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Environmental Impact of Disposable Diapers

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Photo Credit: gDiapers

 

Disposable Diaper Dilemma – How do disposable diapers affect the environment? The problem with disposable diapers, besides them being rather expensive for a growing family, is that they end up in landfills by the millions. These thrown away disposable diapers take an estimated 500 years to decompose! Additionally, they takes up huge amounts of resources including wood pulp and plastic during their manufacturing which contributes greatly to their unsustainable-ness < - not sure if that's a word.

Eco Fact: Americans throw away enough disposable diaper each year to stretch from the moon and back at least seven times. -Julia Butterfly Hill

Another point of note, is that only a small fraction of parents wash out disposable diapers before they throw them away. This is a huge problem because that means that millions of tons of potentially virus-infected diapers end up in our dump sites. This can result in the potential for hundreds of different viruses that are associated with the human feces can seep into our groundwater.

Disposable Diaper Alternatives

The alternative to disposable diapers are using cloth diapers. They can be reused at least a hundred times and will decompose in a few months. If saving anywhere from $500-$2000 a year with each child from not using disposable diapers sounds like a good idea to you then please use cloth diapers instead.

There are also several biodegradable diaper options available if you like the convenience of disposable diapers. There are several brands to choose from which we highlight below.

  • gDiaper – you can either flush them down the toilet putting the poop where it belongs, or if you do throw it away, the diaper will decompose because it is made from organic ingredients. You could even put the diapers in your compost pile to return nutrients to your soil.
  • Bambo Naturebambo natureThese diapers are like ordinary disposable diapers but these have a much less eco-impact. They boast 75% biodegradable ingredients (as opposed to 35% in standard diapers) and they also claim to be certified free of harsh chemicals. As an added bonus they are certified non-toxic and hypoallergenic. Another really cool feature is that the diapers have a wetness indicator which is obviously a nifty way to see how wet the diaper may be.
  • Seventh Generation Free & Clear Baby Diapers – Seventh Generation is known for making their products green. In the case of their Free & Clear baby diapers, they claim their diaper products are natural because they use “primarily natural ingredients and minimal processing”.

Alternative Cloth Diaper Options

And if you still don’t like the idea of disposable diapers even if they are biodegradable, then below are some useful options for cloth diapers.

  • Thirsties – Are a Made in USA product. They offer a variety of different styles and comforts that are waterproof and made from microfibers and hemp cotton.thirsties diapers
  • BumGenius – BumGenius cloth diapers come with two inserts 1) for newborns and 2) for growing toddlers. The diapers have a special butterfly closure system for easy use but if you run into problems they have videos for proper usage available on their website for extra help.bumgenius diapers
  • Fuzzibunz – We’ll let the video do the explanation on this one…

Photo Credits: gDiaper, Bambo Nature, Thirsties, BumGenius, and Fuzzibunz.

About John Tarantino (339 Posts)

My name is John Tarantino ... and no, I am not related to Quinton Tarantino the movie director. I love writing about the environment, traveling, and capturing the world with my Lens as an amateur photographer. You can connect with me via Google+ or via Twitter: Follow @EnvironmentBlog


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18 Comments on “Environmental Impact of Disposable Diapers

  1. Do you have kids? If so, have you washed diapers in your energy efficient front-load washer before? I suspect you haven't, but welcome a reply….

  2. I think your virus seeping into groundwater is quite misleading. Viri exist in the natural world as well as in children's fecal matter. In fact, a major source of viri in groundwater is from agriculture and not diapers in landfills. In addition there are very stringent controls on landfill locations, and leachate control systems by the federal EPA and state environmental departments. The cost of diapers is usually a great concern for most parents. Cost estimates show that disposable diapers will run approximately $50 to $80 per month, using a diaper services will cost approximately $50 to $80 per month and laundering your own cloth diapers will cost slightly less at approximately $25 to $60 per month (source: <a href="http://www.thenewparentsguide.com/diapers.htm)http://www.thenewparentsguide.com/diapers.htm)<br />Thanks

  3. When I was a kid, I wore cloth diapers. I know this sounds hard to believe, but I can still remember seeing my dirty diapers in the toilet, where my mom would put them to soak for a while before she put them into the diaper pail. Anyways, I always had cute little plastic pants on the outside of my diaper, and I've never heard my mom complain about how they leaked or anything. I'm sure it was a pain for her, but my parents, as I'm slowly realizing, were sort of hippies back in the day, and they also didn't have much money, so it was probably really important to them that I wore cloth diapers. And I must say, I think it's really great that they were willing to make that kind of effort. My parents are cool!

  4. Diaper services are actually more harmful to the environment than your post suggests. Cleaning services use gas for all their huge trucks and bleach for the cleaning, which is not done in energy efficient washers.

    • I would like to know where you get your facts Jersygirl – you have obviously not done your homework on the subject. Perhaps not all services abide by the same standards, but there are a lot that of services I am aware of that not use chlorine, have high efficiency industrial size washers that wash about 400 diapers per load, some use ozone to sterilize which means they do not have to use hot water, and the trucks are diesel. All in all, it is a no brainer cloth is better, any way you slice it.

      When you compare the environmental cost to disposables, think about this for a moment – about 300 lbs of wood pulp, crude oil, and 50 lbs of petrolium are required to produce disposables for 1 baby each year. That of course only includes the raw materials – never mind the energy, fuel etc required to actually manufacture and transport the raw materials to the manufacturing plant, diapers from the factories to the distribution warehouses, then transport again to the stores – oh, and lets not forget how many trips the end user (consumer) makes to go to the store in their car or SUV to buy diapers, including the many unexpected trips because you have run out, and need more ASAP!! Disposables take 200 – 500 years to biodegrade, each baby will use 1 ton of disposables a year, and there is about 7 billion pounds dumped into landfills every year – which by the way have garbage trucks pick them up and take them to the dump then to a landfill, sometimes hundreds of miles away!

      So I know what my choice is for my baby and the environment!

  5. My children were in cloth diapers from 1979 to 1984 (three kids in four years). Yes, you wash them out in the toilet before putting them in a diaper pail, and launder frequently. I did this strictly for the monetary savings, which was substantial. Periodically, I had enough money to purchase disposable diapers, and loved the convenience. Additionally, the babies were less likely to develop a rash with the disposables. I did not use cloth diapers to save the environnment. I am a grandmother now, and though my first was born into less than ideal financial circumstances, my son and daughter in law did not view cloth diapers as a viable option. I am afraid that the only way to change this pattern of thought would be to tax the diapers with a special disposal fee of twice the current cost of the diaper.

  6. Cloth diapers will save you money if you launder them yourself. Thousands of dollars if you have more than one kid or a late toileting learner. Suggesting that it will cost $25-60 month to DIY cloth is addled. You can use an old T-shirt or dishtowel in a pinch or sew your own from old flannel sheets. You don't even need to soak them in the toilet first, modern washers are so good. I put them right into a "dry bucket" with a sprinkle of baking soda (after I dropped the solid waste in the toilet, of course!) Your cat's litter box smells worse. And with the new wicking fleece liners and breathable covers (no more plastic pants), diaper rash troubles are a thing of the past.When your clothes are dirty, do you throw them away or launder them? Which do you think is more environmentally friendly? Do you think human waste is most safely disposed of a) in a landfill with no treatment (in a container not designed for human waste disposal–it is actually a 'banned substance' in most landfills, it's just not enforced) or b) in a sewage system DESIGNED TO TREAT HUMAN WASTE? hmmm….

  7. i use bumgenius for purely environmental reasons. I cringe when i see parents at costco buying mega size diapers and wipes. if there is one single reason we must all use cloth it is this: If you bring a child into the world that you want them to live in, you must respect the world that you brought them into. Promoting a culture of waste where poop and plastics fill landfills and take up valuable space and waste finite resources is not the message we should send to our children. I hope one day that my daughter feels proud of our decision.

  8. Obviously the "$25-60" comment is not about the cost of the cloth, but the cost of water, detergent and energy. No one is suggesting that the cost is based on buying new cloth.

  9. Hi! When I was a kid, I wore disposable diepers and I remember that back in the late 70s. They were not as of expensive as they are today. Anymore everything such as baby items are going up exstemely. Along with everything else in this world today.

  10. In Australia there is not diaper washing service, it is do it yourself. It clear not matter how we wan't to argue it for justification of using disposables that there is a more environmentally friendly alternative. We are having children and its their future we well be makind difficult by leaving them tonnes of filthy rubbish, mainly becuase we want convenience and couldn't be bothered. How selfish are. My husband and I both work have and we use modern cloth nappies, we both wash them. Its easy we do an extra four washes a week, and we actually have tank water, so we have to conserve water carefully. Seriously unless people have serious illness or a disability, they are just adding another problem to their childs future.

  11. turns out that disposable diapers ("nappies" as we call 'em) have roughly the same environmental impact as disposables. Disposables use up more resources, it's true; but cotton farming and manufacturing produce more pollutants and waste water. So it seems that one should use cotton diapers if money is a concern, but otherwise there is no real difference.

  12. I think this disposable diapers is really good idea. its eco friendly as well as safe for our baby nice post thanks. blog is really good give nice information about how disposable diaper impact on environment.

  13. Pingback: Disposable Nappies & the Environment | Green Kids

  14. Pingback: Cloth Diapers | babybrzoska

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