer before.  I already knew that diapers were more expensive there than in the States, but watching her I realized that the price tag was pretty deceptive.  She went through not 1, not 2, but 3 disposable diapers before one finally stuck.  Every time she pulled out the tab it ripped off, rendering the diaper useless.  She was pretty frustrated by the time a diaper finally took, and I just though that there had to be a better way.

What I learned by cloth diapering in Greece was that I LOVE using a clothes line.  Living in a place where the cost of every is high, but wind and sun is abundant and free, it is pretty much a no-brainer.  Of course, we had been living there on and off for several years, line drying was something I’d become accustomed to out of necessity, but that first time I hung those diapers out to dry I was amazed.  Pulling my diapers one by one from the washer I was dismayed to see that they were stained.  Badly.  Of course I knew that this happened…I mean, really, this is a diaper we’re talking about.  It serves 1 purpose, and that purpose and stains go hand in hand.  So I hung them up and went about my day.  When I checked on them an hour later there was not a stain to be seen!  And it wasn’t just the diapers.  Stains that had set in from earlier explosions were gone too (we had used-gasp!-disposables the first 2 months of his life, which leaked like crazy and stained his clothes).  I had never noticed before what amazing stain fighting power the sun had before!  Of course, before it was only my husband and I…we really didn’t get many stains on our own clothes pre-baby.

If you have diapers with PUL or TPU covers, line drying will help them to last much longer, and that is something that pretty much every mama who cloth diapers realizes.  But what about your clothing?  The clothes line is not just good for your diapers.  Ever think about where all that lint comes from?  Your clothes.  Dryers slowly break down your clothes while they tumble around in there being blasted with heat.  That lint is proof that your favorite shirt is slowly breaking down, and will likely not be your favorite for long.  Zippers and hooks are also a dryer danger, snagging softer fabrics, causing small holes to appear.  If you want to extend the life of your clothing, invest in a clothesline!  You really can’t go wrong when it naturally sanitizes, lifts stains, extends the life of your clothing, AND keeps you from running that energy hog of a dryer…which saves you  money!  Just be sure to hang your colors inside out to prevent fading.  And if you baby wear, strap your little one on while you hang the clothes out to dry…you’ll find it’s a LOT of fun for them as well (just be prepared to go hunting for those clothes pins later).

M&clothesline

Todays reason why I’m thankful I cloth diaper

It’s likely you already have heard all the arguments on why cloth diapering is a great way to go.  It’s great for the environment, it keeps toxins away from your little ones delicate skin, and it’s especially great for your bank account.  But every once in a while I’m given a new reason to love my cloth, and today was one of those days.  I co-sleep, and while usually I am not a morning person, co-sleeping makes me one.  I love the way we slowly wake up together, dozing and nursing, nursing and dozing, until we are both awake and he looks at me with such pure delight.  It melts my heart.  But this morning was different.  This morning I woke to the sound no mama wants to hear, especially one who co-sleeps.  The sound of my little one forcefully filling an already full nighttime diaper.  My eyes popped open and I was filled with a relief (since he hadn’t gone in 2 days) and fear at the same time.  I really should have known though, there was nothing to fear…had I used disposables it would have been a nightmare, but as it was every last bit was safely contained.  Cloth.  The benefits just keep comin’!