I have been meaning to/wanting to answer this question since the day my sister posed it back at the beginning of May, but I have found it tough to write an answer.  I have never been very good at debating and since this is an argument rather close to my heart I think I am a little nervous to put my thoughts out there for all to read.  Not only that, but since Gill requested concrete proof I needed to find the time to do a little research.  And let me tell you…I am a wee bit out of practice in the research department! LOL

So, Gill asked:  “Do you ever think that all the extra laundry you’re doing with your cloth diapers, cloth wipes, cloth toilet paper, cloth hankies and cloth cleaning stuff is worse for the environmental problems than using some paper products? People keep saying no, but maybe you can find me some concrete proof :P”

I tried to find out exactly how much water my machine machine uses per load, but couldn’t seem to find that tidbit of info on the web.  I realize every cycle will be different, depending on the wash options you choose, but there wasn’t even a baseline figure.  What I did find was this excerpt from an article on cloth diapering at The New Parents Guide that talks about the different environmental impacts of cloth vs. disposable diapers.

“There has been much debate over the impact of disposable diapers and cloth diapers on the environment.  The pro-disposable diaper advocates say that the extra water used to wash cloth diapers is just as much of an abuse to the environment as the production and disposal of disposable diapers.  But taking into consideration the following estimates you will probably agree that disposable diapers are much more harmful to the environment than cloth diapers.It is estimated that roughly 5 million tons of untreated waste and a total of 2 billion tons of urine, feces, plastic and paper are added to landfills annually. It takes around 80,000 pounds of plastic and over 200,000 trees a year to manufacture the disposable diapers for American babies alone.  Although some disposables are said to be biodegradable; in order for these diapers to decompose, they must be exposed to air (oxygen) and sun.  Since this is highly unlikely, it can take several hundred years for the decomposition of disposables to take place, with some of the plastic material never decomposing.The untreated waste placed in landfills by dirty disposable diapers is also a possible danger to contaminating ground water.  Pro-disposable advocates say that cleaning cloth diapers uses more energy and contributes to the load on sanitary sewer systems and potential water pollution.  This view really makes no sense if you think about it.  The amount of water used per week to wash cloth diapers at home is about the same amount consumed by an adult flushing the toilet four or five times daily for a week.  Also, the greater amount of water and energy being used by diaper service companies to wash large amounts of cloth diapers multiple times; the per diaper impact on energy and water supplies is actually less than home washing.Finally, when flushing solids from a cloth diaper down the toilet and washing the diapers in a washing machine, the contaminated, dirty water from both toilet and washing machine go into the sewer systems where they are properly treated at wastewater plants.  This treated wastewater is much more environmentally friendly than dumping untreated soiled disposable diapers into a

landfill.”

If you want my honest-to-goodness, personal opinion on the matter, I think people who say that using cloth is worse for the environment are using that argument as a cop out because they simply don’t want to be bothered with something they think must be a hassle.  And although I would really encourage people to use cloth, if someone chooses to use disposables that’s fine too – just don’t claim to be doing it for environmental reasons.

However, all that being said I have tried to take steps to offset the fact that I do more diaper laundry by:

  • washing all my normal laundry on an express cycle in cold water whenever possible
  • turning off the tap while brushing my teeth
  • taking shorter showers (I haven’t timed it yet, but I think most days I am only in there about 3-4 minutes)
  • minimizing toilet flushes (if its yellow, let it mellow)
  • not filling the kitchen sink as full when I do dishes

I also try to dry my diapers and other laundry on the line as much as possible.  In fact, even here while I’m on vacation, I brought my cloth diapers with me and have dried them and my other laundry on the line.  Not sure how well that will work in Cold Lake…but I will keep trying!

Another way I try to conserve energy and water is by maximizing the size of my laundry loads.  I have enough cloth diapers to wash every 3 days now, and at home I wash my cloth toilet wipes and mama cloth with the diapers.  As for all the other cloth I use, I usually save everything up until I have a full load of towels/hankies/cleaning rags/dish rags and dish towels. I would have been doing a small load of these items every week anyway, so a larger load is not much extra impact considering I have drastically reduced the use of paper is our house.  We also have an HE washer and an energy star rated dryer which use less water and and energy respectively.

And really, the days of all this extra laundry won’t last forever.  Nate will only be in diapers for a few years and once he’s a little older and the messes fewer and farther between, I can’t imagine I will go through nearly as much other laundry as I am right now.  But long after I’ve stopped doing extra laundry, disposable diapers will still be sitting in landfills full of untreated waste and more trees will be chopped down so that people can use an oversized wad of paper towels to sop up spilled milk instead of dirtying a dish towel.

Perhaps I am going a little overboard.  I certainly have friends (and family members) who think so.  But I like the feeling I get when I do my part.  And I like the fact that I am setting a good example for Nate about the importance of reducing waste and reusing things.

In fact, speaking of setting a good example, Dale had me a little paranoid when he told me that he didn’t think there was a recycling program in Cold Lake because it would cost too much to cart the recyclables to the nearest facility.  But I did a little more research and it turns out that a recycling program was initiated in 2006 and a compost program in 2007.  So we will be able to put both recycling and yard/kitchen waste out at the curb.  Although I think my challenge to myself will be reduce to amount of plastics that our family uses anyway, since recycling in and of itself is not a very efficient endeavour. 

Hopefully this satisfies your curiosity Gill!  And when your turn comes…there better be no disposable diapers on any Querin baby bottom!

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