Posted by Dave on June 22, 2010
I had an interesting discussion with my brother about diapers on the golf course yesterday that lead to a more heated discussion between my spouse and I because she thought I was being unreasonable in my expectations of ‘other people.’ This happens fairly frequently as I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t look at things like I do.
I had asked my brother what kind of diaper he was going to use with his new baby on the way. He didn’t even think and answered disposables.
I questioned why he made this decision, to which I received the answer “because it’s easier”.
I asked him if he had looked into the cost of cloth diapers vs. disposables or any sort of analysis beyond the simplicity factor, to which I received a negative response.
At this point, because we were at a golf course on father’s day I left the point alone – until the car ride home when I went over the conversation with my wife and noted (even though we don’t plan on having children) I couldn’t see any reason beyond the pain of cleaning the diapers to buy plastic that had to be thrown out after 1 use vs. cloth that would last for a significant period of time. I was told that most parents don’t think like that, they don’t want to deal with the messiness and inconvenience of cleaning diapers when there is a simple alternative available. These are arguments that I really dislike – I’m as lazy as the next person but like to look at the big picture on subjects like this. My arguments for diapers can be applied over many consumer products in use today, such as ziploc bags vs. reusable containers; paper towels vs. rags etc.
Tim had previously discussed his switch from cloth to disposable diapers here – rather than look at it from a quality of life stance, I’m going to look at the impact of using something disposable (in this case a diaper) to something re-usable (cloths). Most of the information I got came from here, which admittedly is a pro-cloth diaper site, however I don’t think the pro-disposable diaper conglomerate has much in the way of an argument given the following:
- Over 92% of all single-use diapers end up in the landfill.
- It’s estimated that a disposable diaper would take 250-500 years to decompose.
- Disposable diapers are the third largest consumer item in landfills, and represent approximately 4% of solid waste.
- Disposable diapers contain traces of dioxin as a by-product of the paper bleaching process, along with several other nasty toxic pollutants, which besides probably not being good for a baby’s skin is definitely not good for the land and soil during the 250-500 years this product takes to decompose.
So, rather than having to deal with some baby messes most people buy something that will have to be dealt with for maybe the next FIVE CENTURIES? Does this make sense? I’m not really sure why there’s even a product like this out there – I would have to say that in this circumstance the environmental impact isn’t being looked at, rather most people are looking at the easier choice right now, rather than the total impact that the purchase will have in the future (hundreds of years down the road).
From what I have read cost of cloth to disposable varies, but let’s say they are approximately the same on average. At the end of 2 years, approximately 6,000 diapers have been put into a landfill if you’ve been using disposable diapers. While if you had chosen cloth, you’d have some tattered rags that could be used around the house, or alternatively (because it’s made of a decomposable material) will disappear (in optimal conditions in about 2 weeks).
As a culture we have created products whose main purpose is to be thrown out in order to make things more simple for us. From a personal finance perspective longer-lasting reusable purchases tend to have a lot of up-front costs that make them undesirable to many people. What is created by the easy choice is a lot of garbage. I’m sure more trash has been created in the last 100 years than there ever has been in the past due to the invention of plastic. From an environmental perspective these products are a nightmare, but most people are not looking at the big picture.
For myself, I attempt to purchase as little as possible and when I do I tend to buy longer-lasting durable products rather than disposable goods. I will freely admit that I do own disposable products (ziploc bags, paper towels etc.) but try to limit my use of them.
- Do you think about the purchasing decisions you make beyond the initial outlay?
- If you have your child in disposable diapers did you ever think about cloth? If you chose disposable diapers, how did you come to this conclusion?