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Environmental Concerns around Cloth Diaper are Complex

CBC’s recent editorial about disposable diapers has us thinking about the complexities of the eco-friendliness of cloth diapering. 

They reference a relatively exhaustive study out of the UK that compared the carbon dioxide equivalents of disposable diapers to reusable diapers. It emphasized cloth diapering can be a more environmentally friendly choice based on end users behaviour. That is, if you choose to wash your diapers on hot or cold, launder in the dryer,  wash less frequently, and more. 

Even simple decisions around the laundering of cloth diapers can really impact the environmental benefits (or drawbacks) of cloth diapering. 

But it’s more than just laundering of cloth diapers that plays into the potential environmental repercussions of diapering. We can influence the impact in our choices of textiles and products that support (or hinder) the longevity. 

 
 

Choosing the right absorbency matters

 

There are ways to minimize the impact of the cloth diaper cover/pocket, but really when we're looking at cloth diapering and one of the easiest consideratison fro shifting the eco-goodness, we really see the absorbency as important. 

Which natural fibre is the right choice for cloth diapering? Which is more environmentally friendly? And aslo stopping to consider the consequences of synthetics like microfibre as being petro-chemical based, shedding the wash, and short lived. 

That’s a big question and one that we really can’t answer for you. You'll need to make the decision for yourself and your family 

Cotton, Bamboo, and Hemp are all natural fibres with different pros and cons to the processes involved in cultivating and manufacturing into textiles for cloth diapers (and clothing). 

 
 

Cotton

Cultivating and growing cotton is well established as an environmental drain and pollutant. However, organic cotton continues to establish itself as a more renewable resource leaving a better impact on the landscape.

 

Bamboo

Bamboo continues to be heavily greenwashed as the king of renewable textiles. However, what's missing from the conversation is the less than ideal process it takes to turn bamboo into a synthetic rayon to be used in textiles. Bamboo textiles that are created in closed loop systems offer consumers a better approach to this textile

 

Hemp

Hemp is the next craze in textiles offering a pesticide free and quick growing fiber. Not only that, growing hemp is gentle on the landscape. Hemp continues to be a costly material in the cloth diaper industry and it's slow absorpation rates are less than ideal for many families. 

 

Don’t let the environmental impacts of textile production dissuade you from cloth diapering because it is also about how you use the product in your own home that impacts the environment. 

 

At Nuggles, we choose to use Bamboo textiles that are manufactured in a closed loop system where the chemical treatment of the raw material to create a textile is reused and treated appropriately. It is in finding these checks and balances in the industrial processes of manufacturing bamboo products we can feel more confident about the sustainabilty of our products. It's not going to be perfect, but at Nuggles we try to choose suppliers, manufacturers, and products that meet our needs for quality and sustainability. We feel confident our bamboo products are created with eco-conscious mindset. 

 

Cloth Diaper Choices at Home Matters 

 

The products you choose to use and how you choose to launder those cloth diapers continues to make waves in the environmental impact of diapering choices. 

For many parents, cloth diapering starts with their first baby and continues on with each child. It is through this that the numbers around the ecological impact of the production of cloth diapers stretch even thinner.

Even if you choose to cloth diaper one child, the potential to purchase diapers second hand, or pass them on to another family continues to decrease the impact. 

 

Reduce Cloth Diaper Impact At Home

 

Wash on Warm/Cool 

Hot water might be all the talk, but for many families they can get an adequate wash using warm/cool settings on their washing machine. This reduces overall energy consumption for laundering

Hang to Dry 

Using the dryer is super easy, but it's also one of the biggest energy consumers in the laundry process. Skip the dryer and hang it all to dry. It's going to take longer but it saves money and helps the environment. 

Build the Right Stash

Your stash does matter when thinking about the environmental impacts of cloth diapering. It starts simply with choosing natural fibres over synthetics like microfibre inserts. 

Other considerations include the size of your stash, the versatility of your stash, and more. 

Pass It Down

When your done cloth diapering, pass them on to another child or family to continue using until they've reached their end cycle. 

You could even be the domino to star the cloth revolution and get your entire community on board with cloth diapering. 

Cloth diapers do have a life span, but there are made with pieces like inserts that do have the live on longer. Elastics and PUL will break down with use, but prefolds and inserts can continue to be passed down or repurposed until they fall apart in your hands. This might take a while but it eludes to an uncalculated potential to reduce environmental impacts. 

 

Diaper Manufacturing Matters

 

All we see is the visual representation of garbage. The article eludes that the disposable manufacturing process is where much of the environmental troubles lay.

I would be naive to suggest cloth diapering is not also plagued by poor manufacturing processes.  

There is great potential in the manufacturing process of both disposable and cloth diapers to make some noise as consumers and ask the questions and find the answers to understanding the environmental impact. 

For both diapers, there is potential for consumer based pressure on brands and government legislation to support and refine the process. This could potentially influence better life cycles for disposable diapers, while encouraging cloth diaper manufacturers to clean up their facilities and processes to represent consumer needs. 

 
 

What Matters?

 

The choice that feels right for you. 

Articles like this one, and the original CBC editorial, ignite passion, rage, and frustration. We all feel slightly judged at some level and we want to be champions for the choices that we make and the reasons we choose them. 

Every year it feels another study or editorial comes out to tell us why cloth diapering is bad on the environment, but it’s more complex that we can even put into words. As cloth diaper advocates we can just push to support better manufacturing of all products and the continuation of innovative design.

For many of us cloth diapering is more than the environment, it’s about the cost of disposable diapers, the health of our babies, and community that comes with cloth diapering. 

There is no perfect diapering method. 

 
 

Bailey Bouwman

Bailey is a mom of two young and wild children living in the cold tundra of Northern BC. She fell in love with cloth diapering where she continues her passion here at Nuggles as the Director of Happiness. Bailey loves social media, chewy candies, and chasing waterfalls.