Friday, August 1, 2008

Smarty Pants: The Cloth Diaper Debate

I've done the research.  We want baby Fiona to be green.  And cloth diapers are, while not without some impact, by far the greenest of the options.

Still, I've determined that an all-cloth approach would be doomed to failure.  We spend a lot of time outside of our home, and I couldn't haul back a messy cloth diaper with the groceries.  Remember, we're avid pedestrians, and the basket under the stroller is only so big.

So we would use Seventh Generations when we were out, or in a pinch during laundry loads.  But the rest of the time?  Cloth.  Why not, I figured?  We have our own washer/dryer.  We could always put a soaking bin in our large master bath, steps away from our daughter's changing table.  And I'm not fussed by getting stains out of laundry - I've potty trained the World's Most Reluctant 3 y.o., after all.

And yet, it seems like this is harder than it should be.  Here are the obstacles:
  • Cloth diapers aren't cheap.  Sure, they are if you use the old-fashioned squares with diaper pins.  But that would be a recipe for failure - I know how easy it is to velcro on all those lovely, disposable tabs, after all.  I'm considering using bumGenius diapers, which cost about $200 for a dozen - which seems like the absolute minimum to get through a day and create a load of wash.  We'd need to use each of the cloth diapers at least 60 times to save money compared to Seventh Generations.
  • Cloth diapers aren't all that easy to launder.  Apparently, they can't go in with the regular laundry, even the regular baby laundry.  That means either a) running partial loads, upping the eco-impact or b) having dirty diapers around until we've collected a full load.  They sometimes require a re-washing, and sometimes need to be set out in the sun to bleach.  We could do that - our laundry machine is right next to our townhome's roof deck - but again, if we've got them sunning themselves on the Ledo Deck, they're not available for use.
  • Cloth diapers aren't accepted by our childcare center.  And I completely understand their reasoning - they already regularly store soiled baby togs, and with space limited, it's tough to contemplate keeping all those diapers on hand, too.  Plus, we'd have to buy a second set of diapers to have on hand for changes at childcare.  They don't mind if we send her in the morning clad in cloth, but she'll be coming home in disposables.
That last hurdle means that our potential uses per cloth diaper go down, down, down - way down.  Even though our daughter will only be in care 3 days/week - about 20 hours - that's still a lot of diaper changes that we won't be doing.

And here's one last consideration:  I'm terrible with my hands.  You wouldn't know it to see me type, but that's the only place where I have anything that resembles manual dexterity.  The rest of the time, I'm a mess - fiddly, clumsy, sloppy.  All this argues for using the sized cloth diapers, which are basically just like disposables except, well, not.  But that cuts down on the odds that our cloth diapers would ever be a good financial investment.

My husband worries that we're taking on too much to cloth diaper - he remembers the early daze of having a newborn at home.  And while we're better positioned this time - less clueless about infant care, closer to family, supportive neighbors at the ready, I'm not working outside the home, he was four weeks' paid paternity leave - it's still gonna be a slog.

He also points out that successfully breastfeeding and making our own baby food, coupled with using greener disposables, would be a big improvement on our last go-round as time-stressed, crazed and clueless rookie 'rents.

Still, we could afford $200 for diapers.  If we don't break even, it's not the end of the world - we'll have kept garbage out of the landfills, and that's consistent with other choices we've made, where we accept greater expense in the name of the greater good.

And so it really comes down to this:  when the only benefit that I can identify is the Green Factor, making the choice becomes so much harder than when it's Green, Frugal and Simple.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Hi Fern! It seems like you've really thought this through and done a lot of homework. I'm a mom of a 2-year-old girl and I've been using a combination of cloth and disposable diapers since she was 6 months old. Up until then, I was using disposables because I was under the impression that cloth diapers were super difficult. A friend told me about her cloth experience and we went and bought some cloth diapers. We live in a townhouse, but we have our own washer/dryer. I don't soak the diapers in the pail, I just use a dry-liner in a garbage can with a closing lid. Then when that is full, I pull the whole thing out and dump it all in the wash. It's usually a small-size wash. I do one wash with a teeny bit of soap and then one rinse. That's it! So, the washing is really pretty easy. And I have a combination of tri-fold and pocket diapers, and I wash them all together, and I've never had any problems. So that part may not be as difficult as you think.

It can still be pretty expensive to use all cloth, especially starting from birth. You still have to buy various sizes as your baby grows. Tri-folds are obviously the cheapest. Another good thing to look into is a pocket diaper that grows with baby, like BumGenius one-size. Each diaper is more expensive, but you don't have to buy new sizes. Usually a combination of types works best for people I know. Also, I haven't found cloth to be difficult when outside the home, except on long overnight trips. It's pretty easy to take along a small dry-bag and put the wet or soiled diapers in there and then dump the whole thing in the pail when you get home!
Anyway, sorry for my rambling comment. Good luck!!