Washable vs. Disposable—Environmental Debates to Ponder

Both Joy and I are committed to cloth diapering our offspring. First of all, we’re cheap, and our cloth diapers are much cheaper than standard disposables. We were also under the impression that cloth diapers were better for the environment than disposables. Well, we looked into it. It turns out that a major diaper study completed by the British Government in 2005 determined that the environmental impact of both diaper systems is more or less equal. How could this be? In a nutshell, disposable diapers harm the planet during their production and disposal while cloth diapers take a toll on the environment by sapping up water and energy.

So there it is: washing reusable things is no better or worse than using something once and tossing it in a landfill. That means we need to expand the debate over diapers and begin questioning more of our household habits.

More to the “Washable vs. Disposable” Debate than Meets the Eye

Bath-size paper towels vs. plain old terry cloth towels Why does no one use disposable bath towels, saving all that water, detergent, and electricity? Think about it.

Paper plates vs. proper tableware. I used to frown upon the laziness and eco-unfriendliness of paper plate users. Perhaps I frowned too fast?

Paper clothes vs. washable clothes. No more laundry = big time-saver—and planet-saver.

Adult diapers vs. underwear, toilets, the sewer system, etc. Think of all the water we’d save (not to mention time)! We could render toilets and restrooms obsolete for further conservation of resources.

Paper cups and cartons vs. washable cups and plates in fast food restaurants. Here’s where companies are already thinking “green.” Good job, Mickey D!

Does the thought disposable towels, flatware, dishes, and clothing make part of your tree-hugging head explode? Here’s the (sort of) good news: the British diaper study concluded that it’s up to the manufacturers of disposable diapers to reduce the impact of their products and up to each cloth diaper user to lessen the impact of washing and drying cloth diapers. I am now confident that I am practicing a much more energy-efficient and eco-conscious method of cloth diapering than the average Brit, using just 912 gallons of water each year to their 4,058. If I extend this conservation effort to other household habits, I can hope that washing and reusing is eco-friendlier (not to mention cheaper) than buying piles of paper plates and boxes of Depends undergarments. This thrifty environmentalist will keep on washing and reusing.


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