To toss or not to toss? That is the eternal question when it comes to diapers. There are pros and cons to both sides of the great diaper debate with no single answer except “Depends.” Yes, that’s an adult diaper joke. But taking care of a baby’s tushie is no laughing matter so let’s get into the nitty gritty of cloth vs. disposables.
- Filling the Landfill: Throwaway diapers are… well, thrown away, and an average baby goes through 6 to 8 diapers a day. That adds up to an incredible 27 billion soiled disposable diapers added to U.S. landfills every year. Seen another way, 200,000 diapers will be thrown away in the 5 minutes it takes to read this article. And the diapers are made from plastics that take at least 500 years to decompose.
- Changing Diapers: There’s no doubt that throwaways are convenient and easy to use. This is especially true when traveling. Just change and toss; no need to carry dirty diapers back home. However, some people don’t consider it convenient to haul giant packs of disposable diapers out of a big box store—and haul 80 pounds of soiled disposables out to the curb in the garbage every week.
- Saving Money: There’s no doubt that cloth diapers are cheaper, about $300 to $500 over the course of two years, versus $2,000 for disposable diapers. But you’ll be doing an extra 2 to 3 loads of laundry every week. This is often difficult or impossible for working moms, and the cost of detergent, electricity, and water adds an extra $500 or so to the total. Utility costs can be lowered by drying diapers on a clothes line. On the global environmental scale, the production of disposables requires 3 times more water and 3.5 times more energy than washing cloth diapers.
- What’s Best for Baby: Disposables have a layered construction which transfers waste away from the baby’s skin and the elasticized gussets around the legs and waist prevent leakage. However, disposable diapers, even “eco-friendly” ones, contain dyes, dioxin, glues, and numerous chemicals—some are known cancer risks. While studies haven’t shown a connection between wearing disposables and cancer, some parents believe the throwaways lead to rashes and other health problems.