I am going to be honest, my son, Vincent, is 18 months old and I just started using reusable diapers on him about four months ago. I am very new to the reusable diaper scene, but I wanted to share my short journey and perhaps inspire others to give reusable diapers a try.
When I had my first child over four years ago, I fully intended to use reusable diapers because I knew that they would be better for the planet. However, due to my living conditions (I was living in a tiny apartment in Bangkok), paired with the huge responsibilities and stresses of being a new mom, I decided not to invest my time and effort into cloth diapers.
Fast forward almost four years to just before New Years of 2019, when fellow Earth Mama’s and I started to think about our goals for 2019, what we would Stop, Keep and Start doing. Around this time, I saw a visual on Instagram reminding me that one disposable diaper takes hundreds of years to break down. The idea that the diapers I was using for Vincent would be around on our planet for longer than he would be, just didn’t sit right with me. By this time, Vincent was almost 14 months old and I thought to myself, is there even a point of starting to use reusable diapers now? I did a quick calculation and figured out that he would probably be in diapers for at least another year and if he used five diapers a day that would mean I would be sending approximately 1,825 diapers to a landfill! I decided then I was going to try my best to cut down the number of disposable diapers that I was using for Vincent.
There is no disposing of these stinky facts about disposable diapers:
Not only do disposable diapers create an enormous amount of waste, and will sit in a landfill for about 500 years, as they slowly decompose they leach harmful toxins into our ecosystems. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report stating that the solid waste from disposable diapers releases pathogens into our environment and these pathogens can make their way into our water sources and may end up polluting our drinking water. Their manufacturing process also uses chemicals which are harmful for our environment (1). On the other hand, when reusable cloth diapers are cleaned, the feces and water used ends up in the wastewater treatment system and will be treated in the same way that adult waste is (2). In addition, when disposable diapers are breaking down in landfills, they also release methane into the air which is harmful as it replaces oxygen in our air (3).
Every year it is estimated that in just the U.S.A. approximately 200, 000 trees are lost for the production of disposable diapers. The manufacturing processes used to create disposable diapers also has a detrimental effect on our planet as billions of gallons of fuel is used to produce them, in addition, they use up to 20 times more in raw materials, and double the water and energy to make than reusable diapers do (3).
Now reusable cloth diapers are not perfect, they also put a strain on our environment with the production of their fabrics, and the water and energy needed to clean them. One article I read on the BBC, explained that reusable diapers could create more carbon emissions than disposable diapers because of the energy needed to wash and dry them. “The Environment Agency, in 2008, estimated that over the two and a half years that a typical child would wear nappies, disposables would create 550 kg (1,200lb) of carbon emissions, and reusables would create 570 kg of carbon emissions.” (2) Some ways parents can cut down on the carbon emissions created from using reusable cloth diapers is by washing them on energy efficient cycle, and hanging them out to dry, rather than using a dryer.
Reusable diapers also involve more time than disposable diapers do, this is what stopped me from using them for so long. When you research using disposable diapers there seem to be many rules and things to consider, it can feel overwhelming, my method might not be perfect, but it is working for our family.
Here are some tips that have helped me get on board the reusable diaper train:
1) Start small, you don’t need to invest in loads (no pun intended) of diapers right away. I started with six shells and 12 charcoal inserts. A friend also gave me several reusable diapers she wasn’t using, I still only have about 14 shells and 12 charcoal inserts. I do a load of laundry every other day, when about 10 are dirty. Vincent only uses about 5 diapers a day so only having 12 works just fine for us and it encourages me to wash them before they get too smelly sitting in the laundry basket.
2) Don’t insert your insert. I learned this amazing trick from fellow Earth Mama, Lindi. Instead of putting my insert inside the cloth diaper shell I just lay the insert inside the shell, this means that when I change Vincent I often just need to get a new insert and I can keep using the same shell. This saves time and energy.
3) Choose a quality brand, ask friends what has worked for them, look at reviews and do some research. Look here for other helpful information.
4) Avoid diaper leaks by using bamboo/charcoal inserts. They are amazing, they are dark grey so they also don’t show stains. The bamboo is soft on Vincent’s skin and the charcoal helps with absorbance. I repurposed the unused white inserts that came with my cloth diapers as cleaning rags.
5) Remember every reusable diaper counts! I still put a disposable diaper on Vincent before bed every night or else I would be changing and washing his sheets every day. I remind myself that even though I still use some disposable diapers when we travel and for bedtime, I save about 5 disposable diapers from going to a landfill each day, and every little bit helps.
6) Use a separate laundry basket for dirty diapers (I repurposed an old bucket, instead of buying a new basket).
7) Repurpose one of your waterproof bags as a dirty diaper bag that you can take with you when you are out and about for the day. Also, pack a few extra pairs of pants just in case of leaks.
8) Make a natural cleaning spray to help give your diapers a quick clean before putting them in the laundry basket. I use a homemade mixture of white vinegar, water and lemon essential oil. I also use this multi-purpose cleaner for many other dirty surfaces around my home.
9) Use a natural laundry soap to clean your diapers.
10) Save energy and hang them out to dry, the sun naturally bleaches them as well.
Other than saving thousands of tons of waste from going to a landfill each year, here are some other perks of using reusable cloth diapers:
- They have come a long way! Everytime my mom sees Vincent in his cloth diaper she is just amazed by how much they have improved over time, no more poking babies with safety pins, they are much easier to use and more absorbent than they used to be.
- They have been better for my babies skin, Vincent used to get a rash in the small of his back where his disposable diaper would rub, especially when it was hot outside. Since I have made the switch to reusable diapers Vincent has not had any rashes.
- You save money! It cost me about 50 USD to get started, now I barely have to spend any money on buying disposable diapers. I use products I was already using at home to clean the cloth diapers.
- They look adorable! In my opinion, there is just something that is so cute about the bulky, cloth diaper bum!
- Cloth diapers are usually a one size fits all, so they will grow with your baby!
- You can share them in emergency situations. I have been at a friends house for a playdate and realized I forgot to pack a diaper, because she also uses reusable diapers and because they are a one size fits all, we were able to share! I have borrowed reusable diapers several times, and also shared Vincent’s cloth diapers with even the smallest of babies.
- When I am finished using the diapers for Vincent I can pass them along to someone else who also wants to use cloth diapers.