Friday, April 2, 2010

Help for the Diaper Conundrum

Did you know your little sweetheart will go through 8,000 to 10,000 diapers (nappies) before they become toilet trained?

Did you know that we throw away an average of 18 Billion disposable diapers a year in the United States alone?

That's a whole lot of waste going straight to garage dumps and how long does it take for a diaper to break down?  A LONG TIME and what does it break down into? As well, the more waste we create, the more space we need to dispose of it (unless it's incinerated which just adds harmful emissions to the environment) so throwing these diapers out causes a lot of problems. 

Traditional disposable diapers contain all or some of the following:

  • Materials such as paper, wood cellulose and cotton that have been bleached using chlorine
  • Absorbent material inside the diaper: Sodium Polyacrylate
  • Plastics found in the fasting tabs and bonded to the paper to help keep the "wetness away from baby's skin"
  • Chemical based perfumes and lotions 
If you are a family with young children trying to green up your act, I'm sure you've spent a considerable amount of time thinking about this topic.  A friend of mine, Ben Kneppers of Edge Environment in Sydney, Australia recently published an article about the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) he did comparing two kinds of diapers that I thought might be of interest to you.  The full article is here.

Comparative Life Cycle Analysis for Disposable Diapers (Nappies) vs. Reusable Diapers

The three options analysed:
  1. Disposable Nappies
  2. Reusable Nappies with an efficient washing machine, and 
  3. Reusable Nappies with a less-efficient washing machine. 
Note that other nappy options exist (e.g. compostable and alternative material nappies) but due to limitations in the scope of the study these three most common options were selected.

Within the LCA system - the more "eco-points" a product has, the higher the impact. Here were the results of the study:
3rd place:  1.52 eco-points over the 2.5 year life span (of the child using diapers) is the disposable nappy.
2nd place: 0.74 eco-points is the reusable nappy with a less efficient washing machine
1st place: 0.55 eco-points is the reusable nappy with the efficient washing machine as our most environmentally preferable option

Ben states:
The main areas responsible for impact in the life of the disposable nappies were the high material inputs, which used a significant amount of energy, water, produced a lot of waste emissions, and made a large impact on global warming. The main issue for the reusable nappy is water consumption. As previously mentioned, cotton is a water intensive crop and, in addition to the water used for washing, this led to the impact on water scarcity impact coming out much greater than the disposable nappies. 
So stick to reusable cloth diapers as much as you can, line dry where possible and if you can, save up for the most energy efficient washing machine when yours kicks the bucket!

Tracy Lydiatt - B.Sc, M.Sc
The Green Families Guru
p.s. Remember you can do this, it start with one step and it lasts a lifetime

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