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Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers

As a soon-to-be parent, you know that cloth diapers and disposable diapers both have their pros and cons. Cost, convenience, skin health, and environmental principles are just a few of the factors to consider when making the cloth vs. disposable decision. Ultimately, you have to make the choice that best suits you and your baby. And remember, you don't have to use one diapering method exclusively -- many parents find that a combination approach works well.

Cloth vs. Disposables: A Hot Topic

The cloth vs. disposable diaper debate is a somewhat controversial topic and is one that can cause parents (and parents-to-be) a great deal of anxiety. Which is better for the environment? Which is less expensive? Which is better for the health of baby's skin? What are the other pros and cons of both? We'll attempt to use a little science and a lot of common sense to help shed some light on this very confusing topic.

Environmental Impact

At first glance, you might just assume that cloth diapers are much better for the environment. However, both cloth and disposables can have negative effects.
Disposables require more renewable and nonrenewable resources to make compared to cloth. They also must be disposed of in landfills, adding to solid-waste disposal costs and landfill crowding. Cloth diapers must be laundered, which requires resources (power to run the washing machine and dryer, as well as water). The strong detergents and disinfectants sometimes used to keep cloth diapers clean can pollute the environment.
Different studies have been done over the years, with some showing that disposables were better for the environment and some showing that cloth was better. Because they affect different aspects of the environment, direct comparisons are difficult, and there is no clear winner in this part of the debate. Depending on which factors are considered and how far out the studies look, vastly different results can be obtained.
So what's an environmentally conscious parent to do? It has been suggested that cloth diapers are more environmentally friendly in areas where there is plenty of water but not much land, while disposable diapers are better in areas with lots of land but not much water.
While that may be oversimplifying the issue, it's a good start. Don't forget that no matter what diaper type you choose, there are options to lessen the environmental impact of diapering. Will you choose environmentally friendly detergents? Will you line-dry your diapers? Will you choose a disposable diaper that is more biodegradable? Will you recycle or upcycle your diaper boxes?
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