These diapering options are more eco-friendly.
Four million disposable diapers enter our landfills every day, according to Environment Canada. As parents concerned about the planet our children will inherit, how can we reduce the impact made by disposable diapers?
Finding greener disposables
Disposables are convenient, there’s no doubt, but there are greener options among those offered. These include chlorine free disposables and gel-free diapers. While they don’t reduce the amount of material going into the garbage, they do reduce the number of toxins, and that’s a step forward. Flushable diapers that combine a flushable insert with a reusable, washable cotton cover are another option. Cost wise, they are competitive with regular-priced disposables. Look for these alternative diapers in health food stores or online (see resources).
Diaper pail systems that encase each diaper in plastic (like little sausages) create additional pollution. To control odors in and around the pail, use baking soda, a carbon filter or an odor-absorbing disc instead.
Cloth diapers a better choice
Cloth diapers are a great way to keep waste out of landfills. There are two basic types of cloth diapers – flat or fitted. Flat or “prefolds” are rectangular (about the size of a tea towel), with extra layers of material in the centre for absorbancy. A properly fitting cover, along with an optional plastic fastener, holds the diaper on your baby. Diaper pins are history.
Fitted diapers are constructed more like a disposable, with velcro or button closures. They are easy to use, and look darn cute – but cost more than prefolds. Button closures are the best option because velcro tabs have a habit of getting stuck to each other in the wash, and clogged with lint.
Both flat and fitted diapers are available in cotton, as well as earth friendly cotton-hemp and bamboo fabrics. Diaper covers are usually made from nylon or other synthetics. Wool covers are a more costly alternative, but are breathable and made from a sustainable fiber.
Washing the diapers yourself is most efficient. Line drying saves energy and bleaches diapers naturally. Yet if the idea of washing poopy diapers makes you want to gag, consider getting a cloth diaper service: clean diapers are delivered to your home on a regular schedule while the soiled diapers get carted away for washing.
You should be aware, however, that diaper services incur a larger carbon footprint, due to the transporting involved. There’s also the water, detergents, bleach and electricity required by the industrial facilities that clean these communally washed diapers to proper health standards. Still, this method both reduces landfill waste and the demand for resources required to produce disposables.
Least impact with diaper-free
Humans have used a diaper-free approach throughout history and it’s still common in the non-Western world. Diaper-free is also known as “Elimination Communication” (EC for short). This is a gentle practice that works with the baby’s natural preference to not ‘soil the nest’.
Starting when my daughter was a month old, I used a potty to “catch” a pee whenever she awoke. Holding her in a comfortable position, while making a cueing sound (like “sss…”), I found she nearly always had to go. (Babies rarely eliminate during sleep, but do so within minutes of waking up.) Eventually, I learned her daily pattern by keeping track of the time that elapsed between pees and poops, and watching for signs of needing to go (e.g. squirming, grimacing, crying). This took no longer than it does to change diapers, and became more intuitive with practice.
That said, accidents do happen occasionally. But they are not a big deal. Urine is sterile and 96% water: a little white vinegar and some blotting does the trick. The signs of an impending bowel movement are more obvious, so it’s easier to catch those in the potty. Diapers can still be used part-time, or for outings. As long as diapers are changed promptly, they shouldn’t interfere much with the EC method.
gdiapers.com. Flushable diapers; available at health food stores (check website for locations).
natureboyandgirl.net. Cornstarch based disposable diapers.
natureboyandgirl.net. Chlorine free diapers, wipes and training pants; available at health food stores.
tushies.com. Gel free (no sodium polyacrylate) diapers
diaperpin.com. Cloth diapers reviews. (US site)
Diaper Free Resources
naturalinfant.com. Ingrid Bauer’s site. She is the Canadian author of Diaper Free: the Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene
diaperfreebaby.org. DiaperFreeBaby support network.