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Cloth Diaper Savings, Green Home, Natural Parenting

Are Cloth Diapers Really Better For The Environment? A Rebuttal To The Naysayers

Vox issued an article yesterday titled, “Are Cloth Diapers Any Better for the Environment, Your Wallet, or Your Baby?

It’s a lengthy article, but the premise is that cloth diapers aren’t all that much better for anyone or anything and it’s all about how parents want to portray themselves.

*facepalm* Oh, give me a break.

Feeling Pressure

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The author went into a long story about her mother telling her stories of “the old days” and going on and on about how wonderful the advancement of disposable diapers was because reusable diapers were terrible. But then she felt conflicted because it seemed that anywhere she went online, she seemed to feel like everyone was telling her and other parents they needed to parent a certain way.

Indeed, social media and the world of the internet has drastically changed the way people parent and seek out information. It’s also true that everything feels more controversial now.

However, I completely disagree that diapers are as controversial as she is trying to make them out to be. 95% of parents use disposable diapers. That leaves 5% of parents choosing reusable diapers. If you are part of the 95% and you feel shamed or made out to be a bad parent, I’m sorry you feel that way.

But cloth diapering parents are very much a minority. True, they may be a vocal minority at times. But the whole 5% of us out there really shouldn’t have the power to make you feel so guilty and wrong about your parenting decisions. You have 95% of society on your side.

No Proof They’re Healthier

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The next argument the author wanted to address is that the AAP and EPA don’t have an official stance on diapers, and there are many claims out there that cloth diapers are healthier, but not a lot of concrete data to back this up.

This is true. The AAP and EPA don’t have official positions. I also agree that many of the perceived health benefits are exaggerated.

However, it is also true that there are many babies out there allergic to disposable diapers. The cloth diaper community is filled with many people who never planned on joining the community at all until they realized their baby was reacting badly to every disposable diaper they tried.

Not every parent in the cloth diaper community is in there because they are afraid of “chemicals.” Personally, chemicals were never anything I considered when I decided to cloth diaper.

I recognize this is important to many parents out there, including many of my readers. I support all of my readers in making the best decision for their family, even if it’s not something I’m worried about for my family. Wanting to avoid unnecessary chemicals in disposable diapers is your prerogative as a parent.

I’m simply trying to say you can’t paint all cloth diapering parents with the same brush. Some people had no concerns about chemicals until their babies started getting relentless rashes from many brands of disposables. For these babies, it WOULD be unhealthy for them to continue using disposables. It is causing them unnecessary pain and requiring treatment.

That’s wonderful if your baby doesn’t have these reactions and disposable diapers are perfectly healthy for them. Good for you! But you don’t need to say that parents whose babies experienced very real allergic reactions from disposables are making things up.

A Single Cloth Diaper Is Expensive

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The author also talked about how a survey indicated most cloth diaper users were between the ages of 25 and 35 and had a household income of $50k-$70k a year, but that most of them said they would be willing to pay “up to $35 for a diaper.” She went on to say that was counter-intuitive and would likely not save much money.

Those that use cloth diapers understand that you have a variety of diapers in your stash. Some are better for overnight than others. When I think of a $35 diaper, I think of high-quality fitteds that would hold for 12 hours overnight. I don’t think of owning fifty $35 diapers as my entire stash.

May some people do that? Sure.

Is this what most people do? Absolutely not.

Again, the author has an issue with describing extreme situations and painting them as the norm in the community.

The author also linked to Alva diapers on Amazon and said have at it if you want to spend $40 on a single diaper, buy an Alvababy diaper. If you have been a cloth diaper user for 5 minutes, you know that Alvas cost about $5 apiece. I don’t know what she is talking about there. Clearly, she is misinformed, or she didn’t read the description and missed that it was a 6-pack for $40.

I have several $5 diapers in my cloth diaper stash. I also have some $8, $10, $12, $15, and $20 diapers. I have two diapers that cost around $35. Two. That’s it. And they are used specifically for overnight because they are super heavy-duty, hence the price.

So yes, if I took that survey, I may also answer that I would pay up to $35 for a diaper because I have. But that is by no means what I’m going to spend on my entire collection.

Savings Over Time

Then the author went on to describe another person who estimates they save $20-$40 a month on diapers by using cloth, and put that down by saying that’s hardly an “economical slam dunk.”

Maybe not. $40 may not be much to some people. But to others it absolutely is.

Over 2.5 years (the average potty training age), that is $1200 in savings. I don’t know about you, but I can plan a vacation on $1200. I could also pay an entire year of car insurance. That is a few months of grocery money.

I wouldn’t just throw $1200 in the garbage, which is exactly what you’re doing when you buy diapers you plan to throw away.

I am not shaming people for buying disposables. You do you. But I am saying that scoffing at the cloth diapering community because you don’t think $40/month (or $1200 over the whole time in diapers) is worth getting excited over means that you may need to check your privilege.

Again–you do you! You buy disposable products all you want to. If you don’t mind spending the money to save yourself some work and time, that’s your decision. We all make those choices on a day to day basis, and we all have different priorities. There is nothing wrong with that.

But you don’t need to put others down for their choice to save a bit of money, create a little less waste, and trying to avoid unnecessary rashes just because you don’t think it’s worth it.

It’s not a competition. I understand that some very passionate and vocal people may make it feel like a competition sometimes, but it’s not.

This whole article read to me like a very long justification by someone who didn’t want to use cloth diapers and wants to feel vindicated for making that choice, like they are the ones who actually thought it out and realized that everyone else was disillusioned and they are enlightened.

She ends the article with a condescending, “You didn’t save the planet, but you meant well.” *head pat*

As I said, you are part of the 95% majority. You don’t need to put that 5% down. You already have the 95% that says it’s not worth the trouble on your side.

Is She Correct About the Science?

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The author of the article cited studies that are over 10 years old, and I already addressed them in this post:

Disposable Diapers vs Cloth Diapers – Which Is Greener?

The fact is that cloth diapers absolutely have the potential to be greener than disposables, but they aren’t automatically greener if you don’t take the steps to make them so.

It’s also true that cloth diaper styles have changed rapidly in recent history, and energy and water efficiency have improved in that time, too.

Someone that wants to cloth diaper to lessen their family’s environmental impact will need to do certain things in their wash routine and consider certain things in their purchasing decisions, but it absolutely can be done. To pretend otherwise to make yourself feel better about your choices is silly.

I could get into this so much more, but I already did in the article I linked above, so I recommend you check it out if you want to think about this more.

Make Your Decision And Own It

If you decide you don’t want to use cloth diapers, that’s fine. Good on you for even considering it when so many people refuse to do even that.

But your reasons for choosing to use disposable diapers don’t have to be because you think other parents are stupid. The author didn’t outright say “stupid,” but she did make condescending statements about those who choose to use cloth, saying they are only doing it to make a political statement or a social statement.

As a rule for myself, I don’t talk about politics on this blog, but my views have nothing to do with diapers, and my political views have changed somewhat over the years but my use of cloth diapers has remained the same.

The author did get one thing right, though. There is no one right way to parent. We are all different. We all have different priorities. 5 years from now, it will not matter what kind of diapers you used.

You simply need to decide what your priorities are and stick to them. They do not have to be the same as any other family’s priorities. And if they are different from someone else’s priorities, you don’t need to put them down to justify your own.

Have you read the article from Vox? What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

Holly Lee

I'm Holly and I'm the mom of two awesome young boys. We have been cloth diapering for 5 years. My family and I live in Minnesota with our dog, Ruby, and cat, Gherkin. Outside of Rocking the Cloth, I am also a middle school teacher. Thank you for visiting Rocking the Cloth--feel free to email me at holly@rockingthecloth.com if you have any questions or concerns. I'd love to help!

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