Cloth nappies, disposable diapers, flushable diapers-the abundance of choices are enough to boggle a new parent's mind. Chances are, that even though you've been raised exclusively on cloth nappies, the thought of forgoing the convenience of disposables makes you feel tired. But the simple truth is, while they might eliminate the hassle of constant changes (the biggest issue with cloth nappies), they are tough on the environment. No escaping that.
A 2003 study by the UK-based Women's Environmental Network (WEN) found that nearly 3 billion disposable nappies are discarded every year (in the UK alone) and more than 90% of them end up in landfills. 25% of the diaper waste is made up of plastic and paper, and we all know that plastic takes years and years to decompose. Disposable diapers generate 60 times as much solid waste compared to cloth ones. And it's not just about disposal. Making these diapers also puts a strain on the ecological system. The WEN report highlighted another study that looked at the lifecycle of diapers and found that disposable diapers require 3.5 times as much energy to manufacture as compared to cloth nappies and release several volatile chemicals (such as xylene) and carcinogens (such as dioxin) that have been linked to adverse health effects in humans.
A case for cloth diapers
Needless to say, they're gentler on the environment because they can be washed and reused. They are free from any harmful chemicals and are less likely to cause rash (provided you change them frequently-every hour for newborns and every 3 to 4 hours for older babies). Cloth diapers also cost considerably less, even when you consider the energy cost of a washing machine and detergent. And of course, you're heaping less trash on an already-burdened planet.
A Middle Path
But I understand that when your to-do list is a 100 items long with rest at the top of it, it takes superhuman effort to put the environment first. I'm not trying to take you on a guilt trip. All I'm saying is, now that you know how disposables impact the environment, you can consider reducing your usage. By all means use them when you're travelling or visiting someone, but try opting for cloth nappies if you plan to be at home for a considerable time. If you have help, train them in the use of cloth diapers. Maya DSouza, my environmental activist friend from Mumbai, who is also a mother, pointed out a less-obvious benefit. "Since I was only using cloth nappies and it was so difficult to constantly keep washing and changing them, I started paying very close attention to my daughter's pee and poop timings. The incentive to potty-train was so strong that by the time she was one, Zoha was doing her business in the toilet only!"