Thursday, April 22, 2010

Green Thursdays: Getting Back to Green

I've been thinking about adding some regular posts on living green, and thanks to some of the ladies at the Lady's Blogger Circle, I've decided to do it. And, what better day to start than Earth Day.

Basically, I try to be conscious of the environmental impact of things I do: what we eat, what I use to clean my house, how I garden, everything. My mantra is reduce, reuse, recycle. I don' t always go with the green alternative, but I at least think about it and try new things. I'm a busy mom of three, so if it's adds too much work, I'm just not going to do it. I feel being green is an important value to teach my children. If everyone makes small changes, we can make a difference and keep our planet healthy. I've made some easy changes, and have done things that haven't worked, and I'd like to share them. I also plan on trying some new things, and I'll let you know how they work for me and if it's worth the change. Who knows, maybe you'll find something you can do to help keep the world a little cleaner.

This week I've decided to go back to doing something I used to do before Penny was born: cloth diapering. I'll admit, I've been lazy since she's been born. Plastic diapers can be more convenient, but cloth really aren't that hard and they make a huge difference.

The impact of plastic diapers on the Earth is huge. You can find statistics everywhere, with the same numbers being given. I went to Carbon Balanced Baby to get mine this time. Here's what they said about the production of plastic diapers.

To create this modern wonder of technology (since about 1961) and make it available to mothers and babies everywhere, we use a lot of oil, trees and plastics. Through this production process we create films, polymers and gels that take a very, very long time to decompose. Some basic statistics:

  • It takes over 10 full sized trees to produce the number of diapers your baby will use in its first few years. Studies say that over 250,000 trees per year are felled to satisfy the USA's disposable diaper demand.
  • Production of a single disposable diaper requires 2/3 of a cup of petroleum. This adds up to over 3 billion gallons of oil (per year!)dedicated to disposable diaper production.
  • Every year 82,000 tons of plastic is concocted and spun with combinations of the above ingredients to create the high-tech, breathable films which keep our baby and home comfortable. This production process burns through energy and creates hazardous by-products.

The process alone to produce disposable diapers creates significant quantities of greenhouse emissions which can last for decades.

And then, all these diapers go into the landfills, where they sit, not decomposing and leaching chemicals and human waste into the ground. Here's the statistics, again from Carbon Balanced Baby, on the impact on landfills:

  • In the United States alone, 16 billion soiled diapers are deposited into landfills every year. The weight of this mess is over 3.5 billion pounds.

  • According to studies it can take from 200 to 500 years for these diapers to decompose. “Biodegradable” diapers don’t fare much better because although some elements of the diaper do degrade faster, many of the core elements which make it mother and baby friendly (i.e. the absorbent materials and polymer linings) are made of the same materials as standard disposables.
  • The nasty goop that pools at the bottom of a landfill, which is a place you probably do not want to visit, is called “leachate”. It is possible that viruses excreted in human feces could end up in the leachate and, particularly in older landfill sites, could leak into local water supplies. In most places it is illegal to dump human bodily wastes into a landfill. Diapers are generally excluded from enforcement of this rule.
  • Diapers are the third most common item, by volume and weight, in American, UK, European, Japanese and Australian landfills.
  • In developing countries the problem is particularly bad as they generally do not have modern landfill technologies installed or available. This is a global environmental problem.

After Ella was born, Sean and I grimaced two to three times a week as we lugged full plastic bags of plastic diapers out to our garbage can. When you have two in diapers, it's really easy to see the impact your'e making. I decided to go the cloth diaper route. Ella was in cloth diapers from 4 months old to nineteen months old, when Penny was born. I decided to take a break when Penny was born because the extra laundry was a little much for me to handle while adjusting to three kids. I've adjusted, and now it's time to decrease the environmental impact my diapers cause.

Now, if you're like I was, you heard horror stories of nasty diapers and nasty diaper pails from your parents generation, and are none too keen on the idea of cleaning those things. Cloth diapering has come a long way since the '70's. It's really not that bad. I use my regular Diaper Champ with a mesh bag inside for my used diapers. If there's poo, I just dump as much as I can in the toilet, on rare occasion I have to get out the rubber gloves and hold the diaper while I flush to suck off some sticky poo (make sure you don't let go or you will clog your toilet). Then, every 3-4 days (twice a week), I take the bag, start the washing machine, and dump everything in the machine, no digging out diapers. I throw the mesh bag in too.

When I was first starting, I tried a multi-pack sampler of reusable all-in-ones and pocket diapers including Bum Genius, Happy Heinys, Swaddlebees, and Fuzzibunz. All-in-ones are cloth diapers that look pretty much like a plastic diaper. After using one, you simply wash and dry it. Pocket diapers have a pocket between the outer, waterproof shell and the inner, soft liner where you put an absorbent insert of some kind, either fleece or hemp, or a combo, or multiple, depending on what you want. You remove the insert before washing everything.

I wound up liking Happy Heinys one-size the best for my kids. I like the way they fasten, and they kept my chubby, heavy wetters dry. I have heard Bum Genius work great on thinner babies, though. I bought twenty one-size diapers and have used them on Ella from four months to nineteen months, and they still fit her at twenty-three months. However, some of the diaper's outer shells are starting to lose their waterproofing, so I will likely have to buy new one-size diapers for Penny. If you buy sized diapers, you can use them for multiple children, but you have to buy 20 or so of each size. For me, I would have wound up buying more diapers that way.

Cost wise, there is an initial start-up cost. If you go the pre-fold way, which are more like the diapers my parents used on me (although they're still better), the cost is pretty low. However, even with the fancy ones, in the long run you actually save money using reusable cloth diapers over the diaper wearing life of your child. I I've heard estimates anywhere from $500 to $1500 in savings depending on which cloth diapers you use and your diapering habits. Not too bad.

Like I said though, I won't do anything that makes my life a lot harder, so I still use disposable diapers at night. I was changing sheets twice a night, even with two hemp liners, because my kids are heavy wetters. No thank you. I know people that don't have that problem, however. I also use disposable when we're going out for a long time. I don't want to deal with leaks (my cloth will leak if I don't change them every 2-3 hours) and sometimes when we're out, I forget to change them. I also don't want to lug dirty diapers home with me, even in a wet bag. They take up too much space.

When I use cloth diapers I am both reusing and reducing. I have twenty diapers that will need to be thrown out instead of hundreds, and my cloth diapers will decompose faster and not fill the landfills with tons of chemical goo. So, that's how and why I use cloth diapers. What about you? Do you use cloth or are you considering them?


  1. So when I was in China, we regularly saw children wearing crotchless pants or no diapers. They just squat and pee in their pants thus not wearing diapers AND being potty trained super early. Even little babies usually don't really wear anything... we were walking around and saw a mom holding about a 6 month old... no diaper, barely any clothes (it was pretty much a bib with a strap to go on his butt) and she was just carting him around... just think of how much less waste the world has because China doesn't use disposable diapers as a rule. :)

  2. Yeah, all the stats always talk about the US, Europe, Japan, and Australia having large volumes of diapers in their landfills. Must be because the rest of the world doesn't use them. I'm all for super early potty training. :)


Thanks for commenting on my blog