Waste Management

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What goes in must come out.

Disposable diapers can be a major expense for new parents as well as a major load on the landfill. Over the course of 30 months (the average amount of time before potty training), a baby goes through about 6,700 diapers, costing his parents nearly $2,400.

Bleach-free Seventh Generation diapers compare favorably in cost with other premium diaper brands without contributing to the production of dioxins and other chemicals. Amazon.com includes Seventh Generation diapers in its automatic delivery service, giving customers a 15 percent discount over its already below-retail price.

But the most environmentally friendly choice is arguably also the cheapest: cloth diapers. Jenny McGruther used a combination of cloth diapering and "elimination communication" -- a practice that relies on reading the signals of even the youngest infants -- with her now-potty-trained 2-year-old son. By helping babies and toddlers do their business over a bowl or the toilet, the system reduces the number of diaper changes needed, which has financial and ecological benefits no matter which type of diapers parents use.

"We didn't want to increase our trash production or our consumption of paper goods," said McGruther, an office manager for a real estate company in Crested Butte, Colo. As a bonus, the McGruthers also saved money. The total amount she and her husband, a stay-at-home-dad, spent diapering their son: $117. Washing and drying cloth diapers, however, do add to utility bills.

But even diapering with high-end, designer cloth diapers such as Fuzzi Bunz, Bum Genius, or Kissaluvs, is cheaper than using disposables, a difference that only grows if you have subsequent children because you can reuse cloth. There is even a brisk secondhand market for the high-end diapers if they are in good condition, and you can sell yours when your child has outgrown them.

Try that with disposables.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company