Published May 18, 2016|5 min read
Let’s play a quick game of word association. What comes to mind when I say "baby"? Poop? Smelly? Diaper?
Babies are adorable little baby-shaped poop factories. And while diapers do their best in a losing battle to stem the disgusting tide, you’re going to go through a lot of them.
But wait! Before you go out and buy yet another pack of Pampers, have you considered cloth diapers?
That’s right – they make diapers made out of cloth. You’ve probably seen them in old Baby Huey cartoons, held together with safety pins. But the good news is these aren’t just napkins that parents pin to their babies when they forget to restock on disposable diapers (although that does seem like a good plan B). They’re a viable alternative that can help the environment, help your wallet, and help your baby.
There are more than 20 billion diapers tossed into landfills every year. That’s more than 3.5 million tons of waste. We’re already running out of space on this planet as is. Do we really need diapers hogging up even more room?
Worse, they’ll be hanging around for a while. Some estimates state that diapers take up to 500 years to decompose. That means they’ll be in a dump long after your baby stops smelling like one.
And it’s not even when you’re through with them that diapers have a negative environmental impact. A year’s worth of diapers for one baby uses 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of fuel, 20 pounds of chlorine, and 286 pounds of plastics. A diaper is a drain on the planet from start to finish.
Now compare that to cloth diapers. A single cloth diaper can be used up to 200 times. It can then be recycled, and if it does end up being tossed it decomposes in less than a year.
Oh, and with cloth diapers parents are more likely to throw the waste where it belongs: into the toilet instead of into the trash with the diaper.
Okay, so cloth diapers are great for keeping the planet green. But what about your own green? Y’know – money. It stinks that disposable diapers last for 500 years, but if cloth diapers cost a lot, your budget’s going to run out long before then.
Luckily, cloth diapers are cheaper, too!
Full disclosure: at first, the cloth diapers will be more expensive. If you can muster the up front costs, though, you’ll save a lot in the long run.
That’s because a baby needs to be changed 8-12 times a day. You’ll be burning through those disposable diapers, but the cloth diapers will stick around. That’s where the real savings come in: not in the actual diaper vs diaper cost, but the fact that you’ll be using cloth ones for so much longer.
Over at the blog for budgeting app Mint, they did some quick number-crunching on one year of diapering. The full cost of disposable diapers for one year was $800.
Cloth diapers? $584.
That’s a 27% savings just in the first year. Children don’t get potty trained until they're 2-4 years old, so add in the cost of potential extra years. Plus, what if you want to have more kids? You can reuse the cloth diapers for them, too, which essentially drops the cost to zero.
As much as you care about the environment, and even about your budget, your real concern is with your baby, right?
Maybe the best news is that cloth diapers are also better for your baby than disposable diapers are.
First, cloth diapers are less absorbent than disposable diapers. That might seem like bad news – doesn’t that mean you’ll have to change them more often? – but more changes mean fewer diaper rashes and fewer crying babies (and happier parents).
Second, disposable diapers have a lot of materials you might not want around your kid. A lot of diapers include things like fragrances and chemicals like chlorine, and dyes can act as irritants that cause rashes.
Then there’s the question of everything else that’s inside disposable diapers. Want to find out? Too bad, because a lot of manufacturers won’t tell. And while there isn’t any evidence it’s actually bad for your baby – outside of some inconclusive-but-still-worrying studies that diapers may be linked to asthma – some parents may err on the side of caution, especially with the other benefits cloth diapers provide.
Finally, there’s some evidence that babies who are cloth diapered potty train faster than those who are given disposable diapers. Not only does that give your child a sense of independence sooner, it also means you get to stop dealing with poop even soon. Sounds like a win-win to me.
It’s up to every parent to decide how they want to handle their child’s upbringing, and it’s a personal preference especially when it comes to diapers because you’ll have to decide exactly how much poop you want to be handling.
But the benefits of cloth diapers can’t be ignored. Think of everything you could do with those savings – like, say, putting money toward a 529 plan or a life insurance policy to make sure your little one is taken care of when she’s all grown up – and you’ll be doing your part in leaving her a better planet.
Plus, look how stylish cloth diapers are these days. We’ve certainly come a long way from Baby Huey.
Image: Donnie Ray Jones
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