A Man of the Cloth: One Dad Gives Up Disposable Diapers

Do Cloth Diapers Really Help the Environment?

My experiment was over. Was I ready to give up disposables?

Before making a decision, I wanted to learn more about how diaper use impacts global warming.

The cloth-versus-disposable debate has been raging for decades, but, for the moment at least, the disposable appears to have the upper hand. In 2004, the quasi-government British Environmental Agency concluded a four-year study of the environmental impact of cloth and disposable diapers and found that all the energy used in washing and drying cloth diapers makes them equally damaging. The study's findings were in line with a 1992 study sponsored by Procter & Gamble, maker of Pampers. But unlike Procter & Gamble, the British Environmental Agency did not have an obvious incentive to promote disposable diapers. On the contrary, the study came as an embarrassment to the government, which was in the midst of a multimillion-dollar campaign to promote cloth nappies.

Cloth-diaper advocates have responded that the study was flawed and that it used only a small sample size. And there is little doubt that the debate will continue. But reading about the British study was enough to suck the life out of my enthusiasm for cloth.

The verdict in the case of cloth versus disposables might not yet be in, but there is no question that using cloth diapers can take up a big part of your life. And while I think it's extremely important to make sacrifices for the environment, I need to be sure that my sacrifices are making a difference -- especially when the thing I'm sacrificing is the most important of all: time with Isaac.

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