Hey Mr. Green,
From a strict environmental perspective, what type of diaper--cloth, disposable, or hybrid (disposable liner)--do you recommend?
--George in Wentworth, New Hampshire
The central question is this: Is it worse to (a) waste billions of gallons of hot water washing diapers that come from pesticide-doused cotton fields or (b) produce and toss the more than 27 billion disposables that end up in U.S. landfills each year? I recommend cloth--a daring statement, because diaper ecology has long been clouded by "analysis paralysis," and many environmentalists still can't reach a conclusion.
National Geographic's Green Guide (thegreenguide.com), a source I greatly admire, says there's "no easy answer to the 'cloth or disposable' debate." The EPA doesn't take a position either.
So how can Mr. Green be so certain?
First, it depresses the hell out of me to think that an infant's first ongoing contact with the outside world involves the twisted cult of disposability that bedevils our environment--a subjective argument, true, but not all environmental decisions need be made solely on the basis of science. John Muir didn't protect the great outdoors because of life cycle studies and scientific findings but because he loved it, and its abuse made him feel downright rotten. And damn it, that's how I feel.
The second major reason for rejecting disposables is the other bottom line. Disposables can cost from $1,500 to $2,000 between birth and potty training, while you can obtain four dozen cloth diapers and a half-dozen plastic covers for less than $100. Costs for washing, detergent, and drying are about $200 per year ($150 if you line-dry). So you save up to $1,500 per kid by using cloth. Invest those savings in a lifetime Sierra Club membership, and your reusable diapers dump all over disposables.