While Ed and I are well past having to deal with diapering (although he’s well-situated to have grandkids at this point!), we made a stop at the Green Lil’ Bums Green Festival booth on Sunday. As most folks know, disposable diapers are a major issue when it comes to landfills, and, while there wasn’t much on their site about this, I pulled up a Time magazine piece (from a few years ago) on the subject for some context:
Most reasonable people want to do one thing with a dirty diaper: get rid of it. Which largely explains why disposable diapers have become a roughly $5.7 billion business. So it may come as a surprise to learn that cloth diapering is making a comeback.
The Real Diaper Association, an advocacy group founded in 2004, estimates that 27.4 billion disposable diapers are used each year in the U.S. (according to the EPA, that translates into more than 3.4 million tons of waste dumped into landfills) and that producing those diapers also consumes huge amounts of petroleum, chlorine, wood pulp and water.
Some of these points are addressed by Green Lil’ Bums founder Andrea Haggard in the following interview:
Frankly, the disposable vs. cloth debate is a tough one … according to some figures, diaper waste is “only” about 1.5% of total municipal solid waste generated in the U.S., with as high as 98 percent of all households (in the diaper demographic) using some disposables. On the other hand, the particulars, as others have pointed out are quite unsavory from an environmental perspective:
We throw about 18 billion [disposable diapers] away each year into trash cans and bags, believing they’ve gone to some magic place where they will safely disappear. The truth is, most of the plastic-lined “disposables” end up in landfills. There they sit, tightly wrapped bundles of urine and feces that partially and slowly decompose only over many decades. What started out as a marketer’s dream of drier, happier, more comfortable babies has become a solid-waste nightmare of squandered material resources, skyrocketing economics, and a growing health hazard, set against the backdrop of dwindling landfill capacity in a country driven by consumption.
The disposable industry argues that the energy footprint for reusable diapers offsets the landfill issues, but that does seem to be comparing “apples to oranges”, especially in a world where electricity is coming more and more from clean, renewable sources.
Personally, when I was in the “diaper demographic”, a decade or so back, we tried doing washable diapers … for about a week … but there were no services around (that we were aware of) along the lines of Green Lil’ Bums which would handle most of that. I know that the “diaper service” was a fixture of most neighborhoods in previous decades, and it’s great that this niche might be on its way back!
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Filed under: Green Tech Events