Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Case For Cloth Diapers

I know there are a lot of chemicals in disposable diapers (and feminine hygiene products for that matter.) How else would you get something that thin to absorb so much liquid? As I've said before, the chemical aspect of disposable diapers were definitely a factor in my decision to change to cloth. I've never seen hard facts though- until now. Allow me to share some of what I've read. I'm going to paraphrase from several different sources. I'm not going to get fancy and site things but I'll include links at the end that you can check out for more information.

Let's start with chemicals, then I'll throw in some environmental info.



Chemicals In Disposable Diapers
Dioxins
What are dioxins? They are byproducts caused by the bleaching process. These byproducts leach into the ground and I would think, your child's bottom. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, these chemicals are highly carcinogenic and the most toxic chemicals known in science... in our kids' diapers. Dioxins have been linked to skin reactions, altered liver function, immune/nervous/endocrine system issues by the World Health Organization.

Sodium Polyacrylate
This is what soaks up all that liquid- it's a chemical compound used in disposables as filler. It looks like gel crystals. Have you ever accidentally washed a 'sposie or gone swimming with a pad on? It's that gooey gel stuff that expands inside. Sometimes you might find it on your baby's bum if the diaper is really wet. I know certain brands used to do that for me. Well, those crystals are linked to respiratory and skin issues. Every heard of TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome)? This chem was removed from tampons due to "TSS concerns". Yikes. 

Tributyl-tin (TBT)
Highlights from this chemical: 
- Causes endocrine disruptions in aquatic organisms/very harmful to aquatic life
- Remains in environment and food chain aka not degradable
- Used in biocides as a killing agent
- Can trigger growth of fat cells, causing obesity in humans (American Institute of Biological Sciences) 

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Chems such as: ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene and dipentene. These cause eye/nose/throat irritation, headaches, damage to liver/kidney/central nervous system and cancers.

I took this info from this article on Livestrong.com by Noreen Kaseem. There is another GREAT listing of chemicals/harmful aspects of disposables can be found here on the Real Diaper Association website. Nicki's Diapers has a smattering of good articles as well if you weren't cringing enough already. 

Environmental Implications of Disposables Diapers
A few things I read:
- It takes a diaper an estimated 500 years to decompose. When my husband and brought our daughter home from the hospital, we mused, "We're taking a plastic diaper, wrapping it in plastic (Diaper Genie) then wrapping it in plastic again (garbage bag) then throwing it in a landfill." Yeah, that would take about 500 years. 
This is our first "catch" for the landfill
when my daughter was a few days old.
- "Americans throw away enough disposable diaper each year to stretch from the moon and back at least seven times." -Julia Butterfly Hill

- 18 billion diapers are produced a year- 82,000 tons of plastic and 1.3 million tons of wood pulp (250,000 trees)

- Something else I never knew before- did you know that you're not supposed to throw out baby poop with a disposable? Nope- it's supposed to be flushed, not neatly wrapped and put into your diaper pail. I seriously NEVER heard that before I started cloth diapering! The poop issue seems to be a major hang up with a lot of moms I talk to about cloth diapering. Well, first off you never have to touch poop if you don't want to and second, you're supposed to do the same thing with disposables!  When you don't get rid of the poop and it heads off to the landfill in the disposable, you're risking fecal matter leaching into water supplies and upping greenhouse gas emissions. Oh and Methane gas is also released by all that poop. Awesome. 

Even the "green" disposables are not truly "green". They don't fully biodegrade and they still use tremendous amounts of resources to be produced. They might not have the same levels of chemicals but they are still not environmentally sound. 

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The thing that I think is really kind of ironic is that disposable companies like Pampers and Huggies are coming out with diapers with prints. Denim, camouflage, argyle, etc. They are making disposable diapers to look like cloth. You get a portion of the cuteness with ALL those chemicals! Lucky us. 

Definitely something to think about. I know that when I began diapering my first two kids, whispers of these factoids gnawed at me but when 90+% of the US does it, it's almost easy to ignore the facts. If everyone else you know puts those same chemicals on their kids, it makes it less bad feeling somehow. Like we're protected because of the numbers. Or maybe since so many people think it's okay then surely it must be? Like smoking in the 1960's. Surely it can't be bad for you! 


A few other noteworthy articles and references:

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