Industry News

May 08, 2015.

Why cloth diapers might not be the greener choice, after all

…… Cloth has had a resurgence recently, however, fueled by parents aiming to make environmentally and socially responsible choices in child rearing. “Greener” and “more natural” is how parents on one D.C. online forum described cloth diapers, citing environmental factors, lower long-term costs and the health benefits of putting natural materials against their babies’ skin. One or two admitted that guilt and peer pressure factored into their choices, too.

…But those disposable diapers may be better than the allegedly green alternatives

Although there is a growing market for all-in-one reusable diapers made from synthetics, most cloth diapers are still cotton prefolds — rectangles of fabric that fit into waterproof liners. And as a crop and a fabric, cotton undermines its own reputation as safe and green. …cotton production is so chemical-intensive that it has been directly linked to poor health outcomes among producers. As for environmental friendliness, the data on cotton is damning. And if “better for the planet” includes notions of what’s better for its inhabitants, there is a social dimension of cotton diapers that is unequivocally more harmful than disposables. Cotton fertilizers are major greenhouse gas emitters, and trucking cotton from farms to industrial gins, spinners and weavers generates transportation emissions, compounded by repeated energy-intensive heating and cooling processes.

Hanson was also concerned about water usage in laundering cloth diapers, but with cotton, the water inputs add up before they’re ever washed. Cotton is an extremely thirsty crop. Although roughly 30 cloth diapers serve the function of 4,000 disposables, cloth’s water demands are almost nine times the alternative. Thirty cloth diapers draw an estimated 1,221 cubic meters of water in crop irrigation, processing, weaving, manufacturing and 2 1/ 2 years of washings. Meanwhile, the water used to manufacture those 4,000 disposables comes in at a comparatively modest 141 cubic meters.

Then there’s the water that cotton pollutes, as one of the world’s most pesticide-heavy crops. In India, cotton covers 5 percent of cropland, but it’s doused with 54 percent of the nation’s annual pesticide use. These pesticides seep into the groundwater and eventually make it back to consumers — in their tea, soda and drinking water

The industry also has a painful and persistent history of exploitation. In the world’s top cotton-producing countries — China, India, the United States, Pakistan, Brazil and Uzbekistan — the crop has been linked to supplier price gouging, food insecurity and forced labor