It’s a fact of life. Until the time that a baby is undergoing Toilet Training, she is going to spend most of her time wetting the bed and soiling that carpet – unless she's put in diapers. While Disposable Diapers are the scourge of all environmentally conscious parents, the fact is that their convenience is undeniable.
Why should I be aware of this?
Cloth diapers, on the face of it, are Eco-Friendly. Unlike the old days when they consisted of a square piece of cloth, the ones available today have several absorbent layers to minimize leakage. Some have Velcro strips, eliminating the need for those large safety pins. They can be home laundered or outsourced to diaper service. They ensure that the baby’s skin does not get exposed to potentially harmful chemical gels used to absorb liquids. Also, since cotton `breathes’ better, so it is healthier in comparison to the disposable diaper for baby’s skin. Varieties of Organic Cotton diapers available today ensure that the fabric touching her skin has not got any harmful residues.
Disposable diapers breathe convenience. They are geared to handle an entire night’s soilage, ensuring that parents as well as baby sleep better. They come in a variety of styles (different ones for boys and girls, for instance) and are even available with elastic waistbands for children undergoing Toilet Training.
How does this affect me?
The choice between the different types of diapers available is a matter of personal preference. The decision to use cloth or disposable diapers depends upon many factors -- lifestyle, personal preference, finances, concern for the environment and most of all, your baby’s unique requirements. As conscious parents, all we can do is educate ourselves about the pleasures and pitfalls of both – so we can make informed choices.
Disposable diapers and health
Keeping baby’s bottom dry, healthy and free from diaper rash is a great concern for most parents. Cloth nappies, if not changed immediately as they are soiled, often cause diaper rash as they lead to prolonged wetness and ammonia formed due to urine left on the skin. Also, soap residues, bleach and dyes in cloth could cause allergies and diaper rash.
Disposable diapers, on the other hand, advertise that they keep baby’s bottom absolutely dry. But the present day ultra-thin diapers use super absorbent gel (sodium polyacrylate) to soak up liquid. Sodium polyacrylate has been linked in the past to toxic shock syndrome, skin allergies and is very harmful and potentially lethal to pets. Also, disposable diapers are so air tight that the baby’s skin cannot breathe – this lack of air circulation, can all be irritating and cause rashes.
Disposable diapers often contain traces of dioxin, a by-product of bleaching paper. This is known to damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver. Some diapers are scented, and the FDA has found that artificial fragrances may lead to headaches, dizziness and rashes. According to the Journal of Pediatrics, more than half the one-month old babies studied that used disposable diapers, got rash (as many as sixteen per cent having severe rashes).
Disposable diapers and environment
- It takes around 80,000 pounds of plastic and over 200,000 trees a year to manufacture the disposable diapers for American babies alone.
- Left in Sanitary Landfills, the diapers stay intact for hundreds of years without decomposing.
- This could contaminate ground water as well as lead to huge space issues later.
- When one washes diapers in a washing machine, or flushes solid wastes down the flush, the dirty water flows into the sewer systems where it is properly treated. This is certainly more eco-friendly than dumping untreated soiled disposable diapers into a landfill.
Pro-disposable advocates really have no way of refuting these arguments. Instead, they aver that laundering cloth diapers uses more energy, and contributes to the load on sanitary sewer systems and potential water pollution.
They may take up to 1500 years to decompose completley.
At the end of the day, the debate is not between choosing one type of diaper over another. It is a much more basic debate between convenience and sustainability.
All about disposable diapers
Call it baby bottom apparel, or raise a triumphant bottoms up to technology today, but there is no getting past the fact that diapers have had a long --and more often than not repellent -- history. The countries that are today the biggest consumers of diapers resorted to malodorous and largely unhygienic diapering techniques in the past.
In Elizabethan times, diapers consisted of squares of cloth tied around the baby’s waist with string. The norm for commoner babies was a diaper change once every four days! Only royal babies got pampered with a fresh diaper daily.
American pioneers went a step ahead. Apparently, mothers swaddled their infants with any and every material they had available. Wet diapers were rarely washed – they were just hung out by the fire to dry.
The Second World War saw the advent of a new sort of revolution – diaper services. Busy working mothers could just order a fresh lot of cotton diapers, and send back a soiled load. This was a lot more convenient than doing masses of laundry, but these diapers still leaked.
Then came Marion Donovan, a young mother who put her mind to solving the problem of messy and leaky nappies. She first invented the 'Boater', a plastic covering for cloth diapers. In 1950, she used disposable absorbent material for the nappy, and combined it with the outer plastic shield of her boater design. Thus the first disposable diaper was born.
In the past twenty years, diaper technology has become more and more refined. This means that they have become much less bulkier than they used to be. Till the eighties, they were so much wider at the crotch that diapered infants had that famous `cowboy’ wide-legged walk.
By mid-eighties, Huggies and Procter & Gamble's Pampers – the best known diaper brands today, had shrunk to half their original sizes. Today they are a third of even that, to the extent that if you cut a diaper across its middle, you’d find the absorbent sheet is little thicker than cello tape.
Cloth or disposable diapers?
Let us examine the pros and cons of using cloth and disposable diapers.
Cloth diapers, on the face of it, are Eco-Friendly. Unlike the old days when they consisted of a square piece of cloth, the ones available today have several absorbent layers to minimize leakage. Some have Velcro strips, eliminating the need for those large safety pins. They can be home laundered or outsourced to diaper service. They ensure that the baby’s skin does not get exposed to potentially harmful chemical gels used to absorb liquids. Also, since cotton `breathes’ better, so it is healthier in comparison to the disposable diaper for baby’s skin. Varieties of Organic Cotton diapers available today ensure that the fabric toucing her skin has not got any harmful residues.
Disposable diapers put a lot of pressure on household expenses. Cost estimates show that disposable diapers will run approximately $50 to $80 per month. However, if parents use a diaper service, that too would cost roughly the same. The cheapest option is to launder your own cloth diapers.
What can I do?
How, then can parents make informed choices about diapers? Here are some factors to consider.
Tips to prevent diaper rash
- Change disposable diapers frequently. While the gel in them can hold large quantities of urine, they do get a little wet, which could lead to rash.
- Forget the Elizabethans, change cloth diapers as soon as they get wet or soiled.
- Launder cloth diapers with ordinary detergent, but rinse them very well afterwards so that no soap residues are left.
- Drying cloth diapers in the sun is an effective and safe bleach. Sunlight also destroys all the bacteria that soiled nappies have.
Babies in the developed world spend as many as 25,000 hours in disposable diapers. This translates to as much as 5 million tons of untreated waste and a total of 2 billion tons of urine, feces, plastic and paper thrown into landfills annually. Some bits of these diapers may decompose – but only after several hundred years. However, other materials used to make diapers, certain plastics, for instance, may never decompose.
What would all those dirty diapers do to the environment? As they lie untreated in Sanitary landfills, they could leach into the groundwater, contaminating it. They could deteriorate into even more toxic forms. But most importantly, they would remain for our future generations to deal with.
Consider the so-called eco-friendly option of cloth diapers. Parents end up with loads of laundry, puddles on the floor and waking up at nights to take baby to the loo. Further, the environmental cost of washing all that poop, means that using cloth diapers burdens the sewerage system and uses much more clean water than disposable diapers.
At the end of the day, the cost we pay is not really more or less depending upon whether we use cloth or disposable diapers – it is the cost each of us must bear for adding to the burgeoning population of the world.
For details on a study that compares the environmental impact of cloth and disposable diapers, go to Cloth Vs Disposable Diapers
- The Great Disposable Diaper Debate
For reviews of top diaper brands in the market, go to
- Store-brand diapers
- Disposable Diapers
- Diapers! Disposable or Cotton?
- The disposable diaper and the meaning of progress.
- The Green Ghost
- To buy organic cotton diapers, go to
- Ecobaby Organics 2008
- Under the Nile
- My O Baby - Organic Diapers and Accessories 2009