Regulars and Shorts

Babying the Buddha: Diapers

By Kindra Fehr

New options in disposables.

by Kindra Fehr

Fifty million diapers per day—18 billion per year—enter U.S. landfills. The average baby goes through 5,000 diapers before being potty-trained. Ten years ago the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that diapers made up 3.4 million tons of waste—2.1 % of U.S. landfills.
Using cloth diapers doesn’t necessarily eliminate the impact on our planet. Laundering diapers creates equally harmful effects on air and water from the energy and chemicals used. One study concluded that cloth diapers used twice as much energy and four times as much water as disposables, and create greater air and water pollution than disposables. The debate continues. 
Five years ago when my husband and I did this same research, there were only two options; cloth and disposable. As we researched the impact on the planet, it was a no-win situation. The consensus was (according to most references we found online) to use disposable if you lived where there was a lot of land and little water and to use cloth if you lived where there was little room for landfill and abundant water. Neither was ideal. Even the chlorine-free brands like Seventh Generation make no claims to be biodegradable or compostable.
As we embark down the same path again with our second child, we have discovered two more options. I never thought I could get so excited about diapers! 
First are the “g diapers.” Two friends and I have been experimenting with them over the past couple of months. What’s so great about these? They are completely biodegradable and flushable. The g system is made up of an outer pant made of cotton, a snap-in insert of polyester, and the flushable pad which is made of cellulose fibers from sustainably harvested trees. The outer pant can last throughout the day or for a few days with only the snap-in portion needing to be changed if it becomes soiled. The insert can be either flushed or tossed. Wet ones can be composted and are completely disintegrated in 50-150 days.
The things we love about these are that they leave no mark on the planet. Also, they are really cute on our little lovey’s bottoms. The challenges are that it is a little more difficult to flush as you have to beat it with the swish stick (which comes with the starter kit) and in older plumbing, it may not go down at all. The other inconvenience is having to change the snap-in liner often if your little one is a big pooper. Both of these issues wax small in the comparison to sending that many more plastic filled diapers to the landfill. Every?thing that goes into a “flushable” gets re-absorbed by the eco-system in a neutral or beneficial way.
The second option I’ve found is Nature Babycare eco-friendly baby diapers. “I don’t believe in compromises or shortcuts,” says inventor Marlene Sandberg, a Swedish mom and former law firm partner. “If you want an eco-friendly diaper to be successful, it must perform at least as well or better than the best ‘traditional’ diapers.”
What’s great about Nature Babycare? There are no oil-based plastics against your baby’s skin. The diaper is made of chlorine-free, absorbent materials that do not contribute to dioxin pollution. The components of the diaper are made of a 100% natural based back sheet, 100% natural distribution layer, and are packaged in 100% compostable consumer packaging of natural renewable material—no plastics and consequently fewer greenhouse gases. There is no latex, fragrance or TBT (tributyl tin). My experience of this diaper is that it is very similar to a traditional diaper although not quite as absorbent so I tend to change it more often. Again, this is a small cost for the benefits.
Speaking of “costs,” the first question anyone asks when considering switching to either of these earth-friendly options is, “How much do they cost?” has an easy price breakdown as well as information about each brand. Larger sizes cost more and style choice such as “baby dry,” overnight, swim, “snug fit” and “easy ups” influence the price as well. These price comparisons are based on the lowest and highest price per diaper of each of the brands. The average price is determined between the two, not factoring in all of the variable prices in between. The total price is based on the average of 5,000 diapers by the time a child is potty-trained. This is a general price comparison and could be explored more extensively. 
The choice is yours and it’s nice to have new options. One small effort repeated over and over by many people can make big differences. 


Kindra Fehr is an artist, children’s art instructor and the mother of two young children.

This article was originally published on November 3, 2008.