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The Great Diaper Debate: Disposable vs. Cloth

July 13, 2012

You may not have an opinion on the best way to diaper right now, but in a few short months, diapering is going to become a bigger part of your life than you ever imagined. When you’re changing several diapers every single day, the type of diaper you choose actually has a big impact on your routine, you bank account, and the environment.

Disposable diapers are used by a majority of families in the U.S., and are readily available at big box stores, pharmacies, and supermarkets. They’re easy to use: you simply remove the soiled diaper, toss it, clean your baby up, and put on a new one. A variety of brands are available and most big name brands are highly absorbent and come in a multitude of sizes depending on your baby’s age and weight. But disposable diapers do have a few downsides. One disposable diaper is cheap. Thousands, over the course of two or three years, are actually very expensive! And those thousands of diapers do not biodegrade easily. In fact, in this country, diapers comprise 2.3% of the waste deposited in landfills. That’s a pretty big percentage for just one type of consumer product!

Some families are considering cloth diapers a great alternative to disposables. Cloth diapers have come a long way recently…they’re not the cotton-and-safety-pin diapers you might imagine! Cloth diapers come with a waterproof outer layer, interior cloth diaper, cotton padding, a flushable liner, and attach with either snaps or Velcro (safety pins are not longer used), depending on the brand. And they also come in a very cute variety of colors and patterns. Since cloth diapers are reusable and made of biodegradable fabrics, they are environmentally friendly, and while the initial investment seems expensive, they can actually end up being less of an expense for your family over time.

But there is one major downside to cloth diapers. They involve a bit more work than disposables. When you remove a soiled cloth diaper, you must clean any extra mess from the diaper and into the toilet, and then wash the diapers with the laundry before you reuse them. Some families see this as a small trade-off for the environmental and cost benefits of cloth diapering. But many families are overwhelmed by the prospect of dealing with cloth diapers when they’re already juggling a newborn, a lack of sleep, and full-time jobs. And speaking of your full-time job, many daycare centers will require you to supply them with disposable diapers for your baby, as they simply cannot handle the additional workload that cloth diapering multiple infants brings!

A good compromise for some families are biodegradable disposable diapers. You can find biodegradable diapers online, at natural grocers, and in the organic and natural section of your supermarket. These diapers offer the convenience of disposable diapers, but without the environmental impact. However, biodegradable disposables can end up being the most expensive option of the three.

Before your baby arrives, you may want to consider having a few boxes of conventional disposable diapers, a box or two or biodegradable diapers, and a starter pack of cloth diapers on hand. Many new parents don’t know which option will work best for their family until their baby arrives and they’re in the throes of diaper duty on a daily basis. Each option has several pros and cons, but you’ll soon figure out which choice is right for you.

Photography courtesy of Flickr.

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