Natural Living Des Moines

Cloth Diapers by sarahtar
October 22, 2008, 8:44 am
Filed under: Parenting, Waste

I want to address the latest in a series of articles out of Great Britain that are attempting to assert that cloth diapers are bad for the environment.

My husband sent me this article this morning.

The report found that using washable nappies, hailed by councils throughout Britain as a key way of saving the planet, have a higher carbon footprint than their disposable equivalents unless parents adopt an extreme approach to laundering them.

To reduce the impact of cloth nappies on climate change parents would have to hang wet nappies out to dry all year round, keep them for years for use on younger children, and make sure the water in their washing machines does not exceed 60C.


The report found that while disposable nappies used over 2½ years would have a global warming , impact of 550kg of CO2 reusable nappies produced 570kg of CO2 on average. But if parents used tumble dryers and washed the reusable nappies at 90C, the impact could spiral to . 993kg of CO2

There are five key things here.

The first two involve the “extreme” laundry approaches, haha.

1) Washing diapers at 60C instead of 90C. 60C is 140F. Most US government agencies recommend that US families keep their water heaters at around 130-140F. The recommendations for families with small children is 120-125, which is also apparently the temperature at which most detergents work best. (I looked at about 10 articles online to come up with those numbers. Here and Here are two of them.)

One of our own local cloth diapering moms who is from Europe has said in the past that Europeans tend to have their washing machines washing clothes at MUCH higher temperatures than we use in America, and that might explain why they are calling 60C “extreme.”

2) Hanging dipes to dry. I will admit that I don’t have any sort of engineering degree, so I can’t examine this in detail. But when I was doing my Extreme Cost Comparison for Wallypop, I found that the average US dryer uses about 3.3 kwh per cycle. That’s not a whole heck of a lot. Of course, many of us DO hang our diapers out (I know that’s my preference).

3) Keeping diapers for at least 2.5 years. The vast majority of cloth diaper users, at least in this country, either DO keep their diapers to use on future children, or else they sell them to other parents to use. Other than one-size diapers, which often last through only one child, I would be surprised if there are very many diapers in America that get thrown away instead of passed along. I chuckle that the article considers this to be “extreme.”

4) Other environmental impacts other than just carbon footprint with the end-user. The study seems to have completely neglected other ways that things impact the environment than just energy use. Landfills certainly impact the environment. Sending human poop into the garbage rather than the sewer certainly impacts the environment. The manufacture of disposable diapers certainly impacts the environment (as does the manufacture of cloth diapers, just less so). As with most articles of this type, there is absolutely no mention of comparing the whole lifecycle of the diapers.

5) No mention of other ways to reduce the environmental impact of diapering. Cloth babies tend to potty train earlier, reducing the impact of diapering. Hemp and bamboo diapers are softer on the environment than cotton diapers are. Buying quality diapers that will last and last and last will reduce the impact of diapering.

So, when you see articlces like this, put on your Critical Thinking cap and really look at what they’re saying.


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[…] My response to yet another anti-cloth diapers article Posted on October 22, 2008 by sarahtar Over at Natural Living Des Moines. […]

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