Dirty diapers, that is.
A friend of mine pointed out to me that there is a long term consequence of choosing short term convenience (disposable) over long term savings (cloth). My friend is correct. We are talking about paying for your diapers in one of two ways: either by paying for the convenience to use thousands of disposables, adding to our environmental burden, or using cloth diapers which also add to our environmental burden - in a different way.
There are lots of different studies out there that say that it's either a toss up or that disposables are the sum of all evil. The problem comes down to: Who are you willing to believe? or How much time and money are you willing to spend backing up your eco choices? The book that I had used for my initial research was The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices. Written by the Union of Concerned Scientists, they don't strike me as propagandists.
Six years ago, when we were first starting out with Caitlin, we started with cloth diapers and experienced many frustrations and ickiness. I have a weird quirk/habit about having icky hands. (Ask my mom, this has been going on since pre-kindergarten. She'll tell you all about how they had to convince me to finger paint.) Changing her diapers twenty times a day meant we went through a lot of cloth diapers. Wet, drippy, messy cloth diapers. A blowout for her meant she would be soaked and screaming, her clothes would be soaked, her bedding would be soaked and if either Eric or I were holding her at the time, we would be soaked. But not screaming. All of this leads to a lot of clothes washing and water use. Using a service meant that we didn't have to do the washing of the diapers, but that someone else did. There's no getting around the water use issue.
Oh and in 2002 Colorado experienced a helluva drought. We dropped our water use significantly in compliance with local codes. This drought was also the spur for the xeric garden, replacing 1750' of bluegrass lawn in my front yard. However, that's another story.
We switched to disposables and experienced fewer deluges and stayed with them until she was potty trained at nearly 3. Now, it is true that her diaper use slowed down as she got older and was definitely spotty during the potty training stage, so it's hard to tell you exactly how many diapers we went through. The short answer is a lot. However, as I've learned with all manner of other parenting issues, time and personal experience will wear away zealous thinking faster than anything else. For example, I was a zealous advocate for 100% breastfeeding and got to be a pain in the ass about it. However, I also learned lots of lessons along my breastfeeding journey and learned to self censor myself over other mom's breastfeeding choices. Parenting is tough enough without other mom's (myself included) performing Mommy Drive Bys on the choices of other mothers.
Back to diapers.
It's now 6 years later and there are lots of new choices in diapering. My sister mentioned gDiapers and I've heard about new disposable liners for cloth diapers and I believe that Ed & Val were using Seventh Generation Chlorine Free diapers when they used disposables. I also still have our diaper covers that we used the first time, a few from Val and a pile of cloth liners. My plan is to use both cloth and the newborn sized disposables that we received. We're willing to give the new versions of cloth diapers and diaper covers another try, but we're also very aware of the fact that we're going to have two tiny tushies to change on a near constant basis. And we're going to be tired. A lot.
Being Green, being an environmentalist, is not an all or nothing situation. There is a spectrum that we fall across and I have learned to accept that there is always going to be someone greener than me, just as I am always going to be greener than other people. There are folks out there that always use cloth diapers, all cotton or hemp clothing, never eat anything but local, organic and free trade food. They never yell at their children, drive electric cars and make most of their own food or goods.
I'm not that person. We have two cars, although we only really drive my Accord. I rant about SUVs on the road that only have one person in them, but I also have family members that own and use SUVs all the time. I'm not a big shopper, but I'm related to some. I compost, recycle, use CFC bulbs and go to the library rather than buy my books (these days). I try to encourage friends and family members to do the same and I consider each change they make another win for the environment, but in the end it is all about choice. I'm trying to make my choices as consciously and conscientiously as I can.
I appreciate being called out on the cloth vs. disposable issue. Hopefully we can pool our knowledge and all make good choices together.