By SafBaby Founders Sandra Blum and Samantha Fox Olson
Honestly, I have to admit, I took a big sigh of relief after reading this report by ABC News:
“A new study released in England by a quasi-government environmental organization may dampen the debate even further. After a three year 200,000 pound ($419,000) study, the London-based environmental agency concluded that disposable diapers had the same environmental impact as reusable diapers when the effects of laundering cloth diapers is taken into account.” 1
Aaahh, refreshing to know my decision to simply throw away and create all this waste was in no way impacting our loving, nurturing Mother Earth any differently than if I were to sweat over stinky cloth diapers on a daily bases. Cool!
Or was it?….
I used Seventh Generation disposable diapers and was very comfortable with my decision to diaper my baby this way. That was, until I continued deeper into my research. For now I will just say that I do have cloth diapers being shipped to me on their way as I write this. And our cloth diapering follow-up will be soon coming!
Disposable diapers are so widespread here in America, that when we term the word ‘diaper’ disposable instantly comes to mind. Not surprising, since 90-95% of Americans who have babies choose to diaper their baby with disposables. So, with this extremely large number in mind, I will start here by offering the safest alternatives to diapering our babies in disposables. First, here is the stink on disposable diapers – a few main pointers that have affected my decision to go with cloth.
Once I started to read that numerous chemicals are being emitted from certain disposable diapers that can cause respiratory problems like asthma, and eye, nose and throat irritation, my sigh of relief began to shorten. Granted this study was done on rats by Anderson Laboratories, but the more I researched, the more concerns revealed themselves.
A hormone pollutant, TBT (tributyl tin), was also found in different disposables done in a study by Greenpeace. TBT, tagged as being one of the most harmful pollutants ever made, has been found in both the inner and outer layer of some disposable diapers!
Have you ever noticed those tiny gel particles on your baby’s bum during a changing? Those are a Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP), sodium polyacrylate crystals, that soak up the wetness and turn into a gel in the process. This helps to keep baby’s bottoms dry and disposable diapers extremely absorbent. SAP is “non-toxic and safe” although it is the same substance banned from tampons in 1985 for causing Toxic Shock Syndrome. Hmm.
Yet another harmful chemical, found in bleached disposables in only trace quantities, is dioxin. This is a chemical that is produced by the bleaching process of the wood pulp that can be found in the center layer of disposable diapers. Most of this chemical is a by-product, but again, trace amounts are finding their way into the bleached disposable diaper. What doesn’t find its way into the diaper, is released back in our environment. Yikes. This makes chlorine-free diapers a safer alternative when it comes to disposables.
Last, but not least, on average a disposable-diapered baby will not be potty trained until 3-4 years old. The average cloth diapered baby will be potty trained by 2 years old! I wonder if this was figured into the equation by the British government when they found the impact of cloth and disposables as being equal.
Those diaper genies…not a great choice for tossing away disposable diapers. First, if you flush away the poop, they don’t stink so bad. Second, there is so much waste in all that extra plastic. And third, that diaper will more than likely never decompose wrapped up individually in more plastic. Using a diaper genie is an inappropriate choice when it comes to wanting to give our babies a livable planet to live on in the future. A safe alternative is to simply toss your disposable diapers into a used produce or grocery bag, accumulate them for the day, then toss. You can even put this bag into a 5 gallon bucket that closes air tight or put a baby diaper bucket right in your garage if the stink is bad.
If you do choose to diaper your baby with disposable diapers, you will, on average, throw away 5,000 diapers before your baby is potty trained! According to the EPA, this is at a rate of 18,000,000,000 per year for us Americans making “disposable diapers the third-largest source of solid waste in landfills.”2 Another great point about this ‘environmental equals’ when looking at the diapering debate that Mindy Pennybacker and Aisha Ikramuddin make in their book, Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet. Guide to Natural Baby Care is that “without disposable diapers, we might need fewer rounds by garbage trucks.” Great point!
If this is still your diapering option, choose a safe alternative for your baby and our planet.
- Do not use a diaper genie, just reuse a paper or plastic bag for the entire day.
- Flush all #2s down the toilet.
- Have them shipped to you in bulk. This creates less pollution, less gas and cheaper diapers. Choose an auto ship program on Amazon, which I can say is very user friendly, easy to cancel or change your order at any time. Have a friend join you on your order and make it even more enviro-friendly.
- Take the time to potty train your baby, don’t wait until they are 3 or 4. There are many good books out there that can help parents with this. Also, you can start to familiarize your toddler with interest in the potty by reading them stories about it.
- Personally, I am not too familiar with the diaper-free alternative, but there is a growing community of people who are opting for this method. If this is something that is of interest to you, try the book Diaper Free Baby: The Natural Toilet-Training Alternative.
- Ask your city to look into recycling diapers.
Furthermore, as you can see, the way that we choose to diaper our babies effects not only our planet, but the health of our babies as well!
1 Amanda Onion,”ABC News”, May 26, 2005, http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=789456&page=1, Sept. 22, 2007.
2 Mindy Pennybacker and Aisha Ikramuddin, “Natural Baby Care” (John Wiley and Sons, Inc, 1999), p. 160.