No matter how you slice it, diapering is a messy business. Diapers of steel will not save you from the eventual “blow out.” But when choosing diapers, how well they hold the goods is not your only concern. Beyond finding diapers that are engineered as well as the Hoover Dam, there are other important considerations. 1. You want something soft that won’t irritate that precious bottom. 2. Consider the diaper landfill. Let’s talk about #2 (no pun intended).
A Hazy Shade of Green
I applaud makers of greener disposable diapers, I really do. But notice that I said “greener,” not “green.” Usually these “natural” brands do have less chemicals and that’s nice for a baby’s bum but the environment gets, well, a bum deal. Seventh Generation is probably the most ubiquitous of these options, which helps if you are located somewhere where offerings are limited. These diapers have the benefit of not being bleached, but that nice natural tan color? Yeah, that is dye. The real bummer here is that there is nothing biodegradable about these diapers; they are no better than any other disposable in that regard. Nature Babycare is a lesser known contender and takes a few more pains to be green. They claim to use no oil-based products and they advertise as being biodegradable. But if you dig deeper you will find that they are only partially biodegradable. So does that mean that you will end up with half diapers weighing down the landfill? I don’t know, but the real drawback for me on these was that they gave my daughter a rash.
Many old school diaper companies are also jumping on the green wagon these days. My thought on that in general (harkening back to a disdain for “poseurs”) is that if a big name, that has made toxic goods for ages all of a sudden brings out an eco-friendly line, they are purely in it for the publicity and will be cutting as many legit corners as possible. So buyer beware. In this category, Huggies Natural comes to mind. These “eco” diapers contain polyethylene, polyester blend, virgin wood fibers and polyacrylate. Plus, they are not even chlorine free. And what organic cotton they do use is such a minute amount on the outside of the diaper; your printer paper probably has more organic matter.
Now, if you must dispose, there is some positive news. Santa Clarita, CA launched the first diaper recycling pilot program in 2002, with the help of Knowaste out of Canada. The bad news? The program has disappeared. This is a positive step in the right direction though, so check in with your city’s eco branch and see if there is anything like this in the works in your town!
Cloth seems to be the eco choice du jour and has many merits. However, you should choose this option knowing that cloth diapers are work and if you are not careful with them, they can be A LOT of work. If you don’t wash them just right, they can be perpetually stinky, if you get anything like a diaper rash cream on them, prepare to spend hours getting them back to their previous absorbency levels, and beyond regular washing, prepare to do something called “stripping.” Warnings aside, there are some benefits. If you do take care and are able to mostly wash your diapers with the rest of your laundry, you may only use slightly more water, which compared to a pile of diapers sitting in a landfill is much more desirable. But if you add a diaper service in the mix, you then need to add fuel consumption to the equation. All in all though, cloth diapers just feel better (both to your conscience and to your babe). Some favorites here are bumGenius and Fuzzi Bunz, but new cloth lines come out all of the time. Try a few out before committing, because getting fully set up can be costly.
Infuse Your Compost with Some Nitrogen
Want the convenience of disposables, but feel like you should use cloth? There is another choice out there. Hallelujah for compostable diapers coming on the scene! Sure you have to throw the poopy diapers in the garbage, but it is a small price to pay for the guilt-free tossing of wet diapers in your compost bin (or in some cities like Seattle, your yard waste bin!). I first discovered the compostable option by Broody Chick while spending some time in Canada. At the time, availability online or locally was very limited so we would cart them back by the truckload. Now, you can get them on Amazon. On the U.S. scene, there is Elements Naturals, who was supposed to come out with a compostable diaper last summer, but their website makes no mention of the status of their diaper plans. You can buy compostable wipes from them though. Now, if you live in California, there are companies like Tiny Tots and Earth Baby who will supply you with compostable diapers and pick them up professionally compost them for you.
And then there is the hybrid option, the gDiaper that I desperately wanted to make work but after weeks of blow outs and swishing turds into the toilet with a stick, I gave up. These diapers have a cloth exterior with compostable and presumably flushable inserts (that’s where the swishing comes in). But as alluded to already, flushing the inserts is not for the faint of heart. You have to peel the layers apart, empty contents, drop inserts in toilet and use the patented gDiaper swish stick to break it all up. Then, when you flush, hope that your plumbing can handle it all (which some older pipes most certainly cannot). But, you can also just go the compost route for the peed on inserts. Again, my major thumbs down comes from the inordinate amount of blow outs during this period of my diapering journey.
The Art of Elimination
If you really want to leave the debate entirely, you can try to go diaper free. Also known as elimination communication (EC), if you fancy yourself somewhat of a baby whisperer, this choice could be for you. This is a very involved system by which you learn to watch for cues from your baby on when they need to go, and then either hold them over a toilet or sit them on an “infant potty.” To say that this choice is high maintenance is an understatement. But for families who follow an attachment parenting philosophy and are constantly holding or closely attentive to their babies anyway, this would not be a stretch. Some choose to use diapers as a backup, but the use of diapers is VERY minimal to nil. And typically, children raised with EC are early potty trainers. For more on this option check out Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene.
And the Winner Is…
I can go on and on about this and that choice. Your neighbors can go on and on. Your fellow parents can go on and on. Ultimately, you will figure out what is right for your family: probably right when you are in the trenches, diaper (or no diaper) in hand, and out of wipes…
My final piece of advice is to resist the temptation to invest too heavily into one thing ahead of time. What you think will work and what really does work are often not the same thing.
We want to know which diaper is right for your family. Come discuss in our forum.