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Cloth Diapers & the Environment

Ways to Lessen your Environmental Impact when Using Cloth Diapers

Over four million disposable diapers are discarded in Canada each and every day. That's close to 1.5 BILLION diapers that end up in our landfills yearly. In the first two years, the average baby will require between 5000 to 7000 diaper changes. In the United States an estimated 27.4 BILLION diapers are tossed away each year. That makes the total diaper waste in North America close to 29 BILLION DIAPERS per YEAR (source Environment Canada and Wikipedia). Now that's a lot of diapers ending up in our landfills each year!

The disposable and cloth diaper debate has been ongoing. Many studies have been done funded by disposable diaper companies, with fewer that have been "independent". For a picture of the disposable diaper industry’s ongoing efforts to undermine the cloth diapering industry view a timeline as posted in The Politics of Diapers: A Timeline of Recovered History. This article covers the history of the disposable diaper industry from 1961-2000, and many of these studies are cited.

The bottom line is that there are additional ways to lighten your carbon footprint when using cloth diapers, many of which are never taken into consideration when a study is conducted. By following some or all of these suggestions you will be able to reduce the environmental impact of cloth diapers well below that of using disposable diapers.

What can you do to lessen the environmental impact of using cloth diapers?

  • Use Energy Star rated machines, or a front loading washer (less water usage).
  • Have enough cloth diapers on hand to wash only 2x per week or at least three days between washings.
  • Choose cloth diapers that can be washed in one wash cycle, reducing the need to use several wash cycles to get diapers thoroughly clean. This is usually all-cotton diapers.
  • Opt to purchase organic cotton fabrics or hemp diapers.
  • Do not soak your diapers! This is not necessary - a dry pail is the preferred method of storage until wash day.
  • If you are exclusively breastfeeding don't rinse your diapers. Let your washing machine deal with the poop (which is water soluble until solid food is introduced).
  • Always wash a full load of diapers for your machine size, and wash your covers, cloth wipes and diaper liners all at the same time. Smaller loads use more water.
  • Wash diapers at lower temperature. Many parents get great results even when using cold water.
  • Use washable, reusable wipes and liners.
  • Use an environmentally-friendly, low-impact detergent.
  • Line dry your diapers in the sun, or air dry your diapers indoors. Even in an apartment, a portable drying rack can be set up inside to dry diapers.
  • Do not use fabric softeners. Consider dryer balls to reduce drying time if you choose to use the dryer.
  • Choose cloth diapers with a shorter drying time.
  • Reuse cloth diapers for another child, then give them away or sell them to another.

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