Diapers: Paper and Plastic or Cloth?


The diaper debate continues, as parents try to balance concerns about the environment and the high cost of disposable diapers with perceived convenience of disposable diapers. The question about the environmental benefits of cloth comes up often. Are cloth diapers really better for the environment? Manufacturers of throawwant you to believe that disposables are the environmentally friendly choice. That could not be farther from the truth. Cloth diapers are reusable and will last through more than one baby, saving tons of solid waste from going into landfills. Cloth diapers also save on oil costs since you only need about 24 diapers instead of the 6,000 or so disposables that need to be trucked across the country.

Yes, cloth diapers do require washing water and use more energy when they are tumble dried instead of line drying. No one advocates that adults switch to paper underwear and clothing to reduce washing water, so how can it make sense to throw away diapers? The small increase in water and utilities usage for efficient modern diapers is more than offset by the environmental benefits of not needing to manufacture, package, transport and dispose of thousands of disposables.

The type of cloth diapers you choose makes a big difference as well. A cotton diaper such as a prefold cloth diaper is recyclable into rags and ultimately biodegradable, though they do take a bit longer to dry than synthetic diapers. Polyester diapers such as all in one cloth diapers don’t biodegrade, but they do dry faster, and are easier to line dry – saving even more money and energy.


Each year, disposable diapers for one baby add 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum and 20 pounds of chlorine to the environment. Disposable diapers waste 2 to 3 times as much water as cloth diapers. In fact, cloth diapering a baby uses about the same amount of water as an adult flushing the toilet throughout the day.

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