People Weigh in on the Cloth Diaper Debate - Public Goods

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People Weigh in on the Cloth Diaper Debate

Beyond a shadow of a doubt cloth diapers are better for the environment than disposable ones.

baby crawling around in cloth diaper

I don’t need to write that article because this should be an understood truth by now. (If you still want facts and figures look here.) It’s great that more and more families are opting for the eco-friendly cloth, but disposable diapers are still accounting for around 4% of all waste generated by Americans.

With how eco-friendly and affordable cloth diapers are, why wouldn’t you use them? I know that sounds judgey, but I really want to know! In asking that question to friends and family my eyes were opened to some of the realities about using cloth diapers that need addressing.

These testimonials offer up the straight poop:

Mia from Louisville, KY wrote:

“My wee one is still too little for his cloth diapers, but they are ready for use when he is!”

Takeaway: We need teenier and tinier cloth diapers available. There is an extra need for cloth diapers made for preemies that develop “preemie potbelly” and have different waist to leg proportions than babies born full-term.

Erin in McMinnville, OR wrote:

“Cloth was excellent when he was so little when he went through a lot of diapers with almost nothing in them. I think around 9 months to a year cloth wasn’t keeping up and we were getting leaks…. but for a solid 8 months it was a great system.”

Amy in Portland, OR wrote:

“(Using cloth diapers) turned out to be easy for us and something we felt good about. We ended up using disposables for bedtime with our male child because they pee soak their front side and it is really hard to keep them and the bed dry at night.”

Takeaway: Leaks / pee-soaking are issues. Although in general I’m not a fan of gendering products, maybe some crafty moms and dads out there can play around with the design of cloth diapers for boys? If disposable diapers really do better suit a particular need, this means that cloth diapers can continue to be improved.

Molly in Cleveland, OH wrote:

“Without the diaper service I don’t think we could keep up on the laundry with two working parents. Fortunately the diaper service cost about the same as buying disposables so that wasn’t an issue.”

Rebecca in Austin, TX wrote:

“I hate laundry. I’ll wear the same jeans for 2 weeks before washing them. ???? There was no way I was adding tons more poo laundry.”

Laurel in Detroit, MI wrote:

“We live out in the boonies and there wasn’t any real easy way at that time to do diaper service. I can barely wash the laundry I have and adding any more seemed overwhelming. And it wasn’t something anyone I knew had done.”

Sam in Portland, OR wrote:

“(We used) Cloth at home because having a diaper service to take care of it all was great. Disposables for travel and/or when we ran out of cloth.”

Takeaway: Diaper services are awesome for families that don’t want extra laundry, but unfortunately not everyone has access to diaper services. Right now it seems the theoretical demand for diaper services exceeds the practical supply of them, especially outside of major urban areas.

The Diaper Dilemma

The vast majority of the responses I got from parents who used disposable diapers exclusively stated that the idea of cloth diapers seemed weird, overwhelming or too time-consuming because they didn’t know anyone who had successfully used cloth diapers before.

Many parents who didn’t use cloth diapers at all with their first child started with their second, because in meeting more parents and learning about success stories it didn’t seem as scary. This is all anecdotal evidence, sure, but it is encouraging that with more exposure the cloth diaper movement continues to grow.

Although opting for cloth is the better choice for the environment, ultimately families have to choose what is best for them. Often, parents use a mix of both cloth and disposables, which is definitely better than not using cloth at all. Any use of cloth diapers will reduce waste. Period.

Not everyone has the same resources available to them, be it money, time, or support, and it simply is just harder for some families to make cloth diapers work. As the movement to go green continues to gain steam, hopefully living sustainably will become easier for everyone. In the meantime, I’ll work on my judginess.

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Comments (3)

  • I used cloth for my daughter (7-8 yrs ago) but I have to agree it’s not easier for everyone.
    The upfront cost of buying them in enough bulk to not run out was an option I was lucky to have. I also bought a mini washer ($99 amazing egg) to wash them separate from my normal loads so I didn’t have to wait to have enough laundry or worry they’d wear out sooner.

    I’m also terribly practical in a way most people can’t be, I didn’t care about the poopy diapers being washed off in the toilet first. But when she got older, asking anyone to sit for me was hard as no one wanted to wash off the poopy diaper if I was gone, which I did religiously to avoid smells and stains (I knew I’d reuse or recycle them to another mom).
    The poop liners were great for this, but a downside being my daughter had sensitive skin that if she just had a pee diaper the wet disposable liner would stick to her skin and give a rash.
    I was again very fortunate that her poop schedule was so predictable by that point we could skip a liner every change and just put one in around “that time” of day.

    I also used the disposable diaper liners bought through the cloth company for her first few weeks when the diapers are at their worst and I couldn’t keep up as I recovered from the surgery. This process was a bit annoying to do the breakdown so it would flush but in the end it was nicer than the stack of diapers to wash when I physically wasn’t capable of doing more than lifting her.

    My experience was a combination of using g diapers at first and as she got big and needed better absorbency I switched to mother (I believe is the name, found them online). I was very critical of the diapers available knowing that I would be handling it alone, I needed everything as easy but secure as possible. The back hole filler ones just seemed dumb knowing how hard it would be for someone with a larger hand to shove a huge wad of diaper pad in their easily. So I went with brands that had a very good stitching on the side filler area.
    If I have kids again I know it’ll be the same problem of no support on poopy changes so I may look into supplementing bamboo diapers into a regimen if Daddy can’t be swayed into my way. 🙂
    I don’t have much data on these yet so hopefully this is something you can cover to help those of us needing more options out.

    Good luck to everyone!

  • The seething tone of your post could be softened if you included your acknowledgment that every family’s circumstance is different earlier on.
    Two shift working parents with *zero* support makes it tough to spend any extra time on laundry. Have you ever let a pee or poop diaper sit for a week because you had no choice? It’s *disgusting*.
    Also, the cost isn’t simply “affordable” for many families. And it kind of stings when people judge that part of it. Yes, obviously over time it’s way cheaper than buying disposables over and over. But the upfront cost is simply too high for a lot of us.
    And I’d guess a *majority* (not just “some”) of families don’t have the luxury to use a diaper service, because of location or cost. (It’s not cheap everywhere).
    I understand your article was trying to show the pro’s and con’s of cloth, but it ended up making me feel really defensive and judged. 🙁 Maybe you should work on your judginess *before* you write the post.

  • There are compostable diapers and growing services to take them and compost them for you. Not the cheapest but it’s great for convenience and the ease of disposable without the waste. Dyper is a great brand made from bamboo

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