Way back when in the days of Home Ec, one favorite class was ‘how to
diaper baby’. Turning a flat piece of absorbent cotton into a
comfortable, well-fitting nappy was a trick that seemed to require the dexterity
and legerdemain of a trained magician. Worse, diapering the baby
clumsily came with the very real fear of jabbing a squirming infant with a
diaper pin. Generations of mommies suffered pinpricked fingers rather than
risk a scratch to baby’s delicate skin.
All that changed with the advent of disposable diapers. Even the
unfitted, flat, uncomfortable first generation disposables were worlds above
typical cloth diapers for convenience and ease of use. Just unfold the
back, pull the plastic up between the baby’s legs and smooth it against
his belly, and tape the back to the front. Voila! Instant diaper. Even
better – no need for washing. No dirty diapers soaking in a pail of
borax. No smell, no fuss, no laundry service – just un-tape, wrap the
diaper up and toss it in the trash.
For mothers of my generation, Pampers was the dividing line between ‘back
then’ and now. I can’t count the number of mothers, grandmothers, aunts
and older female relatives who started off a tale with ‘Of course, we
never had Pampers, WE had to…”
The advantages were obvious: disposables were cleaner, more sanitary,
more convenient. They did away with hours and hours of laundering and
drying, making time for lots of other things. If you were the least bit
conscious of disposal, you could completely eliminate the dirty-diaper
smell – just wrap it up tight in a plastic bag in put it in the OUTSIDE
trash. And no more wrestling with a squirming baby while you tried to
pin his nappy closed, nor having the whole thing slip off his adorable
little butt because you missed a layer of cloth when pinning.
The disadvantages were not so readily apparent, but they were
nonetheless real. The major point against disposable diapers is a potent one:
disposable diapers may be great for mother, but they put an enormous
strain on Mother Earth. Some facts:
* Over 19 billion disposable diapers annually end up in landfills –
where they do not degrade.
* Disposable diaper makers use more than a million tons of wood pulp
* The manufacturing process creates waste that contains dioxins, heavy
metals and industrial solvents.
In a world with limited resources, disposable diapers consume resources
and create pollutants and hazardous chemicals. Is the convenience worth
the damage to the Earth?
On the face of it, the debate does seem to be one more instance of man
– in this case mommies – putting their own convenience above what’s
best for the world.
But there’s yet another side to the debate – disposable diaper
manufacturers have countered with arguments that cloth diapers aren’t all that
kind to Mother Earth either. They cite the use of harsh chemicals in
cleaning – bleach, borax and other detergents, the consumption of water,
and the energy (and fuels) needed to heat water to temperatures that
can disinfect diapers as being just as harmful to the Earth as
In the end, the choice to use disposables or cloth diapers is a
judgment call. Which is better for baby? Which is better for mom? Which is
least harmful to our planet? The only real answer is to read what you can,
and make your own decision as to what works best for you – physically