There have been many times when people commend us on our environmental ethic. I am proud to say that some things Simon & I do are intentionally to try to help the environment- reusable shopping bags, walk/bike instead of drive, buying local foods, etc. However, there are many, many more things that we actually did to save money, and later realized that they had a big side benefit of helping the Earth too. Here are some examples – you might find a helpful hint for your own life in here!
Next up – the biggest environmental impact we’ve made this year, reusable baby diapers.
We chose to use cloth diapers mainly to save money and for the health of our child. We were both concerned about the chemicals and plastics in disposable diapers, especially after we learned that Joey has super-sensitive skin. We did know about the environmental impact from the start, but it was our third most important reason after baby health and money.
We have invested about $350 (net – we purchased more, but eventually sold the types we weren’t as fond of) on cloth diapers and their accessories for Joey. That is enough diapers to cover him from birth to potty-training. Many of his diapers were second-hand or factory seconds. Most estimates for disposable diapers are around $1000 per year for standard/mainstream brands and types. I’ll let you do the math on how much money we save for Joey and any future children we may have (who can use the same diapers!)
Our current preferred system is Best Bottom covers (another perk- we have never once had a blow-out. How many parents of 11-month olds can say that?) with hybrid inserts, and Thirsties Duo Pockets at night. Simon was skeptical at first but now brags about the engineering of the covers (elastic in all the right places and little gussets at the legs to contain any mess). No one who has ever changed his diaper has had significant issues with the cloth diapers compared to disposables. I keep a few one piece pocket diapers for babysitters and after swimming. (Yes, our child has fleece-lined apre-swim nappies). In total, he has 10 covers, 30 inserts, 5 night time diapers, and 4 pocket babysitter/after swim diapers. This is more than enough for me to wash the diapers twice a week.
Washing. Everyone asks about washing. It really is not a huge deal, because now that we have a baby I do laundry a couple of times a week anyway! When we lived in San Diego we had a shared, coin-operated laundry room. This was more expensive and more challenging, and I calculated that we spent about $120 on baby laundry overall while we lived there. We still came out with financial savings compared to using paper diapers. (And we would have run many of those loads anyway for his clothes.) Our townhouse in Alexandria has its own washer-dryer combo! This was a requirement for me when moving, and I have to say it feels extremely luxurious. When Joey was small, we had a diaper sprayer (a small, powerful, showerhead) attached to the back of the toilet that we used to rinse off poo diapers before putting them in the wash. Now we have flushable liners that achieve the same goal- just plop in the toilet and the rest of the diaper is washed as normal. We do a prewash or rinse cycle, wash with detergent, and tumble dry the inserts. If we have a small load, I add in his clothes to fill the washer after the rinse cycle.
We travel with the cloth diapers too. Initially this sounded harder, but in the long run it is actually far easier for us because we never run out of diapers or need to stress about finding them in a store in a new location (including other countries, which may not carry the same brands). The diapers will dry outside in the sun anywhere, and I can hand wash them in a sink if I have to. I have a dozen flat diapers (big pieces of cloth that you fold) for times when I know we won’t have access to a washing machine because they are the easiest to hand-wash and they dry quickly. When we were backpacking, we used his covers with special compostable inserts that we could bury or send down a long drop toilet. We hand-washed the covers.
For swimming, we love reusable swim diapers! They cost as little as $5 each, are way cuter than paper diapers, and hold up very well. We have two for our little water lover to ensure that we always have a dry one available.
Now that Joey is more interactive, he has become good at choosing between 2-3 options by tapping on the preferred choice with one hand. He uses this skill to tell us which book he wants to read next, whether he wants water or milk, etc. I’ve tried many different times offering him a cloth diaper or paper diaper, and he has chosen the cloth one every time. He’s been in paper diapers a few times, which are the only times he has had any diaper rash issues. We’ll take this as Joey’s consent that he likes his reusable diapers too!
How Does This All Help the Planet?
- Each baby sends ~4000-6000 diapers to landfills, weighing in at 2 tons. (TWO TONS?!)
- Diapers take hundreds of years to degrade. Human waste is never intended to go to a landfill (read a box of disposable diapers- they instruct you to dispose of fecal matter in the toilet), and can eventually enter and contaminate groundwater, rivers, lakes, the oceans, and drinking water.
- Disposable diapers have a huge carbon footprint for their production and distribution. One cloth diaper may use more energy than one disposable, but over a child’s diapering lifetime there is no comparison.
- If you can, line-dry your diapers – this saves even more energy.
- Most cloth diaper manufacturers have a strong environmental ethic. Diapers are produced responsibly (little waste of materials and energy) from organic materials.