Choosing Cloth Diapers: A Sustainable and Practical Diapering Option for Canadian Families

by Bailey Bouwman

As a parent, I know how challenging it can be to balance the needs of our families with the health of the planet. That's why I'm passionate about supporting sustainable and practical solutions for parents, including cloth diapering. Based on my own experience and research, I believe cloth diapers are an excellent choice for Canadian families who want to reduce their environmental impact and save money in the long run.

Whether you're a new parent or looking to switch to a more sustainable diapering option, I invite you to explore the benefits of cloth diapers and make an informed choice that works best for your family and the planet.

Choosing Cloth Over Disposable Diapers: The Environmental Benefits

Cloth diapers have numerous environmental benefits over disposable diapers. Here are some key points to consider:

One of the key benefits of cloth diapers is that they can be washed and reused multiple times, significantly reducing the amount of waste generated compared to disposable diapers.

  1. Reduced waste: Cloth diapers can be washed and reused multiple times, reducing the amount of waste generated compared to disposable diapers. In addition, cloth diapers don't contribute to the 3.75 million tons of waste that disposable diapers generate each year in Canadian landfills.
  2. Reduced resource consumption: By choosing cloth diapers, you can help conserve resources such as water, energy, and raw materials. Disposable diapers require large amounts of water and energy to manufacture and transport, while cloth diapers can be washed and reused with minimal impact on the environment.
  3. Reduced carbon footprint: Cloth diapers have a lower carbon footprint than disposable diapers due to their reduced resource consumption and waste generation. By choosing cloth diapers, you can help reduce your family's carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable future.

According to a life cycle assessment conducted by the UK Environment Agency, cloth diapers have a lower carbon footprint than disposable diapers due to their reduced resource consumption and waste generation over the course of a child's diaper-wearing years. The study estimated that cloth diapers use around 3 times less energy, 20 times less raw materials, and 2.5 times less water than disposable diapers. (Source: "Life Cycle Assessment of Disposable and Reusable Nappies in the UK" by UK Environment Agency)

The Real Diaper Association estimates that cloth diapers require approximately 2.3 times less water to manufacture and use than disposable diapers. Cloth diapers don't contribute to the 3.75 million tons of waste that disposable diapers generate each year in Canadian landfills, making them a better choice for the environment. (Source: "Why Choose Real Cloth Diapers?" by the Real Diaper Association)

A study by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists found that the environmental impact of cloth diapers is significantly lower than that of disposable diapers when considering factors such as water and energy consumption, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. (Source: "Life Cycle Assessment of Disposable and Reusable Diapers in the United States" by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists)

One of the most powerful things about choosing cloth diapers is choosing your impact. Cloth diapers are not perfect but you can choose minimalist cloth diapering solutions like Lunapaca, or go mainstream with PUL pockets like Kinder Cloth. There are many different options to suit different lifestyles, values and align with different environmental goals. 

The Environmental Impact of Disposable Diapers: A Growing Concern

As we discussed in a previous blog post, the production and disposal of disposable diapers have a significant impact on the environment. The manufacturing process requires the use of resources such as water, energy, and raw materials, which can contribute to air and water pollution.

In Canada, disposable diapers contribute significantly to the waste generated each year, as reported by Statistics Canada. In 2017, disposable diapers accounted for about 510,000 metric tonnes of waste, which is equivalent to about 1.5% of all waste generated in the country. 

Disposable diaper production requires vast amounts of resources, including 3.4 billion gallons of fuel oil, 2.3 billion tons of wood pulp, and 1.8 billion pounds of plastic, as stated by Earth911. These processes also result in greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants that harm the environmen

Environmental Impact of Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers: Factors to Consider

Cloth diapers and disposable diapers have different environmental impacts, and their comparison depends on several factors. These factors can include the number of diapers used, the frequency of washing and drying, the energy and water source used in washing and drying, and the disposal method for disposable diapers.

When you choose to cloth diapers, you choose how much energy, water and resources are used to diaper your child. 

A study conducted by the UK Environment Agency in 2008 found that using cloth diapers for two children can reduce the overall environmental impact by 40% compared to using disposable diapers for two children. This study also noted that the environmental impact of cloth diapers can vary depending on factors such as washing frequency, machine type, and energy source.

It is important  to note that the environmental impact of cloth diapers versus disposable diapers can vary depending on several factors, and there is not always a clear consensus on the matter.


Environmental Impact

Cloth Diapers

Disposable Diapers

Waste generation

Reusable

Non-reusable

Resource consumption

Lower

Higher

Water usage

Lower

Higher

Energy usage

Lower

Higher

Carbon footprint

Lower

Higher

Air and water pollution

Minimal

Significant

Decomposition time

Biodegradable

Up to 500 years

Note that the exact environmental impact can vary depending on factors such as usage habits, manufacturing methods, and disposal practices. This table is meant to provide a general overview of the environmental benefits of each type of diaper.

Choosing Cloth Diapers: The One-Time Investment That Can Last for Years

Using cloth diapers can provide significant cost savings over disposable diapers in the long run. While the upfront cost of cloth diapers can be higher than disposable diapers, they are reusable and can last for several years. 

Cloth diapers offer a unique financial advantage compared to disposable diapers - they are not subject to changing economies and prices. While disposable diaper prices can fluctuate over time, cloth diapers provide a one-time investment that can last for several years. 

According to estimates from "The Cost of Raising a Baby in Canada," parents can expect to spend between $2,500 and $3,500 on disposable diapers per child during their diapering years. By using cloth diapers full time or part-time, families can reduce this cost significantly.

While the cost of cloth diapers may vary depending on the type and brand, there are affordable options available to fit a variety of budgets. There are many organizations and communities who support families in accessing cloth diapers for free or low charge. Around the world, there are cloth diaper lending libraries and trial kits that solve these pain points, and we see these emerge in the Canadian market place form time to time. 

The below calculations are for exploratory  purposes only and actual costs may vary depending on several factors such as brand, usage, and frequency of changes. There are many ways to spend more, spend less, and create stashes ad diaper collections that range from FREE to $1000 of dollars. There is no right or wrong way to diaper and many families will find scenarios that align best with them. 

Assumptions:

  • Baby uses an average of 8-10 diapers per day
  • Baby is in diapers for 2.5 years
  • Cloth diapers are washed every other day
  • Disposable diapers cost $0.25 per diaper (national average in Canada)

Cost of Cloth Diapers:

  • 24 pocket diapers at $22 each = $528
  • 3 wet bags at $20 each = $60
  • Total cost = $588

Cost of Disposable Diapers:

  • 8-10 diapers per day x 365 days x 2.5 years = 7,300 - 9,125 diapers
  • Cost per diaper x number of diapers = Total cost
  • $0.25 per diaper x 7,300 diapers = $1,825
  • $0.25 per diaper x 9,125 diapers = $2,281.25
  • Total cost = $1,825 - $2,281.25

Savings with Cloth Diapers:

  • $1,237 - $1,693.25 (assuming cost of laundry and water is $0.25 per wash)
  • Using cloth diapers saves approximately $49 - $67 per month over disposable diapers
  • Over the course of 2.5 years, using cloth diapers can save approximately $1,170 - $1,683.75

When considering the cost of cloth diapers versus disposable diapers, it is important to consider the long-term cost savings. The upfront cost of cloth diapers may be higher, but the cost of disposable diapers can add up quickly over the course of a child's diapering years. 

Making Diapering Easier: The Convenience of Cloth Diapers

When it comes to diapering, many parents are looking for a convenient and easy solution. While cloth diapers may seem daunting at first, they offer several benefits that can make diapering easier and more efficient in the long run.

  1. Reusability: With cloth diapers, you don't have to worry about running out of diapers or making last-minute trips to the store. Instead, you can simply wash and reuse them as needed. This can save time and money in the long run, as you won't have to constantly buy new diapers or worry about running out.
  2. Absorbency: Cloth diapers can be more absorbent than disposable diapers, which means you may need to change them less frequently. This can be particularly helpful at night or during long car rides, where you don't want to have to stop and change a diaper as often.
  3. Convenient features: Many cloth diaper brands offer convenient features such as snaps or hook-and-loop closures that make them easy to put on and take off. Some brands also offer adjustable sizing, so you can get the best fit for your baby at every stage of development.
  4. One size fits most: Cloth diapers are designed to fit most babies, which means you won't have to worry about constantly buying new sizes as your baby grows. This can also be helpful if you have multiple children, as you can reuse the same diapers for each child.

Overall, cloth diapers offer several conveniences for parents that can make diapering easier and less stressful.

Cloth Diapers: A Natural Choice for Your Baby's Bottom

Cloth diapers offer several health benefits for babies, including:

  • Natural materials: Cloth diapers are made with natural materials such as cotton or hemp, which can be gentler on a baby's sensitive skin than the synthetic materials used in disposable diapers. Cloth diapers can also be made of sheets wool or alpaca wool.
  • Prevention of diaper rash: Cloth diapers can help prevent diaper rash, as they allow for better air circulation and less moisture buildup than disposable diapers.
  • No chemicals or fragrances: Cloth diapers do not contain the chemicals or fragrances found in some disposable diapers, which can irritate a baby's skin or cause allergic reactions. Parents can choose a detergent that aligns with their family's needs - including specific cloth diaper detergents like Esembly Baby.

Finding the Right Balance Between Convenience and Health

When deciding between cloth diapers and disposable diapers, it is important to weigh the convenience and health benefits of each option. While disposable diapers offer the convenience of easy disposal, they can be expensive and contribute to landfill waste. Additionally, regular store visits or online orders can add to the stress of parenting.

On the other hand, cloth diapers can be customized to fit a child's unique needs and body shape. Although they require more effort in terms of washing and maintenance, they are a cost-effective and eco-friendly option in the long run. Ultimately, the health benefits of each type of diaper will depend on the individual baby and their skin sensitivity.

  1. How to Choose the Right Cloth DiapersChoosing the right cloth diapers for your family can feel overwhelming with so many options available. Here are some tips to help simplify the process:
  2. Consider your budget: Cloth diapers range in price, so it's important to think about how much you're willing to spend.
  3. Think about your lifestyle: If you're always on the go, you may want to consider all-in-one diapers for convenience. If you have more time and want to save money, prefold diapers may be a better option.
  4. Research the different types: There are a variety of cloth diaper types, including flat diapers, all-in-ones, pockets, and more. Each type has its own pros and cons, so do your research to find the one that works best for your family.
  5. Look for quality: Cloth diapers should be well-made and durable to withstand multiple washings. Look for reputable brands that use high-quality materials.
  6. Consider your baby's needs: Some babies may need more absorbent diapers, while others may need diapers with a better fit. Take your baby's needs into consideration when choosing cloth diapers.

Making the Diapering Decision: Weighing the Environmental, Financial, Convenience, and Health Factors

By taking these factors into account, your probably confused because the reality is that this all really messy and there isn't a clear cut answer on the benefits. A lot of these benefits can be achieved with disposables, but you can also choose to cloth because you want to cloth diaper.

Finding the right diaper for you starts with this research journey into cloth diapering and for as much complexity as there is in the environmental, health and convince of diapers there is simplicity in the act of cloth diapers. It is a skill you learn and master with ease. 

 

 

If you're interested in learning more about cloth diapering, we invite you to visit Nest & Sprout at nestandsprout.ca. Sign up for our email list to receive tips, tricks, and exclusive offers to help make your cloth diapering journey a success. Let's work together to create a more sustainable future for our children and the planet.

 

  1. "Why Choose Real Cloth Diapers?" by Real Diaper Association: https://web.archive.org/web/20210310092520/https://realdiapers.org/diaper-facts/why-choose-real-cloth-diapers
  2. "Life Cycle Assessment of Disposable and Reusable Nappies in the UK" by the UK Environment Agency: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652607002037
  3. "Life Cycle Assessment of Disposable and Reusable Diapers in the United States" by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists: https://www.aatcc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/RI404-1.pdf
  4. "Environmental Impact of Disposable Diapers" by Earth911: https://earth911.com/home-garden/environmental-impact-of-disposable-diapers/
  5. "The Cost of Raising a Baby in Canada" by My Money Coach: https://www.mymoneycoach.ca/blog/personal-finance/the-cost-of-raising-a-baby-in-canada
  6. "Environmental Impact of Disposable and Reusable Nappies" by the European Disposables and Nonwovens Association: https://www.edana.org/docs/default-source/resources/2018_12_17-edana-position-paper-environmental-impact-of-disposable-and-reusable-nappies.pdf?sfvrsn=2
  7. "Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers" by the Canadian Paediatric Society: https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/cloth_diapers_vs_disposable_diapers
  8. "Cloth Diapers 101" by Nest & Sprout: https://nestandsprout.ca/pages/cloth-diapers-101
  9. "Diapers and the Environment" by Zero Waste Canada: https://zerowastecanada.ca/diapers/
  10. "Cloth Diapering for Beginners" by The Spruce: https://www.thespruce.com/cloth-diapering-for-beginners-4690561



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