Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Convenient” Disposable Diapers?

The Dangerous and “Inconvenient Truth” for Baby and Mother Earth

Originally touted as a convenient alternative to cloth diapers for busy working mothers, disposable diapers have proven to be a proverbial “inconvenient truth” - dangerous not only to baby, but also to Mother Earth. Considering the high cost - and widespread impact - of disposables on both health and the environment, the picture becomes even less pretty. Containing numerous chemicals that have been linked to cancer, sterility and rashes, disposables also pose a serious threat to underground water supplies, create potential airborne illnesses, and use 20 times more raw materials like crude oil and wood pulp than cloth diapers to manufacture. Over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum, and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to make disposable diapers for one baby for just one year.

The high cost to health - what you can’t see can hurt you.

Disposable diapers contain traces of dioxin, an extremely toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process. A carcinogenic chemical listed by the EPA as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals, it is banned in most countries but not in the US. Disposables also contain sodium polyacrylate, a super absorbent polymer (SAP) that becomes gel-like when it “captures” urine. A similar substance had been used in tampons until the early 1980's, when it was revealed the material increased the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome. SAP can stick to baby's genitals, causing allergic reactions such as severe skin irritations, oozing blood from perineum and scrotal tissues, fever, vomiting and staph infections in babies. Disposable diaper manufacturers claim that SAP is safe for babies even though when injected into rats it has caused hemorrhage, cardiovascular failure and death. Yet another invisible chemical found in disposables is Tributyl-tin (TBT) - a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals and it is speculated to cause harm to a baby’s immune system.

In May 2000, the Archives for Disease in Childhood published research showing that scrotal temperature increases in boys wearing disposable diapers, and that prolonged use of disposable diapers will blunt or completely abolish the physiological testicular cooling mechanism important for normal spermatogenesis. According to the Journal of Pediatrics, 54% of one-month-old babies using disposable diapers had rashes; of those, 16% were severe. Cathy Allison, in her article, "Disposable Diapers: Potential Health Hazards," cited a study done by Procter & Gamble (manufacturers of disposables - Pampers® and Luvs®) in which it was found that the incidence of diaper rash swells from 7.1% to 61% with increased use of their diapers!

Something stinks – and it’s more than just on the surface.

According to disposablediaper.net, 96,090,000 disposable diapers are used every year in the US alone. The third largest single consumer item in landfills, they represent about 4% of solid waste. In a household with a child in disposable diapers, disposables comprise of at least 50% of the household waste. The instructions on disposable diaper packages advise depositing all fecal matter in the toilet before discarding the diapers, yet less than one-half of one percent of all waste from single-use diapers goes into an average sewage system!

Although the time it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose is still unknown (estimated to be between 250 and 500 years), one thing is for sure - it will be long after your children, grandchildren and great, great, great grandchildren are gone. Roughly 92-98% of the feces and urine-filled disposable diapers enter the household trash stream and ultimately end up in landfills, creating an immediate public health hazard. Although the dumping of human waste into landfills is illegal in most states, the laws are simply unenforced when it comes to diapers. Hence, disposable diapers can infest water leaching out of the dump, fostering the growth of bacteria and viruses - including polio, hepatitis and dysentery.

Reusables to the rescue! Cloth makes a comeback.

Having evolved considerably from the days of pins and plastic pants, reusable cloth diapers provide a healthy, economical and environmentally-friendly alternative. A variety of options now include pocket diapers- stuffed with a liner; all in ones - which resemble a disposable; and fitted diapers - which use a diaper cover. Organic diapers also abound: Ecobaby, Under the Nile and BumGenius are a few brands. LolliDoo diapers solely utilize a recycled Ecospun® fabric (PET) made from water bottles – bottles that would normally end up in landfills. The amount of water used to launder cloth diapers at home is about 50 to 70 gallons every two to three days – about the same as a toilet-trained child or adult flushing the toilet five to six times a day. One study has found that home-washing cloth diapers has only 53% of the ecological footprint of disposables.

According to Dawn Michelle in her article, “Cost of Cloth Diapers-a Real Savings,” the average baby uses about 8 disposable diapers per day at a cost of approximately $0.30 each – for an annual cost of $876. Extended over 3 years – the average length of time a baby is in diapers - the total cost jumps to $2,628! In contrast, the cost of 20 sizable, reusable cloth diapers is only about $400. And the additional laundering cost? With an average of 3 washes (or less) per week at around $1.50/wash, the total laundering cost over three years is $702. Adding the $400 brings the total to $1,102 - a savings of $1,526 over disposables!

As parents begin to become more informed about the true cost of so-called “convenient” disposable diapers, they realize there’s much more than money at stake. While cloth diapers add an extra load or two of laundry to households every week, the benefits to your baby’s health, our environment and your wallet are well worth it.

Be part of the solution, right from the very beginning!

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