Making the decision to cloth diaper is a huge accomplishment. What seems like an obvious choice for every family often goes undiscovered by the majority of the population. Ask most young adults any question about cloth diapers and the only response you’ll get is perhaps one that includes “rubber pants, pins, and a square cloth.” Even that would be second hand knowledge, as most of them were diapered in disposables.
But for those of us who are in the cloth diapering trenches the question of water usage has come up a time or two. Yes, we’ve crossed the line and become “green” (pat ourselves on the back for that) but what about all the water to wash the darn things??
What is environmentally friendly about a prewash, wash, rinse and second rinse?
Don’t be fooled. There are many ways that cloth diapering is environmentally friendly including water usage. Let’s start with the manufacturing.
According to the book Whitewash: Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Women’s Sanitary Products and Disposable Diapers, What You Can Do About It, the manufacture and use of disposable diapers amounts to 2.3 times more water wasted than cloth. I have the book on it’s way to my house and I look forward to reading all the dirty details.
To manufacture a disposable diaper requires massive amounts of resources. Over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby EACH YEAR (from the report Diapers: Environmental Impacts and Lifecycle Analysis to The National Association of Diaper Services (NADS))
Carefully ponder what this means. 300 pounds of wood!! Gone *poof*. Those trees aren’t coming back anytime soon. Not to mention that a used disposable diaper can’t be recycled like the paper you take notes on.
But what about the washing?
First, water is a renewable resource. Water doesn’t just disappear (like the trees) when it goes down the drain. It enters a cycle that ultimately leads to the reuse of water.
Second, many families do a simple wash and dry. No prewash, no second rinses. This system is excellent for prefolds and flats.
Third, where many families may overuse on water washing cloth diapers, they cut back in other water-usage areas. Flush the toilet less (“if it’s yellow, let it mellow. if it’s brown, flush it down.” Not my philosophy but works for one family I read about.) Shower/bathe less frequently and for shorter times. Recycle dish washing water. There are hundreds of ways to cut back if washing cloth diapers seems excessive to you.
Fourth, do laundry less often. Make sure you have a full load. Also, use the toilet to “prewash” the poopies before they go in the pail or purchase a diaper sprayer. Use flushable or reusable liners.
If for one second you feel guilty about any part of cloth diapering STOP! Not one of us chose to cloth diaper for one single reason. There are many components that made up our decision. At the top of my list is health reasons. I choose to use cloth diapers to ultimately avoid the chemicals in disposable diapers.
You may say “well buy a non-chemical brand.” My experience has been the deficit in absorbency and containment as well as the higher cost is not enough of a justification to simply use Seventh Generation or other “healthy” brand.
I didn’t consider the environment much when making the decision to cloth diaper. However, one glance at the staggering statistics of landfills is enough to make me appreciate my choice.
Whether or not your water bill increases is not why you should or shouldn’t cloth diaper. If you see an increase, re-evaluate all aspects: your washing routine, toilet flushes, showers/baths, yard maintainence, dish cleaning (either by hand or machine).
I recently received an astronomical water bill and did some research myself. The big culprit: the toilet. Both toilets are not cutting off after the flush. This wastes TONS of water by constantly running. Another reason was my increase in running the dishwasher. Every time I got a call that someone was coming to see the house (it is for sale/lease) I’d run the dishwasher regardless of how full it was.
All these things add up. I hope that if you have been troubled lately over your water usage that this post helps you overcome that. Doing the research has helped me understand the numbers.