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Friday, February 10, 2006

It's not six of one, half a dozen of the other. If you have a product that you use only once and throw away versus one that is used more than 100 times before it is retired to rag status, the reusable product is easier on the environment. Sure you have to wash cloth, but you have to wash towels and sheets and shirts and underwear too. And we don't think we should have single-use shirts or pants because washing them time and again would be bad on our ecosystem. That argument makes it seem like my reusable plastic coffee cup is no better than the drink-and-toss ones you get from the coffee shop. Sure both take energy to create, but heck; you have to wash that reusable one over and over and over.

Not many people can manage an only cloth system -- and both LOD and I admittedly use disposable for travel purposes (and TIC gets them overnight too). But if everyone would use some cloth here and some disposables there, we'd end up with less of these.

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There's no getting around it: information about cloth vs. disposable diapers is pretty one-sided. You're not going to find a lot of bloggers or infowebzines extolling the virtues of choking the planet with little plastic poo-bundles. So if you're about to be a parent and you're on the fence about which diaper system to adopt, let's not forget a very important consideration: moral superiority.

Just think: You'll scour the Internet for all the right diaper systems, made from organic cotton and hemp harvested by autonomous Andean farmers and lovingly hand-stitched by evangelical, Midwestern sorority girls. You'll place the soiled diapers in odor-proof Tibetan sackcloth, and when that bag is full, and you open that bag, and the force of that concentrated stench of methane and ammonia hits you in the face like a fist, you'll smile and think, "World, you're welcome."

Note: As it turns out, there really is such a thing as a "Nature Nappy," which is described as a disposable diaper that will completely biodegrade in about six months. Could it be that, after decades of debate, the point soon will be moot?

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

To be honest here, if cloth and disposable diapers had equally-negative impacts on the environment, we'd probably go for the disposable. Just use it and toss it. So easy. But they aren't equal, and disposable diapers are bad, bad, bad. Even those "environmentally-friendly," chlorine- and gel-free ones end up in the junk after only a couple of hours of use.

For full disclosure purposes, we use disposable diapers when we travel and at bedtime. One of the medicines that TIC takes before bed makes him drink tons of water overnight and subsequently makes him soaked, soaked, soaked. Ours isn't a perfect system, but we end up with seven disposable diapers in the trash each week instead of 37. And every little bit helps.

Not everyone has a diaper service nearby, and so the only cloth option would be a do-it-yourself kind. I'm sure once you get into a system, it's not so bad, but I'm grateful that my service does all the dirty work for me. However, societal deterrents sure make it hard on parents to choose cloth. There are a dwindling number of diaper services, and many daycare centers and preschools prohibit cloth diapers. So, sometimes even the best intentions are trashed along with the disposables.

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I need to clarify two things: One, we very rarely poop-swirl. The great thing about the super-soft inner lining of these stuffer diapers is that solid (and even not-so-solid) waste just falls right off with little effort. So if you're out there thinking I spend my nights with my forearm in the commode, rest assured that I save it for much more important duties, like scrubbing toothpaste off the bathroom floor.

Two, I mentioned "ungainliness" not because it impairs development, but because it's a big motivation to potty-train. When OneBert was two we gave him lots of naked time, so he knew how much more aerodynamic it was not to have a big wad of hemp in your crotch. Kids won't potty-train until they want to, so we figured we'd get the best results by giving him a taste of the good life (and storing all our best rugs). For two years he's been diaper-free, which anyone can tell you is the ultimate money-saver.

Which brings me to to diaper services. They're fine, I suppose, but we don't use them because in Manhattan sending out your little bundles costs a big bundle. In addition, they won't clean our Super Stuffers; they work exclusively in prefolds and plain-old covers, which are so 20th-century.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

I won't say cloth diapers are always easy because they're not. Packing up and bringing urine-soaked and poopy diapers home with you is gross. And we do have to change Toddler in Chief more frequently than our disposable-toting buddies because when cloth is wet, it's wet. Mostly, I don't mind because I prefer TIC in a clean diaper versus a dry diaper (you can't always tell when the disposable ones are dirty).

Actually, even with those negatives, cloth is pretty easy. I don't rinse them. I don't scrape off any goo. It all just goes in the bin. Then once a week, my fabulous diaper service comes to my house, takes away the bag of dirty ones, and leaves a bag of clean ones. The best part is that Father in Chief has much less trash to take out on garbage night. And cloth is better for the environment, hands down. Reusable cloth diapers use significantly less energy and water than disposable diapers.

Mostly, I can't control a lot of stuff that goes on in the world. But at least with the diapers, I feel like I can actually make a tiny difference by not putting that extra garbage in the landfills (disposable diapers are the third most prevalent item in landfills). Plus, cotton diapers are just super soft on TIC's skin. What would you rather have strapped around your special parts? Breathable soft cotton? Or paper, chemicals, and plastic? I'd take cotton any day.

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I am no enemy of landfill. Half of my city is built on it. I am mindful, though, that it takes about 500 years for a diaper to degrade. That's just part of the logic behind our hybrid cloth/disposable system.

When it comes to the cloth part, there have been a bunch of cool innovations since the dingy cotton rags of the '60s. My wife has used the power of the Internet to find all sorts of diaparatus, including these cool stuffable things lined with fleece or suede that wicks the whiz into the hemp liners. So they're still comfy for little TwoBert, but they're also big wads of ungainliness that are a real drag to walk in. I'm sure that's a big reason why OneBert potty-trained himself at 2 years and 3 months.

And then of course, there's the money. We still use disposables for specific needs, like when we're traveling and loath to carry around little poop loaves in our carry-ons. But the disposables we buy, which have no bleach or any of those nasty desiccants, cost a bundle; washing our re-washables is saving us thousands. If swirling baby poop in the toilet helps feed the 529, so be it.

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