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Diapering: earth destroyer, or crazy hippie?

Overall, our parenting is somewhere in the range of a 7 on the crappy crunchy scale, with some dips into the 2 range. (Yep, I’ll wait….okay, back now?)

Diapers are one of the both-ends-of-the-scale things.  Our primary diaper is the cloth/synthetic BumGenius FreeTime All-in-One, which, yes, costs $20 per diaper.  At night, though, we go Huggies Overnights disposables.  Cloth dipes first:

Cloth diapers have come a loooong way from the absorbant squares that you hand-fold and attach with safety pins that I and my siblings were clad in. These guys are high-tech wicking fleece numbers with multiple sizing options in 2 dimensions: we’ve been using our set since they were about 8 weeks and 8 pounds old to now, going on a year and 25 pounds old. (For the first 8 weeks, we rented a set of newborn-sized diapers from our friendly neighborhood diaper shop, Ann Arbor’s Little Seedling.)

They’re pretty darned easy to use–there’s definitely some practice bias, but we both find them easier to put on a squirming baby than the fussy little tabs on disposables–and the long-run cost/benefit is crazy good.  Even if you don’t get a bulk discount, that $20 gets you a diaper that you use about once every 36-48 hours. For us, at 9.5 months of use so far, that means we’ve used each diaper between 140-190 times so far.

At the low end of that scale, that means each diaper would have cost us 14.3 cents per use so far.  At the high end, and at Little Seedling’s bulk pricing, that cost would be about 9.4 cents per use.  If we use them until the kids are two, that cost per use ends up in the 4-6 cents per use range.

By comparison, disposable diapers are in the range of about 20 cents per diaper. If we used exclusively disposables, at our typical rate of usage, that’d be somewhere in the $2,500 range over two years.  Our set of 30 cloth diapers, plus the rental of the set of newborn diapers: about $800. Yes, there are costs to washing them and drying them (we gave up our clothesline once the dog started turning all the clean laundry on it into toys), but the 2-year savings on purchase cost of cloth diapers are enough to cover the cost of a brand-new high-efficiency washer and dryer.

There’s also a practical benefit to the reusables: it’s quite reasonable to receive a 2-year supply of cloth diapers and wipes at a baby shower, because once you’re using them, you don’t need storage space for the others, because they’re the same diapers over and over again.  Even if your friends and family wanted to give you $2500 worth of disposables at your shower, you’d be left renting a storage locker to hold them all.

If you want to talk environmental benefits, the disposable diaper industry claims no significant difference (surprise!), while the cloth diaper trade group claims those life cycle analyses are flawed, comparing the best case disposables to the worst case cloth diapers.  Fortunately, I find the practical and financial benefits of cloth diapering to be enough that it doesn’t matter if there’s zero environmental benefit.

Now, as I mentioned, we do use disposables at night.  There are certainly benefits to those chemical super-absorbing agents in disposable dipes–like letting the kiddos sleeping for 10-11 hours straight without needing a change. So using 1 disposable diaper, per kid, per night, is part of our “sleep is good for everybody” suite of parenting choices.