Tara and I were talking about cloth diapering this weekend, and she had heard that cloth and disposables end up evening out in terms of both cost and environmental affects. This is also what I found in an unbiased article called The Diaper Decision from Ohio State University (worth the read). Most of the cloth diapering websites have articles that debate the issue; however, they are usually fairly one-sided and don't used the same quality of resources that the OSU article did. (See for example, The Diaper Drama by Heather Sanders.) I really appreciated the OSU article, but it did not address all the various aspects of the issue as thoroughly as I would have liked.
Having to choose between the lesser of two evils has never set well with me. So, I thought I would briefly share why I think cloth diapering is best for my circumstances, in other words:
What I'm Doing in Addition to Cloth Diapering to Tip the Scales
Disposables cause pollution in manufacturing and are adding to the problem of overfilled landfills. There is also the possibility of the human waste leaking into the ground and polluting the water supply (humorously, it is actually illegal to dispose of human waste in the trash, but I don't know anyone who has ever done anything else with the poop in the baby's diaper). Cloth diapers use more energy to wash and put more phosphates in our water supply by the use of detergents.
This feels like an easy one for me because I have been using phosphate free laundry soap for the last year. I am not using the soap I make at home because I think I read somewhere that the washing soda can irritate baby's skin (I forget where), but Dreft is also phosphate free. In addition, I try to hang out my clothes to dry (at least in the summer), and this is helpful for cloth diapers anyway because the sun bleaches out stains.
This is a big one for me. I won't attempt to tell you how much money both options cost, but I will point out that the two articles came up with very different costs for both, and they are both outdated. Since diapers and wipes are the only expense for disposables, that seems pretty important, but I really don't know.
When factoring cost for the cloth diapers, on the other hand, you have to consider the water and electric bill, the cost of laundry soap, the wear and tear on your washer and drying, and the initial investment of the diapers.
I feel like I have an advantage here. First, we live on a well so we have no water bill. We hang clothes out to dry at least 50% of the time, and that helps with the electric bill. Dreft is more expensive soap, but I save money on our regular soap, so that kind of evens out. We rent, so we never paid for our appliances in the first place. And finally, I have saved money on the cloth diapers by making them myself, using "repurposed" flannel, and getting hand-me-downs from a friend. Right now I have about all the diapers, covers, and cloth wipes I need in the newborn and small sizes for no more than $100. And of course, the savings increase if I reuse these with subsequent children.
You can find lots of other benefits on the cloth diapering websites. Most of which I just don't know enough about now.
The Diaper Drama claims health risks with disposables due to chemicals in the diapers that are linked to toxic shock syndrome in tampons, carcinogens, and sterility in boys. This was not addressed at all in the OSU article, and I haven't investigated the validity of these claims.
Other sites argue that cloth diapering makes potty training easier later on because babies are allowed to experience the wetness whereas disposably-diapered babies never experience the cause and effct. Again, I don't know if this is true.
Most people immediately think that the inconvenience would be too much, though most websites say you are supposed to change disposables every time a child wets, just like cloth, it's just that most people don't. Also, my friend Julie says the laundering really isn't a big deal once you develop a system. I'll have to weigh in on this later.