Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Real Diaper Week- Where Do They Go?

If you do any research online for the environmental impact of disposable vs cloth diapers, you're going to get a lot of mixed information.  There haven't been any truly unbiased studies done on the subject, and realistically, there probably won't ever be.  The debate is too heated.  So while I can't point you to any truly conclusive study on the subject, I can talk to you about what I think is just plain old common sense.

Disposable diapers are used by about 95% of the American population on an exclusive basis.  This means that the only diaper that ever touches the bums of 95% of American babies is a plastic disposable.  Now, I know how many diapers my daughter goes through in a day.  In the 5 weeks or so that we used disposables before baby girl could fit into her one-sized diapers, we filled the equivalent of about 4 garbage bags.  In only 5 weeks.  Gross.  Now multiply that by two to three years, and then again by just about all the babies in the US.  That's a lot of poop-filled garbage bags.  Yikes.

Now I'm not going to sugar coat this for you.  You will use more water and electricity using cloth diapers than you would using disposables.  Your water bill will be a little higher, and it's the water and electricity usage that causes some studies to conclude that disposables and cloth are both on equal footing when it comes to being a detriment to the environment.  I might even agree with that if I knew that all those disposable diapers were bio-degrading peacefully in all of those landfills.  But here's the thing.  Almost nothing actually bio-degrades in a landfill.  They are packed so tightly and so high, that virtually no air or water touches anything that gets thrown in there.  Nothing can decompose.  Your morning banana peel that you threw out last month is probably preserved in almost perfectly-nasty condition a few feet below whatever got thrown on top of it.

What this means is that all of those diapers that get thrown away annually, all 18 billion, are going to sit preserved for who-know-how-long.  I mean really.  We don't know how long they will sit there because disposables are a relatively new invention.  What we do know is that those very first disposables ever made and pooped in are still sitting in a landfill somewhere.  Who knows, someday some archaeologist may excavate our ancient landfills and find your baby's 700 year old disposable diaper.  Eww.

I know we all have to weigh the choices we make.  There's always a give and take.  What I've decided is that I don't want my daughter's 9,000 or so dirty diapers sitting, preserved, in a landfill for all of eternity. To me,  the cost of disposables is too high.  Both to my wallet, and to the environment.  It is a personal decision.  I know we all have crazy lives that move faster and faster, so I get why so many people choose the easy route and do disposables.  I just know that the extra hour a week I spend washing  my daughter's diapers is a worthy sacrifice of my time.  I am making a difference, and not contributing to the nastiness piling up all over our country.  In the long run I feel like the extra water and energy I will use is nothing compares to the near permanence of throwing disposables in a landfill.

I hope you'll take some time to weigh all the info for yourself.  All of us can make a huge difference together.

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