The Dirt on Disposable Diapers


In the past, disposable diapers were luxuries used primarily for vacations, doctor’s visits and other special circumstances. The trend has shifted from luxury to standard where most homes with children in diapers rely solely on the disposable type, dramatically increasing the amount of waste created by those with little ones.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans make more than 200 million tons of garbage each year, which includes 27 billion disposable diapers. Disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills. According to Michigan Waste Industries Association, Michigan’s landfill operators have attained construction permits for the next decade, allowing sufficient space for the growing amount of trash being collected.

But making more room for trash won’t solve the problem: The average lifespan of a disposable diaper is 500 years. An average baby will go through about 8,000 diapers in infanthood, according to the EPA.

What many parents may not know about these seemingly convenient mechanisms is that they are created with toxic chemicals known to cause many adverse health effects. Concerned parents may notice that there is little literature on what chemicals can be found in diapers, creating uncertainty of their safety.

Many diapers leach out dioxins as a result of the bleaching process. According to the EPA, dioxins are highly carcinogenic and according to the World Health Organization, dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems by damaging the immune system, interfering with hormones and also causing cancer.

If you do the research, you may find that weeding out toxins from a child’s life can be a part-time job to. However, there are instances like these where healthier, more sustainable options are readily available.

Cloth diapers, an environmental and economically-sound option, are a realistic way to reduce excessive diaper waste. Local children’s store Hopscotch, located at 909 Cherry St. SE in Grand Rapids, is known around town for their large selection of quality cloth diaper options and detailed knowledge on the subject.

“Disposable diapers generate 60 times more solid waste and use 20 times more raw materials then cloth diapers. 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to make disposable diapers for one baby for one year,” said Rachel Zylstra, co-owner of Hopscotch.

If you are skeptical about a cloth diaper’s environmental integrity because of their dependency on water for reuse, think again.

“Paper pulp and plastic for use in disposable diapers is a very water-intensive process. On the other hand, the water required to wash cloth diapers is the equivalent of flushing your toilet an extra five times per day. Plus the water from the wash is going to septic and sewers to be filtered while the toxic waste from making disposables pollute our soil and rivers and ground water,” said Zylstra.

The negative stigma that cloth diapers once held is fading away as parents realize they are far less expensive than disposables.

“The cost of cloth diapering is entirely dependent on which diapers you buy. You can cloth diaper part-time for as little as $50 and full-time for as little as $100. If you buy the most expensive diapers in our store, you can diaper part-time for $275 and full time for $550. It costs about $100 a year to wash and care for your diapers, and that includes the cost of detergent, washing and drying in a machine,” said Zylstra.

Disposable diapers plague parents with costs ranging from $1,500 to $2,500 depending on the type of disposable used. Unless you’re buying cloth diapers made from gold thread, the cloth diapers are definitely more budget-friendly compared to disposables. New cloth diapers aren’t a necessity either if you are thinking about making the switch.

“Not only do we sell new cloth diapers and offer a 30-day promise that you’ll love them or you can return them for store credit, but we sell gently-used cloth diapers, making cloth diapering even more affordable. If you can’t afford used diapers and you qualify for WIC, you will also qualify to get cloth diapers on loan from Fluffy Wishes Cloth Diaper Closet of Kent County,” said Zylstra.

For the squeamish of baby fecal matter, there are sprayers that can attached to your toilet with strong enough pressure to get the job done without touching the inside of the diaper or flushable liners.

Parents looking to make the switch can attend information sessions offered right at Hopscotch every second Saturday of the month at 11 a.m. As a part of the Earth Day celebration, Hopscotch will also be participating in the Great Cloth Diaper Change on April 21st at Gymboree Play and Music. Join others in this Guinness Book of World Records Event to try and break last year’s world record and raise awareness by changing your child in a cloth diaper. There will be diapers available to purchase if you are new to the concept. Diapers will be changed at 12:30 p.m. Participants are encouraged to make donations of cash or new or gently-used cloth diapers for Fluffy Wishes.

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