The Diaper Debate

By PSU EcoMerge Capstone - 8:52 AM

The great diaper debate – cloth vs. disposable

In an attempt to disclose another example of corporate greenwashing that we have not yet discussed, I went on a search for information pertaining to the use of cloth and disposable diapers. There is a plethora of information available on the web regarding the topic. For instance, an article from ( discussed a woman who was buying so-called biodegradable diapers from Whole Foods only to discover that they aren’t much better for her baby or the environment. According to the article, “These diapers all contain super-absorbent gelling materials or AGM. AGM is linked to an increase in childhood asthma and a decrease in sperm count among boys. Environmentally, these diapers require as much water, energy and fuel to produce as any other single-use diaper. The bottom line is they offer no environmental or health benefits.”

"There is no answer," said Chaz Miller, director of state programs for the National Solid Wastes Management Association. No one can say definitively whether cloth or disposable diapers are better for the environment.”

Recently, the leading disposable diaper manufacturer, Proctor and Gamble, was accused of falsely labeling its diapers as compostable when only a few facilities in the entire country were equipped to do this type of processing. A clear case of greenwashing at its best. And the Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD) considers Proctor and Gamble to be among its most controversial members.

Here are some alarming statistics:
• The average baby goes through 5,000 diapers before being potty-trained.
• 95 percent of these diaper changes are disposable.
• Most disposable diapers end up in landfills making up 3.4 million tons of waste, or 2.1 percent of U.S. garbage.
• The most significant environmental impacts for all diapering systems are on resource depletion, acidification and global warming. For one child, over two-and-a-half years, these impacts are roughly comparable with driving a car between 1,300 and 2,200 miles.

Another website, listed the pros and cons of disposable diapers vs cloth:

Disposable - The Pros:
• Ease of use; disposables seem like the easier choice. They are an all-in-one product, with less fuss than cloth.
• Throw-away; disposables can be thrown away once used, unlike cloth which will need to be washed.
• Easy to travel with; disposables are the easy choice to use when traveling.
• Leak less; disposables tend to leak less than cloth. They have a tight, snug fit and are very

The Cons:-
• More expensive; over the years you will probably spend around $1500 diapering your baby in disposables.
• Bad for the environment; it is estimated that around 5 million tons of untreated waste is deposited into landfills via disposables every year.
• Harder to potty-train; toddlers can’t feel wetness as much with disposables, so it’s harder for them to potty-train.
• More diaper-rash; according to one study, 78% of babies in disposable diapers get diaper-rash, compared to only 7% of cloth diapered babies.
• Babies health; the chemical used to make the super-absorbency of disposable diapers is Sodium polyacrylate, which has been linked to TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) and can cause allergic reactions.

Cloth - the Pros:
• It’s cheaper; cloth diapers can be expensive for the initial set-up ($250-$700), but in the long run they work out a lot cheaper than disposables, depending on what system you use.
• Less diaper-rash; cloth diapered babies tend to have less diaper-rash, because natural cotton fibers breathe more easily.
• Can be used for subsequent children; works out even cheaper because you can use for any more children you have.
• Cloth diapered children tend to potty-train earlier, because the cloth tends to hold moisture closer to baby’s skin.

The Cons:
• Usually fastened with diaper pins, but you can now find ones with Velcro or snap fasteners.
• Some daycare centers won’t want to use them.
• Not good for traveling with; can be messy and not appropriate for travel. Most cloth-diaper users will use disposables when traveling or just being out and about.
• Can leak more than disposables; if not used properly.
• Environmental impact: water use and other resource depletion.

This debate is still not a clear issue. For more information, please see this short informational video on diapers and the environment:

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