Many parents and caregivers choose cloth diapers because of concerns about sustainability, waste, or the environment. However, research does not clearly support one option as the environmentally superior choice.
Some people even believe that the cost of manufacturing cotton diapers and repeatedly washing them is as bad or worse for the environment as filling landfills with diapers.
However, little scientific research has compared cloth diapers with disposable diapers, and most studies on the topic are very outdated.
In 1989, the American Public Health Association published a warning about the environmental perils of filling landfills with diapers. This came after the discovery that diapers accounted for 3 million tons of waste per year in the United States alone.
Research from 2008, meanwhile, highlighted the carbon footprint of disposable diaper production and reusable diaper cleaning.
The study revealed that disposable diapers had a climate change impact of about 550 kilograms (kg) of carbon dioxide equivalents over the 2.5 years that infants typically need them. The impact of reusable diapers was slightly higher, at 570 kg of carbon dioxide equivalents.
However, the study authors note that the impact of reusable diapers depends on how a person washes them. For example, washing them in full loads and hanging them to dry, rather than using a clothes drier, could reduce the environmental impact by 16%.
In addition, reusing the diapers on more than one infant can significantly reduce waste and the overall environmental impact.
That said, parents and caregivers who choose reusable diapers may choose them for reasons other than environmental impact, including:
- liking the appearance of reusable diapers
- cost savings, depending on the type of diaper they choose and their method of laundering
- wanting to support local or small businesses that produce or clean reusable diapers
- not wanting to support large diaper companies
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