Bum wrap

The real dirt on diapers

Who knew that diapers could cause a dilemma? From the comeback of cloth to emerging curbside composting for disposables, the range of choices for your baby’s bottom can be boggling. But fear not: We’ve got you covered with a guide to help you figure out the best option for your family.

Do-it-yourself cloth
Definition: Parents buy and launder cloth diapers.
Cost: About $2 each for one-size-fits-all nappies you fold yourself and keep in place with a vinyl cover; $3 each for ready-to-wear prefolds; and up to $12 for top-of-the-line diapers featuring elasticized leg openings and snap closures for a custom fit. Plastic covers are about $10 each and optional cloth liners for added absorbency are roughly $3 a piece. Number of diapers required: 24 to 36.

Pros: At about $500, this option is less than half the cost of disposable diapers (excluding extra laundry expenses). Plus, they can be used on subsequent children. “I’ve never had to throw a cloth diaper out,” marvels Ariana Bradford of Toronto, who’s using cloth diapers she bought for her first son, now five, on her third baby. Another potential bonus: According to Burnaby, BC, pediatrician Cheryl Mutch, cloth may encourage earlier toilet training.

Cons: Expect to do a lot more laundry. Cloth diapers aren’t as absorbent as disposables, so you may change your child more often. You’ll also have to carry soiled diapers home after outings. Your supplies will need updating: Plastic covers and fitted cloth diapers need to be replaced as your baby outgrows them. As well, many daycares will not use cloth diapers. Finally, Mutch says babies in cloth are “susceptible to diaper rashes because their skin is exposed to more wetness.”

Green factors: Environment Canada’s eco-labelling program, Environmental Choice, says cloth reduces the need for more landfill space and takes a fraction of the resources used to produce disposables.

Bottom line: “Most people think cloth diapers are a lot of work,” says Heather Gordon, a Sarnia, Ont., stay-at-home mom of two girls, “but the laundry is not a big deal.” Of course, she concedes, that’s if you have your own washer and dryer. This wasn’t the case when her first daughter was born three years ago, and Gordon quickly tired of hauling dirty cloth diapers down to the laundry facility in her apartment building. “The cost made using cloth as expensive as disposables,” she adds. But for parents who go this route, knowing their babies are wrapped in environment-friendly, soft cotton diapers makes any inconvenience worth the effort.

Diaper service cloth
Definition: A delivery service drops off clean cloth diapers and picks up the dirty ones at your door every week or two.

Cost: $15 to $24 a week for cloth diapers, laundry and delivery — about the same price as disposables.

Pros: Saves time and you have fresh, sanitized diapers. “Medical literature shows your child has less chance of diaper rash with a service than if your wash diapers at home,” says Mutch.

Cons: Same disadvantages as do-it-yourself cloth but with the added expense of a diaper service. Plus you’ll have to keep soiled diapers in a pail until pickup time.

Green factors: Again, the diapers don’t contribute to landfill, but those who feel strongly about environmental issues don’t like the concept of gas-guzzling delivery trucks and large cleaning facilities that may use strong detergents and bleach.

Bottom line: This is the ideal choice for parents who are attracted to the environmental advantages and coziness of cloth, but don’t want the extra work. “I love it and it’s worth the cost,” says Edmonton mother of three Lisa Lavin. “I like my kids wearing cloth because it’s softer on the skin and I don’t have to go out and buy diapers or wash them.”
 One-time use cloths
Definition: One-time-use, paper-and-plastic diapers.

Cost: $15 to $24 a week (varies with age of child); about $2,000 in total, given that most go through 4,500 to 5,000 diapers before they are toilet trained.

Pros: Convenience. You can toss used diapers in the trash anywhere, and buy them in a variety of places. Disposables also come in a wide range of sizes and are highly absorbent, meaning less leaking and fewer babies sitting in soggy diapers. As a bonus, Mutch says: “Children in disposables not only get fewer rashes, but they also tend to be less severe.”

Cons: The cost, excess garbage and having to go out and buy more when you run out.

Green factors: Most end up in landfill and take several hundred years to break down. Plus, it is illegal to dispose of human feces in landfill sites, so parents should flush any bowel movements before trashing the diapers. Canadian families toss out 250,000 tons of diapers a year — about three percent of the total household waste, according to Environment Canada.

Bottom line: About 85 percent of Canadian parents use disposables and it’s no secret why: convenience. “It’s difficult to beat the ease of disposables, even though the cost adds up,” observes Alain David of Ottawa. If you’ve decided on disposables, but are concerned about the cost, check out discount outlets that sell brand-name diapers at lower prices. Discount Diapers of Vancouver says most often the only difference is the packaging is damaged. Also, there’s a perception that chemicals in disposables may be harmful, but Mutch says this isn’t true.

Composting disposables
Definition: Curbside or “green box” initiatives run by municipalities, or service providers that collect and compost disposable diapers, breaking down the paper into organic matter.
Cost: No charge for curbside composting initiatives. Smallplanet of Mississauga, Ont., delivers your brand of disposables and picks up used ones every two weeks for $10.99 per household plus the cost of diapers. You can also buy your own.

Pros: Reduces waste and the need for landfill; minimal work on parents’ part; allows you to use disposables in a more environment-friendly manner; convenience is a drawing card if you have a service that delivers diapers as well as composts them.

Corbin Andrews and his wife used Smallplanet (which, at that time, was recycling disposables) when their first child was born in Toronto three years ago. “We knew how many diapers our baby would use and were concerned about the amount of waste we’d be generating,” he says. Cloth wasn’t an option because the couple did not want to wash diapers and use extra water, detergent and energy.

Cons: Availability. Curbside programs aren’t in place in most Canadian cities and services that charge for composting are limited as well. If you do have access to this option, you’ll have to put your disposables in a bin provided by the city or your service provider, disposing of solids in your toilet first.

Green factors: Only 20 percent of your disposables — the plastic portion — ends up in landfill.

Bottom line: Composting combines the convenience of disposables with the environmental advantages of cloth. Expect to see more initiatives soon, says Tim Michael, manager of waste diversion with the City of Toronto. Michael helped launch a pilot green-bin program two years ago and says over 90 percent of targeted households participated. The program is marginally more expensive than trucking garbage to landfill sites, so municipalities are trying to get diaper companies to share the cost.