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Cloth VS Disposable

When becoming a new parent you are bombarded with information about the latest baby gear, furniture, clothing, and toys.  Your registry grows and grows.  Some items are necessities, but others you think you want to make your life easier.  So what about those things you MUST have for your baby?  Unless you live outside, you're going to need diapers, lots of them.  Are you ready to pay $800-1000 per year per child for disposable diapers?  The following is a comparison between disposables and cloth. 

 

Cost of Cloth. 

There are many choices when it comes to cloth.  See our Cloth Types section for an explanation of the different types of cloth diapers.  One of the cheapest options is to use prefolds and covers.  Depending on what type of covers you use (sized vs one-sized) and number of covers, you can expect to spend between $50-$150 for covers and $100-$150 for prefold diapers for a birth to potty supply.  Thats a grand total of $150-$300 to diaper your child and your subsequent children.

 

One of the most popular options for cloth diapering is to use One Size (OS) diapers.  These diapers will fit your baby from birth to potty, with a few exceptions of extra small babies and extra large toddlers.  A supply of OS diapers, depending on the number and brand you choose will cost from $225-$600 for a birth to potty supply. 

 

One of the most expensive options is to use sized diapers where you will need a full supply for each size category; small, medium, large, x-large, or however the manufacturer decides to size their line of diapers.  This can cost between $1500 and $1900, depending on the quantity purchased. 

 

In addition to the cost of supplies is the cost of cleaning.  You should consider the cost of detergent, water, electricity, and drying for your specific area. Using data from my own electric and water bills and this website (http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/laundry.html)  I have calculated that it costs me  $0.55 per load or $2.75 per week for water, electricity and detergent to wash our diapers.  These numbers will change depending on your utility costs and the method of drying. 

 

Cost of Disposables 

My friends who use disposables swear by using Amazon.com for the best diaper prices, plus free shipping and discounts if you join a club.  I used numbers from Amazon.com for Pampers as my low price estimate and I used Babies-R-Us as my high cost range of disposables.  (I only selected BRU because they have their prices online)  I also included disposable diaper usage by size because there is a large cost difference between sizes.  This is a simple estimate because there are many different brands, many different retail options, and prices will change over time.

 

Amazon subscribe (Pampers)

Size

Weight

Diapers

Per day

Months

Total Diapers*

$/diaper

Total Cost

N

Newborn

12-16

0.5

196

0.16

31.36

1

up to 14

10-12

2.5

825

0.13

107.25

2

12-18

10-12

3

990

0.16

158.40

3

16-18

8-10

3

810

0.19

153.90

4

22-27

8

3

720

0.22

158.40

5

27+

6-8

6

1260

0.22

277.20

6

35+

6-8

12

2548

0.3

764.40

 

 

 

 

Cost for 2.5yrs

$1650.91

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Babies-R-Us (Pampers)

N

Newborn

12-16

0.5

196

0.29

57.17

1

up to 14

10-12

2.5

825

0.33

274.85

2

12-18

10-12

3

990

0.36

356.20

3

16-18

8-10

3

810

0.36

291.44

4

22-27

8

3

720

0.39

281.58

5

27+

6-8

6

1260

0.45

566.69

6

35+

6-8

12

2548

0.53

1348.19

 

 

 

 

Cost for 2.5yrs

$3176.11

        *Total diapers calculated on the average of the diapers/day range and 30 days per month

 

 

The price range for ~2.5 years of disposable diapers is $1650-$3175 depending on your source of diapers.  This does not include pull-up style diapers, which are typically more expensive ($0.30-$0.53 per diaper).  This assumes that you efficiently utilize your supply and there are no extra diapers leftover when you move up a size.

 

In conclusion, the most expensive cloth diaper method is comparable to the cheapest disposable method.  In the end, cloth still wins out on price because cloth diapers can be used for subsequent children as well as sold as used at ~50% of retail cost if in good condition. 

 

Environmental Considerations

No one can deny that putting trash into landfills impacts our environment.  Disposable diapers take ~500 years to degrade.  This is a best guess, since disposables have existed for less than 100 years. Over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby EACH YEAR6


 

Try out this calculation to see how many diapers are going into a landfill every hour in your area.


INSERT HERE
The following calculator estimates the quantity of disposable diapers sent to a landfill each hour. END INSERT HERE

 

1.      Visit: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/index.html

2.      Select your state, then a region of your choice (city/county etc)

3.      Type in the total Population, 2010 (circled in blue) (No commas)

4.      Type in the population under 5 (circled in yellow)

 

southcarolinapopulation-1.png

 

Based on the age assumption of all babies 2.5yrs and younger being in diapers and that 90% of babies wear disposables, the results displayed will reflect the number of diapers entering a landfill in your selected area every hour. 

 

In South Carolina 47,178 diapers enter our landfills every hour.  In Richland county 3921 diapers enter a landfill every hour thats 65 diapers every minute or more than 1 every second!

 

 

 

Health Concerns

This is a touchy subject for some people, and rightly so.  Some believe it is better not to expose your child to the chemicals in disposable diapers, whereas the others say there is no danger.  Since there is no public knowledge of a diaper epidemic, it comes down to your personal beliefs.  Just like the food we eat, there are always other considerations that may take priority, like cost, time, ease of use, etc.  So is cloth diapering an easy healthy choice? Of course.  Have countless babies covered in disposable diapers grown up without serious health problems? Of course.  That said, here are the concerns that I have found regarding the chemicals used in disposable diapers: 

 

      Dioxin is a byproduct to the chlorine bleaching process used to manufacture paper. Disposable diaper manufacturers claim there is no trace dioxin left in their diapers, whereas cloth proponents say there is trace residue. 

      The little super absorbing beads in disposable diapers are made from a type of super absorbent polymer (SAP).  The addition of SAP to tampons was banned in the 1980s for increased risk of toxic shock syndrome, but is used in adult underwear and sanitary napkins. 

 

Regrettably, there is not an unbiased study published on the safety or environmental effects of disposable diapers.  Every study has been done by someone with something to gain, and are therefore not reliable in my mind.  You need to decide for yourself what is important to you and for your family. 


6 Lehrburger, C., J. Mullen and C.V. Jones. 1991.  Diapers: Environmental Impacts and Lifecycle Analysis.  Philadelphia, PA: Report to The National Association of Diaper Services (NADS).






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