Friday, November 13, 2009

Can a baby be earth friendly?

***Preface note--I have this whole thing typed out in a Word document, which apparently isn't compatible with this blog, so I'm retyping/copying the entire thing over again. It's a 3 1/2 page Word document that I began yesterday afternoon around 3 and it's now 9:30 the next morning. I have that much to say that obviously must be said. :-)***

Everyone who has had a baby in the past 20 years or so has likely been asked if they are going to use cloth diapers or disposable ones. Never for one moment prior to having Abby did I even remotely consider cloth. It's not that I don't like to hug the world now and again, but the safety pins, the leakage, the diaper rash, the goo oozing from clothy places, the plastic pants, the folding, the sanitizing, the LAUNDRY!!! It just seemed tooooo much, especially too much time invested for the net outcome. Not me! quoth I.

But two nights ago, a revelation of sorts. I'm a member of our church's Green Team/Care for Creation team (really, I think that we decided on the longer, more cumbersome name, but we still go by either, like what often happens with organized people), and another member of the team asked me to prepare some information on the environmental impact of baby products--diapers, wipes and such. Okay, no prob, I thought. I'm pretty invested in this and am rather curious myself, I thought. This won't change my mind one bit...I thought.

Aha, you think you know where I'm going with this. Curveball...I'm still gladly using disposable diapers and have no intention of plunking down my little credit card for any clothy, cottony nappies neither today nor tomorrow. However, maybe in a couple of days. The idea needs to ferment a bit before I act on it.

I was looking up some information for my "report," and I came across this website for Nicki's diapers, which looks to be pretty much THE place to go for cotton diapers. I say cotton instead of cloth for a very specific reason...these ain't ya momma's cloth nappies! Really, I just like the word "nappie" instead of "diaper." It is now going to be a staple in my baby lexicon. I found myself particularly intrigued by the "Mommy's Touch One-size All-in-one diapers," which seem to be much more accessible and dare I say less "work" than I thought cotton diapers were.

Pro for cotton nappies--less landfill waste, which can also potentially cause long term toxic effects on our environment that we still don't totally understand, and they're super uber cheap in the long run.

Con for cotton nappies--water & energy waste in the making, producing the cotton for these nappies is quite draining on our natural resources just like disposable, and it's really just convenient to be able to pitch out the mess

Consider the following (on average) facts:
*every child using disposables contributes approximately 6500 diapers to landfills
*those suckers take about 500 years to decompose (no recycling potential), though really how valid is this number? It's not like anyone has been able to hang around for 500 years to determine this.
*one baby can produce 1-2 tons of landfill waste
*from 2 years of disposable diaper usage, every child consumes the equivalent of 4.5 trees
*it takes 1 cup of crude oil to make the plastic necessary for 1 disposable diaper
*it takes 286 pounds of plastic (including packaging) to keep one child in disposable diapers for one year
*18 billion disposables are used in the U.S. alone in one year
*it takes 200-400 kg of "fluff" (the inner workings of a diaper) to keep a baby in disposables for one year versus 10 kg of cotton for a 2-year supply of cotton diapers
*diapers are the 3rd largest single consumer item and 30% of non-biodegradable waste in landfills
*a so-called "biodegradable" diaper really isn't so much because it still doesn't have access to the 2 main components that makes something decompose--air and sunlight--if it's all tightly rolled up and stuffed in a landfill
*technically, putting a poopy diaper in the trash is ILLEGAL because it is disposing of human waste, which is absolutely a no-no, but generally ignored for the good of all nappie needs
*the Landbank Consultancy, commissioned by the Women's Environmental Network in London, found that diapers create 2.3 times as much water waste, need 3.5 times as much energy in the making, use 8.3 times as much non-regenerable material and 90 times the amount of renewable resources, and need 4-30 times as much land space to grow the raw materials as cotton nappies. This means that they basically use 70% more energy than the equivalent cotton diaper.

If you're interested, I have the websites where I got this info.

There are a plethora of "greener" disposable options, for that matter, which I discovered as I was trying to reaffirm why I don't use reusable nappies (that snobby attitude didn't last long). Organic cotton nappies...hemp cotton/hemp blend nappies. Why doesn't Manchester sell these?!?

But something that is absolutely attainable and easy to fix in my greenest-baby-products quest is baby wipes!! You can totally make your own, and all that you need are four basic, every-parent-has-these "ingredients."

1 roll of good paper towels (cut in half)
2 c of boiling water that has been cooled (not every "recipe" called for this boiling/cooling method, but I think that it makes sense)
2 T baby shampoo/wash
2 T baby oil/olive oil

Seriously. How easy and cost effective is that!! Mix the liquids. Pour over one half of the paper towels. Let them soak it up. Put in a reusable container. Enjoy! So easy. So cheap. I'm going to try them as soon as I run through the current batch of wipes. And, they're completely as portable and convenient as wipes that you buy.

I did find one different recipe for homemade baby wipes, but it is more labor intensive, hardware intensive and cost intensive (for no apparent reason). I'm going to skip that one.

Though it seems like I'm just ragging on disposable diapers here, with the amount of energy that it takes to produce cotton diapers and then the amount to keep them squeaky clean and sanitized, it's really just 6 of one, 1/2 dozen of another. It comes down to maintenance cost. Really and truly. Energy wise, I could also put up a lot of statistics about how much energy it takes to produce a cotton nappie and then keep them chugging along in their absorbent glory. But I won't. This is really long. It's just cost, which isn't something to wholly ignore. Using 10 diapers/day for 2 years at $.15/diaper (which is approximately what we spend, give or take a penny now and again when something isn't as on sale or the coupons aren't as fabulous), which is quite a bit cheaper than Huggies & Pampers that aren't on sale and have no couponage (those run around $.22/diaper), it all comes down to just shy of $1100 for all of those disposables versus $200 or so for a 2-year supply of cotton nappies, depending on the brand and the amount that you need.

Think of the money that could be put away toward Abby's education instead of being currently used to absorbed and protect her (really cute) little bum.

But then again, I don't feel guilty or superior about either choice. Each one has merit. Each one has downfalls. Kind of like organic baby food...another post for another day.


Crystal said...

I don't have a baby, but isn't there a diaper that has both? One part is washable/reusable and one part is flushable? So that you flush the most icky part and wash the not so icky part?
And how do you feel about the same debate for disposable vs. reusable menstrual items?

The Erudite Lit-ite said...

I didn't know that about the half-n-half washable/disposable diapers! I may have to investigate!

And, I was totally thinking about the "feminine hygiene" thing because seriously, aren't they as bad as diapers? I didn't know that there was a debate, but I'm not surprised. I feel...unclear. I know nothing. What do you think?

MM said...

Amy, I am totally going to use cloth diapers some day. I mean it! I have a friend who is using them as well. If you think you want to try some out, there are a ton of websites out there that offer trial packages where you can try a selection of different types of cloth "nappies" as you like to say and return them for a full refund minus only $10-20. Also, there are definitely some brands that are reusable with disposable inserts - Flip & gdiapers come to mind (both of these brands offer both disposable or cloth inserts).

If you seriously think you MIGHT be interested in trying cloth, I have done a lot of advance research (no, I am not pregnant!) and would be glad to share what I've learned about what's out there.

And also, yes, some people do use cloth "feminine hygiene" products. :) They are often referred to as "mama cloth" and I know some people love them. However, while I plan to cloth diaper, I do not think I will go as far as that. :)

MM said...

P.S. This is Mariah!