Reducing Waste by Using Cloth Diapers

diaperlineImage by mhofstrangd

Post by Contributing Writer Sherrie Cook

For years prior to 1961, parents used cloth diapers on their children because there was no other option. Since the 60’s, paper diapers have grown with such popularity that many moms now choose them because they, too, think there is no other option.

Ten years ago I began my own personal search for a cloth diapering alternative in our modern world. I hit so many brick walls that I began to wonder if the reason was perhaps because there was something wrong with cloth diapering. Were these diapers unsanitary? Maybe all the extra laundry was too much work. Could it be that moms had finally grown weary of diaper dunking?

It didn’t take me long to decide that diapering babies using cloth must now be an archaic, extinct notion. The days of plastic pants and safety pins had been replaced with the quality and functionality of disposables. We, as a nation, had obviously arrived in diaper utopia.

However, I couldn’t help but wonder…what cost would we now pay for such luxury? It quickly became apparent to me after a few trips to the grocery store. Upon bringing my Tigger & Pooh stamped paper diapers home, I realized exactly the price to be paid – too much!

Just as that package of diapers was walking through my front door, I found myself exchanging it for a garbage bag full of its soiled predecessors. Essentially, I was throwing away my money. How much was I actually wasting? You might be surprised to learn – cloth vs. disposable diapers: a good estimate.

Twenty-two years ago it was estimated that over the course of a single year, 18 billion paper diapers were sold and used in the United States alone.1 For a family with a child in diapers, the diapering portion makes up approximately 50% of their entire household trash content.1 What a waste!

And that waste is willing to stick around for a while, too. It has been predicted that it could take 250 to 500 years for a single disposable diaper to decompose.2 That’s not the legacy I want to leave for my great, great, great grandchildren – ick!

Natural Living Tip: Easy Steps to Switching to Cloth Diapers

Steps to switching to cloth diapers for less waste:

1. Research your cloth options. The hardest part can be getting started. Visit forums where moms flock to talk about cloth. I love the Diaper Jungle and Stephanie’s cloth diapering section in her forum!

2. Learn how to wash cloth diapers. (It’s not as hard as you think, I promise.)

3. Pick 1 or 2 diapers to try and let the fun begin! If you can sew, consider making your own diapers. (CAUTION: some moms claim they have developed a cloth diaper addiction.)

4. Enjoy the ride to reducing waste by using cloth diapers regularly.

For those who cloth diaper, what was it that brought you to that decision? For those who don’t, what holds you back?

1Lehrburger, Carl. 1988. Diapers in the Waste Stream: A review of waste management and public policy issues. 1988. Sheffield, MA: self-published.
2Link, Ann. Disposable nappies: a case study in waste prevention. April 2003. Women’s Environmental Network.

About Sherrie Cook

Sherrie is a wife, mother, peer counselor, speaker and author. She enjoys helping fellow moms in their quest for a simple, God-centered home for their natural living families. She notes her (hopefully) helpful hints at The Proverbial Woman.

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  1. Hi I’ve been trying to find the publication that you mentioned in your post: Link, Ann. Disposable nappies: a case study in waste prevention. April 2003. Women’s Environmental Network. Do you know where I can download it from? Thanks so much

  2. I’ve never used cloth diapers. It honestly sounds a bit still like a crazy notion, with disposables being so convenient. Also, I don’t know anyone who uses them. But after reading several of these posts I might be willing to try them…I do long to be the best steward I can for the sake of my Lord, my children, and my family. I’m wondering if it might be best for our finances and our children’s health to switch. But I have two questions for those of you who have done this already:

    1. I have two kids in diapers. One is 4 months old (no biggie on the switch there) but the other is almost 2.5. He is VERY picky on a number of fronts, and I’m concerned that I’d be wasting money to buy cloth diapers for him when he’s so close to potty training (though we’re not there yet) and in the case he refuses them. Has anyone faced this before? Or switched a child over so “late”?

    2. I don’t know if we’re going to have any more children. Would investing in cloth diapers at this point be a waste?

    3. Finally, for a COMPLETE novice, what recommendations do you have for my 2 year old and for a 4 month old (both boys)?


    • @Erin,
      By “recommendations” in question #3, I mean brands, styles, kinds…that sort of thing. :)
      .-= Erin´s last blog ..Get Your FREE Italian Ice from Rita’s! =-.

    • @Erin, At this point, I probably wouldn’t jump into cloth with your 2 1/2 year old, unless you think he’s quite a ways off from potty training. However, it would be perfect to start with your 4 month old! You would get so much use out of them and save a lot of money as well!

      I would buy something easy to use, like pocket diapers. Get a good brand, like FuzziBunz or BumGenius (get a one-size diaper so that you only need to buy one set as your baby grows). They’re easy for dads and grandparents and babysitters, as well as for mom. Feels fairly similar to using disposables, and the washing just becomes a part of your weekly routine and takes very little time. By buying good quality diapers, if you don’t have another child, you can easily resell them on Craigslist if you take good care of them and make sure to use cloth diaper friendly detergent in the wash.

  3. 5 years ago when pregnant with my first I didn’t know anyone who used cloth and the flats and pins that were used on me looked so intimidating. When my son was 8 months old I bought 6 fuzzi bunz diapers (big deal since I am in new Zealand) and haven’t looked back since. I started to sew my own when pregnant with my second, now 22 months. Now I am sewing a stash for my soon to be born third child. I love trying all the different patterns and styles and I love being able to tell others I made this and you can too, it really is easy.

  4. I love my bum genius diapers. My daughter had a skin condition that would not resolve even after multiple creams and medication. (It was diaper rash, then a yeast infection that got into her hair follicles and was mistaken for MRSA) Finally an older woman dermatologist said, “Honey when you were a baby everyone used cloth. And that was all we knew. I would switch her to cloth. I never saw so many rashes and infections until people started using disposables. There are too many chemicals in them to make them absorbent and it causes a chain reaction.” Two weeks into using cloth all her skin issues disapeared. Now my second child uses them, so we have saved thousands of dollars, and helped the environment.

  5. My son is 6 now, but I used cloth diapers on him as a baby. I knew I wanted to use cloth before he was born, wanting the most natural and healthy choice for him. Sometimes I did get tired of the smell and washing them, but I knew I was doing what was best. I eventually started using disposables when we were away from home, and occasionally on days when I just didn’t want to deal with the cloth. I think it’s important to reduce what waste you can, even if you only use cloth half the time. It doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” decision. Any amount of using cloth will help the environment.
    .-= Angela´s last blog ..Mindless Distractions =-.