If you use cloth diapers or are considering it, you will know that this list of facts is biased and profit-driven. They clearly avoid price comparisons, mentions of modern cloth diapering systems and limit their studies to those that favor disposable diapers. Below I address each of Pampers’ supposed facts and counter them with those from RDA’s Real Diaper Facts, which have been gathered from numerous sources.
- *Disposable diapers contain traces of Dioxin, an extremely toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process. It is a carcinogenic chemical, listed by the EPA as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals. It is banned in most countries, but not the U.S..1
- *Disposable diapers contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) – a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals.2
- *Disposable diapers contain sodium polyacrylate, a type of super absorbent polymer (SAP), which becomes a gel-like substance when wet. A similar substance had been used in super-absorbancy tampons until the early 1980s when it was revealed that the material increased the risk of toxic shock syndrome.3
- *In May 2000, the Archives of Disease in Childhood published research showing that scrotal temperature is increased in boys wearing disposable diapers, and that prolonged use of disposable diapers will blunt or completely abolish the physiological testicular cooling mechanism important for normal spermatogenesis.18
- *The most common reason for diaper rash is excessive moisture against the skin.19
- *Newborns should be changed every hour and older babies every 3-4 hours, no matter what kind of diaper they are wearing.20
- *At least half of all babies will exhibit rash at least once during their diapering years.20
- *Diaper rash was almost unheard of before the use of rubber or plastic pants in the 1940s.21
- *There is no significant difference between cloth and disposables when it comes to diaper rash.22
- *There are many reasons for rash, such as food allergies, yeast infections, skin sensitivity, chafing, and chemical irritation. Diaper rash can result from the introduction of new foods in older babies. Some foods raise the frequency of bowel movements which also can irritate. Changes in a breastfeeding mother’s diet may alter the baby’s stool, causing rash.19
Pampers Myth: Cloth diapers are better for the environment than disposables.
I have seen this study quoted many times in defense of disposable diapers, when comparing their environmental impact with cloth diapers, but it just doesn’t make sense to me. Although I do not have funded research (which by the way can be a red flag for a study, because there will be biases depending on who is funding a study) I can speak from my personal experience regarding what impacts (or lack there of) I see in my daily use and care of cloth diapers. In addition, although many modern cloth diapers had emerged by 2005, they have come leaps and bounds even in the past 5 years.
I own a large stash of cloth diapers, let’s say approximately 60, but I plan to use these on 2-4 children of my own and any that are still in usable shape after will be donated, used as cleaning rags or used on dolls at playtime. Compare that to 5000-7000 disposable diapers per child and the environmental impact to manufacture, deliver, package as well as the gas on all those trips to the store to buy them. Cloth diapers obviously go through a manufacturing and shipping process as well, however, most packaging is eco-friendly, recyclable, minimal and they are bought in small quantities. I cannot fathom that even the energy and water used to wash cloth diapers 2-3 times a week for 2-3 years would equal the energy, water and resources used to produce 5000-7000 disposable diapers. It just doesn’t add up.
There are so many cloth diapers made of so many different materials, that this would have to be considered in a true comparison of the two types of diapers as well. Although many of the synthetic fibers may not be as biodegradable or sustainable they still do not take as many resources to manufacture, distribute and use as disposable diapers. There are also many organic, cotton and natural fibers used in many types of diapers that are sustainable, biodegradable and in some cases recyclable if returned to the manufacturer (i.e. Lollidoo Diapers).
Cloth diapers also require specific detergents that are typically biodegradable, earth-friendly, highly concentrated and compatible with both HE and top-loading machines. Most machines on the market today, whether front or top-loading are HE and use less water and energy and line-drying your diapers will cut down on their eco-footprint even further.
So let’s say a diaper gets an average life of 2.5 children (I am making up this number according to how long I know most families use or pass along their diapers) and is used for an average of 2.5 years per child. If an average cloth diapering family has 24 diapers per child, this same stash of 24 diapers will last almost 6.5 years. Compare this to an average of 6000 disposable diapers per 2.5 children, for an equal comparison, and it will come to 15,000 diapers in a landfill during the same life of 24 cloth diapers. Now who in their right mind can argue that manufacturing, delivering and using 24 cloth diapers is the same as 15,000 disposable diapers. Even if you were comparing disposables to cloth diapers for one child, I think the point would still be pretty clear, however, the reality is that cloth diapers rarely if ever only see 2-3 years of use with one child.
RDA Real Diaper Facts indicating the impact of disposable diapers on the environment:
- *In 1988, over 18 billion diapers were sold and consumed in the United States that year.4 Based on our calculations (listed below under “Cost: National Costs”), we estimate that 27.4 billion disposable diapers are consumed every year in the U.S.13
- *The instructions on a disposable diaper package advise that all fecal matter should be deposited in the toilet before discarding, yet less than one half of one percent of all waste from single-use diapers goes into the sewage system.4
- *Over 92% of all single-use diapers end up in a landfill.4
- *In 1988, nearly $300 million dollars were spent annually just to discard disposable diapers, whereas cotton diapers are reused 50 to 200 times before being turned into rags.4
- *No one knows how long it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose, but it is estimated to be about 250-500 years, long after your children, grandchildren and great, great, great grandchildren will be gone.5
- *Disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills, and represent about 4% of solid waste. In a house with a child in diapers, disposables make up 50% of household waste.5
- *Disposable diapers generate sixty times more solid waste and use twenty times more raw materials, like crude oil and wood pulp.3
- *The manufacture and use of disposable diapers amounts to 2.3 times more water wasted than cloth.3
- *Over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby EACH YEAR.6
- *In 1991, an attempt towards recycling disposable diapers was made in the city of Seattle, involving 800 families, 30 day care centers, a hospital and a Seattle-based recycler for a period of one year. The conclusion made by Procter & Gamble was that recycling disposable diapers was not an economically feasible task on any scale.17
Pampers Myth: Developing countries prove that cloth diapers are better than disposable diapers.
The first thing I noticed in this example was that the baby had no diaper or a thin piece of cloth. Of course a disposable diaper would keep them dryer, however, wouldn’t a thicker, more modern cloth diaper as well? Exactly. My daughter sleeps 10-12 hours at night and has since she was 10 months old and she has been cloth diapered overnight since she was 5-6 months old. She has also been an extremely heavy wetter requiring 10-12 layers of absorption for almost a year of her overnight diapering and has never woken up or had her sleep disturbed due to a wet diaper.
As for fecal contamination, they did not site their study so I have not been able to see its design, method or funding, but I would point out that it is important in any type of diaper to have designated changing mats and tables to keep bacteria or fecal matter from being spread to other areas.
Pampers Myth: Disposable diapers are harmful to the environment.
I have already addressed many of the environmental issues above, however, would like to note that their just because their materials are used in “wide range of other consumer products” doesn’t mean that those products don’t contain harmful materials either. And unfortunately, reducing the diaper weight and packaging alone will not help us or the environment in the future when all of our children have to deal with the billions upon billions of tons of disposable diaper waste. Pampers need to start using sustainable and biodegradable materials, as well as eliminate their toxic and carcinogenic materials—after these changes, we can start talking realistically about how they may be truly lessening their impact on the environment and your baby’s health.
Pampers Myth: The materials that make up Pampers diapers are depleting our forests.
It is great that their pulp comes from well-managed forests, but isn’t it this pulp (one of the only sustainable, biodegradable materials they had in the first place) what was essentially eliminated when creating their new Dry Max technology? So I guess they can argue that they are no longer depleting forests, whether well-managed or not, but they are replacing it with more SAP, the ingredient that was banned decades ago in tampons when they discovered a correlation with a heightened risk of toxic shock syndrome.
So they aren’t depleting forests, but do you notice how they avoid the discussion of landfills, which is an extremely real issue that pressured them into forming the trimmer diapers in the first place? So they have made some minimal progress towards reducing the amount of space their diapers will take up in a landfill, but they will just sit there for hundreds of years regardless and we will run out of room for this trash sooner than we think. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, why don’t we all just turn to a highly absorbent, chemical and toxin free, sustainable solution: cloth diapers.