Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Cloth versus disposable around the world

Back in Canada when I was growing up, lots of parents used a cloth diaper service for their baby. Every week, you handed the truck driver your bag of dirty diapers and in exchange, you received a bag full of folded clean ones, all ready for your little one to sully.

When I was pregnant with the Bambina in France five years ago, I said to the Frenchman, "so I guess we'll just sign up for a cloth diaper service, n'est-ce pas?."

When it was clear that he didn't know what on earth I was talking about, I said "you know, the truck comes by every week and you hand over your dirty diapers and you get clean ones."

The Frenchman wondered at this point if I was not from another planet rather than just another country. "Zees does not exeest in France," he said. And he promptly went out to buy a jumbo pack of size 2 Pampers in preparation for the arrival of our daughter.

And at the time, he was right. Diaper delivery services didn't exist in France. So, imagine my surprise when I checked out the May 2009 edition of Parents magazine (purchased in Madagascar in August!) to find .... an article on cloth diapers! Not only do cloth diapers and diaper services now exist in France, they are actually becoming... dare I say it , trendy??

Of course, just as parents in the West are starting to consider cloth diapering as a serious option once again, arguments against using them are rearing their ugly head. In 2005, a study carried out by an advisory board to the UK Environment Agency concluded that cloth diapers had equal the impact of disposable nappies. I still don't believe it. The study assumed that you would be washing your nappies every day in 90 degree celcius water on the mega-long cycle and putting them in the dryer for drying.

Which brings me to the next point (for which I would like to thank Green Living Tips) - When you use cloth nappies, you can control how much you damage the earth - you can wash them every two or three nights only, you can wash them at 40 degrees celcius (totally sufficient), you can buy your cloth diapers used (why not? They're even more absorbant than the new ones), you can use hemp or bamboo nappies instead of the environmentally less friendly cotton ones, and you can dry them in the sun - the best natural disinfectant going.

You don't have these options when you use disposables.

Here in Madagascar and the rest of the developing world, avoiding disposable nappy use is even more important, for a few reasons:

1) Disposable diapers are expensive here.

2) You can only buy disposable diapers in packages of about 30, making it difficult to stock up. That's not an assuring situation when you consider that stores run out of stock quickly here. If you run out, you won't necessarily find more when you need them (or you might at least have to hit a few shops to find them). Also bear in mind that in the event of another coup d'état, you may not be able to shop at all for a few weeks...

3) Discarded disposible diapers contain human waste. Human waste that sits in landfills (especially landfills in developing countries) can contaminate the local drinking water with harmful bacteria and viruses causing intestinal illnesses, polio and hepatitis.

All that being said, I do put my baby in a disposable diaper whenever we are travelling and as his final diaper before he goes to sleep at night.


sfgirl said...

I just found your blog via MESSAGE and am combing through. Well done. We cloth diaper also, and I have to say that it makes no logical sense that CDs would have an eco-impact equal to that of disposables.

For one, just produce disposables already takes tons of water, petrol, energy and unnatural material resources and carbon emissions. to transport them to distributors, more of the same. to get them from the store to home...more of the same. and at home, people tend to wrap up the poop and toss the whole thing in the garbage, contributing to contamination of waters (as you mention). Lastly, it takes diapers hundreds of years to shred a bit (?). They don't decompose.

With CDs, it's a must to flush the waste, wash in 40 or 60 every 2-3 days, and yes, we hang dry. When we wash, I toss the rugs and dirty floor rags in at the same time. There's a one time manufacturing 'cost' for each family, and those diapers can be resold.

Thanks for addressing a very important issue! I'm loving your blog!

The Globetrotter Parent said...

Thanks for your comment sfgirl. I find any study concluding that the environmental impact of cloth and disposables is the same to be dubious. I'm pretty sure that at least one such study was sponsered by a major disposable diaper manufactuer!

Arashi-KIshu said...

Found you thru Multilingual Living. I do exactly the same, and I decided to go cloth in high school, after I read that it takes 300 years for a disposable diaper to biodegrade. I use a compostable liner, wash in 90°C however. Half of my cloth diapers were bought used, and I have enough of them to need to wash only once a week, and I don't use the dryer, even in winter!

A Homeschool Story said...

Oui!!! I use cloth diapers too, but did not do so with my first two, born in France, as that option was not an option. I bought and shipped a great set from Canada for my s.i.l. but her nounou refused to use them with baby.

So glad to see progress is arriving in the form of retro-diapering in France!