Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Real Facts About Sustainable Diapers

Sustainable Diapers?  What?  This is what Pampers (and, one must assume, all other disposable diaper manufacturers) is trying to sell us about their diapers.  That they are sustainable.  Never mind that their new Dry Max technology is allegedly burning little baby butts all over the US.  Never mind that Americans throw away billions of non-biodegradeable disposable diapers every year.  Never mind that a typical disposable diaper (um...INCLUDING Pampers) will take 500 years to decompose.  Never mind all that.  Obviously the best way to go is disposable!  Fill up those landfills!   Throw away that money on throw-away technology!  Never mind the earth!  Never mind your baby's skin! 

Here is what Pampers is saying:

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.

Okay, never mind the fact that my daughter leaks more with disposables than with cloth.  She also gets more diaper rash with disposables.  She rarely has one in her cloth dipes.  Additionally, there are MODERN cloth diapers.  They can have stay-dry liners that keep baby's butt dry, along with the convenience of an all-in-one system to be just as easy to use as disposables.  Anothe rpoint - have you noticed that kids are potty training later and later?  I had a FOUR YEAR OLD in my daycare that still exclusively wore (disposable) diapers.  One of the reasons for this is because the sposies keep the bum so dry kids can't tell feel the wetness.  Using cloth diapers can contribute to earlier potty training. 

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.

See this information on flawed impact studies.  Yes, I do a few extra loads of laundry every week.  But as a green mama, I use soap that doesn't layer residue on my dipes, which just also happens to be envirnmentally friendly.  I have been using the same cloth dipes since Lucy was born.  They will last until she outgrows them.  Thy will last until her siblings outgrow them.  Then I'll sell them to another family, and they will last even longer.  How is this not better for the environment than tossing away one-use items?

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.

Ugh.  Another blogger put it best:

This is probably a nod to defend them marketing cheaper disposables to third world nations that have mostly used cloth. Are they are also hoping to end the practice Elimination Communication in countries like China? Just because most Americans can’t fathom their babies never wearing a diaper, other countries only use EC. And if Pampers thinks the babies are going to the bathroom wherever they please, I am here to tell you that is not the case. The parents are there to help the babies and catch their eliminations. Their home isn’t full of baby droppings like a non trained puppy. It is insulting to insinuate such a thing. As for sleep, I honestly don’t know how EC families who don’t use diapers handle this until they learn to hold it. I imagine it would disrupt their sleep but the families are well prepared for this. Not every baby begins sleeping through the night at 6 weeks like the American ideal. Many Americans stuff their baby full of thickened formula to get them to sleep longer too, but it doesn’t mean that is right. Just means people do it.

And I want to quickly address their Always claim. Pampers cites that girls in third world countries have to miss school because they don’t have access to feminine hygeine products. Oh, you mean pads that you throw away after each use? This is simply not true. Periods are not new, and neither is school. There are such things as cloth pads. Or, menstrual cups, which have been distributed to girls in many countries. And more recent studies do show a decline in attendance during their time of the month, but it wasn’t due to the lack of access to throw away feminine products. It was due to cramps.
            (quoted from

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.

This doesn't address the fact that it can take 500 years for a disposable diaper to biodegrade.  And just because their materials are used in other products doesn't make them environmentally safe.  I'm just sayin'.
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.
I can't argue with this - if your dipes are made from well-managed forest, great.  If they are sourced from scrap pulp, great.  That's one small step.  However, this doesn't offset the fact that IT CAN TAKE 500 YEARS FOR A DISPOSABLE DIAPER TO BIODEGRADE AND THAT AMERICANS TOSS A BILLION OR MORE EVERY YEAR!  I am all for companies improving their environmental standing by sustainable sourcing, but the end product is just as important. 
Some more diaper myths:

Cloth diapers are more difficult to manage than disposables.
Using cloth maight take a higher level of commitment to use than sposies, but they are not more difficult.  There are so many options these days.  You can have cloth dipes that act like sposies (All-In-Ones or AIOs) - you just snap them on like a sposie, and toss them in the wash when you are done.  You can use the old fashioned prefold diapers with covers, you can use pocket dipes that are just as easy to use as sposies, you can have fitted dipes under covers.  You can use wool covers, PUL covers, fleece covers.  You can use gDiapers - reuseable cloth covers over flushable liners.  You can use rice paper liners to catch the poop and stay-dry liners to prevent diaper rash.  There are almost endless choices and all of them are more environmentally friendly then tossing a sposie in the landfill 8-12 times a day.  
Cloth diapers are stinky and gross.
They are much more pleasant to smell than a Diaper Genie full of poop and chemicals.  Every once in a while, we get an ammonia smell from the pail...but that's it.  The poop goes down the toilet, where it belongs, so that stink never fills the room.  We have a zipper-bottom bag that goes right in the wash so that I never have to touch a bag full of wet diapers.  A few drops of lavendar oil on a cloth wipe and the room smells nice again
Cloth diapers are for hippies and tree huggers.
Cloth diapers are for anyone that is concerned about the waste of a disposable society.  Cloth diapers are for anone that wants to save some hard-earned money (see this post about the costs of cloth vs. disposables).  We have spent about $500 on cloth diapers and covers.  That is all we will ever have to spend.  Ever.

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 the above link to read the rest of the carnival entries.


  1. I LOVE MY CLOTH!!! In addition to lasting throughout one child's diaperhood, I now have my second baby in my first baby's cloth. They're that durable. They're cheaper, better for baby's skin (do you really want chemicals that are outlawed in feminine pads next to your baby's reproductive organs?), no more difficult, cuter, less stinky, and better for the PLANET. Plus, many of them are made in the USA.

    I really see no good argument for disposables. Unless you hate America. If you hate America, then maybe disposables are for you.

    **Disclaimer: I have no actual knowledge that disposables are not made in America. I'm merely assuming, because big companies don't make anything in America anymore.

  2. Good point: "I am all for companies improving their environmental standing by sustainable sourcing, but the end product is just as important." In Europe, this is a growing movement requiring manufacturers to be responsible for disposal of their products. That gives manufacturers incentives to be careful about the composition of their products and the cost of their disposal. Can you imagine if P&G had to take back all the used Pampers and deal with them?