Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sustainable Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers

This post is part of the Real Diaper Facts carnival hosted by Real Diaper Events, the official blog of the Real Diaper Association. Participants were asked to write about diaper lies and real diaper facts. See the list at the bottom of this post to read the rest of the carnival entries.

Myth: Cloth diapers are better for my baby.

Fact: Disposable diapers like Pampers were developed to offer babies benefits that cloth diapers could not meet. That goes beyond convenience to helping keep babies' skin dryer and more comfortable by reducing leaks and locking wetness inside the diaper in a way that cloth doesn't. As a result, doctors and parents simply don't see the same level of diaper rash that used to exist before disposable diapers.

Bums Away’s response: Cloth diapers have changed dramatically over the past few decades. Pocket and all-in-one diapers keep baby dry without using chemicals. Liners can be added to fitted and pre-fold diapers to keep baby dryer (again without chemicals) if wetness is a problem.

Moreover, most cloth diapers on the market today are breathable. This gives them a huge advantage over plastic covered, non-breathable disposable diapers. On a hot day, what would you rather be wearing: a soft, bamboo shirt or a plastic shirt? Babies have the same preference for what goes on their bums. The advantage of breathable cloth diapers is most notable on hot days when babies in cloth are much less likely to develop heat rash.

Myth: Cloth diapers are better for the environment than disposables.

Fact: In October 2008, the United Kingdom's Environment Agency published an update to its 2005 Life Cycle Assessment study on cloth versus disposable diapers. The update confirmed the earlier study's findings that there is no clear winner in terms of environmental impacts between disposable and cloth diapers in the U.K., once all factors such as water, energy, detergent, and disposal are considered.

Bums Away’s response: My daughter wore the same 30 diapers for 2 years. If she had been in disposable diapers she would have used approximately 12,000 disposable diapers in that same time period (RDA).

The numbers speak for themselves. How can 30 diapers possibly have more of an environmental impact than 12,000 diapers? These 30 diapers were washed at home in a high efficiency washing machine and hung to dry. Eco-friendly detergent was used to wash them. Those 30 diapers are still in great condition and we will use them on our next child, reducing our disposable diaper consumption by yet another 12,000 diapers.

Myth: Developing countries prove that cloth diapers are better than disposable diapers.

Fact: Our product provides key benefits in terms of skin health, dryness, and even sleep. In China, for example, we've learned that babies and parents are frequently awakened during the night each time the baby soaks the bed, because the baby has no diaper or a very thin piece of cloth. As a result, studies have shown that a disposable diaper can help a baby there get a better night's sleep. In another test, we have also seen less fecal contamination spread around the home using disposables versus cloth or nothing.

Clearly, we have a lot to learn about how to help with basic hygiene needs in countries that have very different access to clean water to wash with, and how to best dispose of products after use. We've also learned about hygiene for older children through our Always feminine care business – where in many parts of the world girls are forced to miss school one week each month during their period because they don't have enough pads or fresh water.

We are working in those regions to better understand what they do with products after use, and how to work with local agencies and other businesses to ensure the best long-term system to manage it.

Bums Away’s response: Four points need to be addressed here:

(1) Overnight sleep

(2) Fecal contamination

(3) Feminine hygiene products

(4) Garbage

(1) Overnight sleep. I would hope that a disposable diaper works better than either nothing or a thin piece of cloth.

(As an aside, I’m assuming that by “nothing” they’re actually referring to the use of Elimination Communication. However, since they say “nothing” I’ll take it at face value. Therefore, my response actually refers to using nothing and does not refer to the Elimination Communication technique which is far more sophisticated than actually using nothing.)

Modern cloth diapers also work better than using nothing or a thin piece of cloth. Using cloth diapers with fleece or wool covers overnight creates a very breathable diaper that is much better for baby’s skin than a plastic-covered disposable diaper.

(2) Fecal contamination. When using modern cloth diapers, poo gets rinsed into the toiled and then flushed away. This is also what’s supposed to happen when disposable diapers are used (read the box). No fecal contamination occurs if you wash your hands afterwards.

(3) Feminine hygiene products. What does this have to do with cloth diapers? But since they bring it up, using reusable feminine hygiene products creates less waste than disposable pads and tampons. Therefore reusable products would make more sense in developing countries (see point on garbage below).

(4) Garbage. Just what are people in developing countries supposed to do with disposable diapers after they use them? Pampers doesn’t have a solution. I do. Use cloth diapers or Elimination Communication as they have been doing for generations. This saves parents money and prevents mountains of garbage from building up.

Myth: Disposable diapers are harmful to the environment.

Fact: All of the component materials in Pampers diapers are gentle to consumers and safe for the environment. Pampers diapers are made of materials that are also frequently used in a wide range of other consumer products. We are committed to continuing to reduce our environmental impact. For example, Pampers has decreased its diaper weight by one-third and packaging weight by two-thirds. And innovative technologies, raw materials, and product design improvements have led to significant reductions in energy, water use, emissions, and waste at our plants. We are working so that our diapers in the future will have less impact on the environment than even today's diapers.

Bums Away’s response: Isn’t this just “myth” #2 re-stated? Disposable diapers not harmful to the environment? In Canada, approximately 4 million disposable diapers are thrown out every day (AppleCheeks). It is estimated that each diaper takes 250-500 years to decompose (RDA). How is this not harmful to the environment?

Myth: The materials that make up Pampers diapers are depleting our forests.

Fact: The pulp used in our diapers comes from well-managed forests in North America. In some cases, we source our pulp from scrap wood chips from lumber and saw mills. Our pulp suppliers are required to be certified by an independent third party as practicing sustainable forestry. Certification includes standards and criteria for replanting trees, protecting biodiversity, water, air and soil, and for obtaining broad stakeholder input into the forest management plan.

Bums Away’s response: A lot of wood goes into the 4 million diapers used in Canada every day, irrespective of where the wood comes from. Bottom line is that it takes far fewer resources to make and wash 30 diapers over 2 years than it does to make 12,000 diapers.

Myth: Cloth diapers save parents money

OK, they didn’t actually use this one. Why? Because apparently not even Pampers can come up with an argument against this great benefit of cloth – cloth diapers are a great way for parents to save money (especially when they wash their diapers at home).