Q I recently heard cloth diapers are just as bad as disposables. Is this true?
A Get your rattles out - the battle of the nappies is heating up again. You heard right, a four-year-long British study has just concluded that cloth diapers are as damaging to the environment as the plastic type. While the media is jumping on the story with glee, the whole thing is giving environmentalists a bad case of diaper rash - and with good reason.
Yes, the government-funded report did look at the life-cycle costs of three options: home-laundered cloth, commercially laundered cloth and disposables. And yes, the hefty 200-page paper weighed everything from the dirty oil extraction process involved in making plastic diapers and the water and pesticides used in growing cotton to the electricity needed to iron fold 'n' pin types.
In the end, the study concluded that all three are neck and neck. The electricity used to wash and dry cloth diapers is just as damaging to the environment as burying disposable diapers in landfills. The results actually landed the British government in hot water for spending $30 million on its Real Nappy promotional campaign. But is the study right?
Environmentalists don't think so. They're freaked because they say the report is hinged on some old-fashioned assumptions about cloth diapers that only looked at the habits of 200 washable diaper users (versus the 2,000 surveyed on disposable diapers). The UK's Women's Environment Network says warm water washes in A-rated (i.e., Energy Star) machines, for example, reduce climate-changing pollutants by 17 per cent (not to mention all the water savings).
The report also factors in a good chunk of tumble-drying when parents should be air-drying their nappies, not just to save a lot of power but also to make them last longer. If you're one of the 10 per cent the study says irons your cloth bum wraps, all I have to say is you gotta chill out. You're wasting hydro, and your babe doesn't need a smartly pressed bottom!
Investing in diapers made with unbleached, pesticide-free fibres like hemp, bamboo or organic cotton puts you even further ahead, especially if they are stitched locally and used on more than one kid.
Thanks to the outcry, the British government has supposedly promised to reassess the cloth diaper thing. Keep your eyes peeled for yet another report at some point in the future.
Need another reason to stick with cloth? A German study linked use of plastic diapers to male infertility. The plastic keeps their boy parts hotter than cloth, which ain't good for long-term sperm health.
Keeping cloth nappies green
wash in cold or warm water
skip the dryer and hang to dry
pass on chemical detergents
only flush poop-filled liners
buy more diapers so you wash full loads
Q We have a 10-year-old, barely used conventional coil crib mattress. Have most of the chemicals in it offgassed? Should we get an organic rubber one?
A Parenting can raise dilemmas that your mom's Dr. Spock book doesn't quite cover. Breastfeeding with nipple piercings, for instance - bet it's not in there. Or let's take, for example, the conscious parent who wants to reduce and reuse instead of turning their bambino into a one-baby business-fuelling machine.
While making use of old goods is almost always a good thing, there are a few exceptions. I'm not a fan of holding onto any foam-based furniture from the past. Your polyurethane crib mattress may no longer be offgassing lung-irritating volatile organic compounds, including that scary neurotoxin toluene, but it might contain some seriously persistent chemicals that are even scarier.
Your mattress was probably treated with stain-proofing chemicals (PFOS) that were phased out five years ago thanks to their tendency to bioaccumulate in people and wildlife. Just last month, Johns Hopkins researchers found that every single one of the 300 umbilical cords they tested contained PFOS! The levels were supposedly lower than those found in adults, and not high enough to trigger tumours, but still, who needs to risk even more exposure?
It might also have been treated with old-school flame retardants with similarly sticky tendencies. I'm not convinced a barrier cloth could keep those out, but it works great on dust mites and allergens. And PVC barrier cloths are made with potentially offgassing vinyl, the Green Goblin of plastics.
I'd say it's better to be safe than sorry and invest in a new natural rubber or organic innerspring mattress. You can get Canadian made ones starting at $395 at OrganicLifestyle.ca (in Hazelton Lanes) and Grassroots on Bloor or Danforth. Both stores carry organic wool puddle pads from $45.
If that's beyond your budget, at least look into buying a new conventional crib mattress, like one from Ikea which won't have any of those old-school persistent flame retardants and stain repellents. It'll probably still offgas VOCs, however, so you'll want to air it out for a couple of weeks to be safe.