The diaper debate

by DaniGirl on May 2, 2008 · 22 comments

in Baby days, Consumer culture, Mothering without a licence

We’ve talked about circumcision and strollers, breast and bottle, slings and baby carriers. So far, though, I’ve avoided the cloth versus disposable diaper question because for me, it was never really a question. I’ve always used the disposables, and thought I always would. I’ve always suspected that even from an environmental perspective, the disposables weren’t as evil as they are made out to be. This past week, the NY Times called it a draw:

The heated debate over the environmental costs of diapers, a roughly $5 billion business, goes something like this: on one hand, the 25 billion or so disposable diapers used per year in this country are bad because they are made with petroleum-based plastics, account for more than 250,000 trees being cut down and make up some 3.5 million tons of landfill waste that wonโ€™t decompose for decades. Cotton diapers, on the other hand, now enjoying a resurgence in popularity, cost less over the long run but require vast amounts of energy from the production of cotton, the washing and the distribution. Environmental and industry groups brandishing rival stats and studies have effectively declared a draw. Even an outspoken group like the Natural Resources Defense Council declines to take a trenchant position (โ€œsix of one and a half dozen of the other,โ€ a spokeswoman says).

I’ve always found disposables plenty convenient, and my mother swears that the cloth ones back in the day gave me wicked diaper rashes, so I was happy enough with my choice.

Last week, a friend told me about gDiapers. They have the same cloth shell and plastic liner of cloth diapers, but there is a disposable absorbent insert that you can remove and flush down the toilet. It’s fully biodegradable in 50 to 100 days, instead of 500 years for a disposable. You can even compost the pee diapers in your own garden compost.

The only part that makes me hesitate is the fact that you have to remove and tear open the disposable insert before you flush it, to help it from clogging up the toilet. And then you have to maintain the outer shell, of course. It seems like a lot of intervention, and I’m basically a lazy person addicted to convenience. I’m all about simplifying my life right now, using any shortcut I can.

They’re a little more expensive than disposables, but seem like an environmentally conscientious middle ground. Have you heard of them or tried, and if so, what do you think?


{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 smothermother May 2, 2008 at 10:39 am

I had the same mental debate when I was preparing for Max’s arrival. I found the same information, that disposable vs cloth was a draw. What I found was that they recomend cloth if you are in an area that has landfill problems, or disposible if you are in an area with frequent brown outs and energy issues. The only exception was if you went with a diaper service, which won hands down due to the whole economy of scale thing. That’s what we ended up going with. Max never had diaper rash. He actually has it when he wears the disposibles.

But to get back to your question, no I haven’t heard of the gDiapers. They look very interesting. I’m curious to see if any of your readers have tried them.

2 lugina May 2, 2008 at 10:43 am

Well, I just clicked over there to check it out. I would love to be able to use them, but they’re just too expensive. I’m currently paying about $20 for 120 diapers. They want $52 for 128 of the flushables. I’m currently not working and everything (food, gas) is so expensive. What a great idea though!!

3 Cheryl May 2, 2008 at 11:24 am

We’ve been using gDiapers for about a month, and think they’re pretty good. You don’t *have* to flush them down the toilet or compost them. We most often dispose of the inserts in our usual diaper bin. Even so, the part that we’re disposing doesn’t contain all the plastic content of regular disposables, so we’re sending less waste to the landfill (or wherever Toronto sends diapers these days. We put them in the green bin, but it’s not entirely clear to me where they end up). Plus, they’re produced without chlorine, so I believe the production process is more environmentally friendly than normal disposables. True, they are more expensive. Environmentally friendly/organic products are, and this is an extra expense we’ve decided makes sense for us. For now. I’m hoping the cost will come down. Apparently you can sometimes get good deals on seventh gen. diapers through Amazon. If these become popular in Canada, maybe it will become possible to get a price break.

4 Jody May 2, 2008 at 12:12 pm

But — how are these better than cloth diapers? If the environmental objection to cloth is the production/washing/distribution of the cotton/shell materials, how does the gDiaper offer an improvement?

Given your location, I would guess that water costs are low enough to make cloth diapers marginally less objectionable, but most of the cloth diaper folks I read don’t seem to need a disposable liner.

I must be missing something, because this option seems to offer the worst of both worlds.

BTW, Linda at Indigo Girl has the most recent cloth diaper review I’ve read lately at
http://indigogirl.typepad.com/linda/2008/03/cloth-diapers-6.html

5 Lynn May 2, 2008 at 12:49 pm

I’ve been excited about gDiapers for about six months now. Unfortunately they do not have a distributor yet in Eastern Canada — they’ve been “making arrangements” for one for about a year now, but I still haven’t been able to buy them locally.

Hey wait — I just noticed that Cheryl says she is buying them in Toronto. Time for another visit to their website!

Although they do cost more than disposables, I’d shell out for them if I could buy them here. Ordering them online from their website, though, is out of the question. On top of the cost of the diapers, the shipping cost is brutal — about $50 a package, so we’re talking $100 for a package of diapers. No way can we do that.

Jody, I’m not sure gDiapers are “better” than cloth but they are definitely better than straight disposables. Assuming you do break up the liner and put it in the toilet, any solid wastes get treated by our waste treatment system — poop in landfills is looming as a major environmental hazard of the future. The content of the liner contains no plastics, so no oil products are involved, and pee-only liners can actually be composted in your garden — they will break down within four months or so.

So I guess the appeal is — similar convenience as disposables (no soaking/washing involved, don’t have to carry wet poopy diapers around with you if you go on a trip, increased absorbancy for overnight/naptime use) but less environmental impact.

I’m definitely interested in giving them a try!

6 andrea from the fishbowl May 2, 2008 at 12:52 pm

>”Cotton diapers, on the other hand, now enjoying a resurgence in popularity, cost less over the long run but require vast amounts of energy from the production of cotton, the washing and the distribution.”

Okaaay, sure. But the way I see it, cotton still wins. And if you’re really keen you can get organic cotton. Disposables still require production and distribution, YKWIM? I think if you’re willing to absorb (no pun intended) the cost of the G diapers you should go for it. Every little bit counts, right?

… or what about doing it the traditional Canadian way? Putting a bit of moss in a reusable sealskin diaper? ๐Ÿ˜‰

7 Jenn May 2, 2008 at 3:34 pm

I miss the option we chose. Small Planet WAS a company in Mississauga that had biweekly pickup of disposible diapers. They also delivered a several baby related products and eco friendly cleaners at great prices. Of course there was a fee involved but they provided a great service and were extremely friendly. Unfortunately with gas prices and the lack of government support, they were no longer viable and have recently shut opporations. They offered their services to households, daycare and longterm care facilities.
The green boxes in our area do not accept the diapers which leaves me needing to make a decision. Our dissopisble brand of choice for the past two kids are giving a frustrating number of blow outs and rather than switch to other disspossible brands I have been looking into the cloth options. We have the g diapers at a few stores here. I’ll let you know if we try with any luck.
Captcha: reduce from

8 yvonne May 2, 2008 at 3:43 pm

couple of comments, then I will duck under my desk.
Organic cotton? I am an environmentalist but I know that you NEED chemicals and hot water to kill the bacteria that can grow in urine and feces. Would that not defeat the purpose of organic cotton?
And, for the feces down the toilet thing, we did a tour of a water processing plant and, in fact any “solid” wastes get removed from the water before it is treated and – PUT IN THE LANDFILL. Completely ruined my thoughts on my garburator and puts a different perspective on whether we flush poop or throw it out. My poop issues related to dog poop but still, the results were the same. I was very disappointed to learn that they have not found a parasite that will eat poop fast enough to make a natural alternative viable.

9 Rebecca May 2, 2008 at 3:57 pm

I haven’t tried gDiapers myself, but I know a number of people who have or do use them. They all seem to love them. I haven’t checked the website myself, not having any in diapers anymore, but I seem to remember hearing they have a starter pack. I don’t know what the cost is on that, but it might be worth trying that first, to see if you like them.

Good luck – and be sure to let us know what you decide! If I had to do it again, I think I’d try gDiapers myself!

10 p. May 2, 2008 at 5:36 pm

if you google g diapers a whole bunch of sites turn up with much discussion out there on various parent and the like websites. general consensus seems very positive. i’ve been thinking about trying them myself.

11 kgirl May 2, 2008 at 9:07 pm

The only thing I don’t like about cloth is that the baby feels wet right away, so she wakes up faster than if she were wearing disposables. For this reason, we do disposables at night and while out of the house (can’t always get to a change place right away and we don’t want her to be uncomfortable), and as far as the environmental impact is concerned, we wash in borax and line dry.

If I hadn’t already invested in our cloth diapers (three years ago for the first one), I’d do gdiapers.

12 kgirl May 2, 2008 at 9:10 pm

p.s. Yvonne – the thing you said about needing chemicals and hot water to kill all that harmful bacteria? Time to educate yourself, my friend. Start with http://www.ewg.org, or maybe just talk to a great-grandma.

13 Mac & Cheese May 2, 2008 at 9:43 pm

My first reaction was that this seemed to be the worst of both worlds, but Jody took my line.

14 Barbara May 3, 2008 at 5:58 am

There was a review of cloth, disposable and gDiapers in Parents magazine recently – see http://www.parents.com/baby/care/diapers/one-dad-gives-up-disposable-diapers/.

15 Javamon May 3, 2008 at 1:50 pm

I find it interesting that many cities have adoped the “green bin” composting bins, yet have much more rigid restrictions than Toronto does, for example. Here in Toronto I can put the disposable diapers in the green bin, along with dog poop. Yet a city 20 min away, Brampton, can put neither of these items in their green bin. I realize it’s because of the processing facilities which may or may not have this option (to process diapers and dog poop), but perhaps that is something one could contact the municipal politicans about.

Still, I cringe ever time she decides to poop into a brand new, fresh, clean diaper she’s been wearing for 11 seconds.

16 Tanya May 3, 2008 at 4:18 pm

I’ve been using them off and on for a couple of years…after I had to pay through the nose to get them to across the border begin with! Was happy to see that they are available in Ottawa, now that I’m (well, not me, personally…the boys) almost done with diapers. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anyway, I liked them a lot. We do use cloth 90% of the time, but used single use diapers at night just for convenience. Heavy wetters and all that. I had hoped the gdiapers would eliminate that, but IMO they do not work well at night with their gpant. The pant is cotton, so if the inserts filled up and touched the edge of the pant, the pee would wick out onto whatever they were wearing. Not cool… So I would stuff two inserts in a pocket diaper for night use, which works really well! Until I ran out…must go get more now that I can easily.

Jody, the thing with the gpants is that they aren’t the main soaker for pee, so they don’t need to be super-washed like cotton diapers do. We wash the outer with the regular laundry since no poop ever hits it. You have the gpant (cover) with the snap-in liner that holds the insert, which grabs any stray poop. And I hand-wash that.

17 andrea from the fishbowl May 4, 2008 at 7:36 am

By way of FYI (and it’s WAY TOO EARLY IN THE MORNING FOR ME TO BE EVEN THINKING ABOUT THIS) it is my understanding that poop is NOT skimmed out of the toilet water at the water treatment plant and dumped (no pun intended) into the local landfill. (Here’s a wiki entre if you really want to know how it all works.)

Scraping diaper contents into the toilet is the proper way of disposing of fecal matter – even your dog’s.

18 daysgoby May 4, 2008 at 7:52 am

Dani –
A friend of mine liked gdiapers so much she works part-time for the company now – Rae Ann would answer all your questions, and she’s great to talk to. She blogs at beanandsprout. blogspot (dot) com.
Damn, that sounded like an infomercial, didn’t it?

19 Marianne May 4, 2008 at 7:10 pm

I’ve been involved in some discussions with other moms about the gdiapers and quite frankly, I’ll stick with my cloth diapers, thanks!

The g diapers are quite expensive, compared to either disposibles or cloth, so you have to be prepared to pay for them.

I’ve heard some people say that the gdiapers haven’t flushed well with their low-flow toilets, but others have said they work fine if you let them sit for a few minutes before flushing and then break them up with the little stick they come with. This is certainly more work than I do with my cloth.

gdiapers contain the same absorbent gel stuff as disposible diapers, and I’m not keen on having it near my baby or on flushing it for our water treatment system to handle.

you need a constant supply of gdiapers, so there’s the continuous environmental impact of the shipping to be considered, as well as the manufacture. Also, if you’re driving out of your way to purchase them, add that to the environmental impact. Cloth diapers are a on-time purchase.

In terms of washing cloth diapers, a lot depends on what style of diaper you choose. I hear that cotton diapers (such as pre-folds, or cotton fitteds) need more rinses in order to get them clean. I use a pocket diaper (fuzzibunz) and do only a normal hot wash cold rinse if they’re only wet, and add a pre-rinse of they’re dirty and it works fine. They hang to dry overnight, or I can toss them in the dryer with a regular load of clothes.

Cloth diapers do bear environmental impact in their manufacture and shipping, but can have a lengthy lifespan, used for multiple children before they’re worn out, and prefolds and flats can live on with other functions afterwards (my mom’s been using her cotton flats as jelly bags and dust rags for 30 years)

20 Marianne May 4, 2008 at 7:14 pm

For kgirl, I wanted to ask what kind of cloth diapers you’re using? If baby feels wet, have you tried a fleece liner, or a diaper that is designed with fleece against the skin? It really wicks away the moisture so they’re left feeling pretty dry.

My daughter prefers cloth — she’ll stay happy even when she’s quite wet. In disposibles, she likes to be changed much sooner because she doesn’t like the way the diaper swells when it’s wet. (I also don’t like the smell of the wet disposibles — there’s no odour with my cloth)

21 Jojo May 6, 2008 at 10:30 am

I haven’t used the gdiapers, but do know of a place to get them from here in Ottawa:

http://ecomama.ca/

My guy is 2.5 months old and we are pretty happy with cloth. He is the only little person in the house right now though, so I’m not sure the laundering is feasible in a family of 5 ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m using pocket diapers(bumgenius, Fuzzibunz) and I think they’re very convenient. I have about 18 diapers and I wash them every 2-3 days. Other diaper changers think they are pretty easy to use too. Ecologically I like them because:

1. We have a energy efficient washer and so we don’t use huge amounts of water to launder them.

2. I’ve started drying them outside on the line.

3. I got most of them used on kijiji, thus reusing instead of buying brand new ones.

I couldn’t believe how much garbage one little baby could create and was really excited to see the cloth diaper options out there now. One thing I think politicians with city hall could offer is a disposable diaper composting option. By looking at the over-filled maternity wards, they should see that more babies are producing more waste!

Thanks for bringing this issue to your blog Dani!

22 susie ;) May 6, 2008 at 7:55 pm

Oh how can ‘they’ possibly call using cloth diapers and disposable diapers a ‘draw’? I have three kids (soon to be 4) that have used the same set of prefolds (we did buy new covers with #3, but they will last through #4). I washed diapers approximately twice a week. Coincidentally, my family also wears clothing not made of paper, … would anyone dream of buying paper clothing to throw away b/c washing clothes is such a ‘burden’? Do you flush your toilet? I’m guessing yes, in which case you’re using water as you would if you washed cloth diapers (and I’m going to guess that clothing dirtied by a blowout poop isn’t thrown in the garbage, it’s probably washed and *gasp* reused). And you don’t need to use chemicals to disinfect cloth diapers, normal detergent will do it, otherwise, you can use essential oils (do you disinfect your own dirty underwear?). Oy. I can’t stand the suggestion that cloth diapers aren’t simply better than disposables.

And for gDiapers, they are still a throw-away product (poopy diapers can’t be composted), they are quite expensive, and they contain all the same chemicals as disposables, which are now flushed into our water system. I can’t see how that’s a better choice than cloth, but the company seems to have a good PR person working for them…

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