Diapers are one of the necessary evils of baby-raising, and everyone has an opinion on which type is best. Plastic diapers are expensive and polluting to the environment, but cloth diapers are labor-intensive and waste a lot of water to launder. Fortunately, some recent advances in the science of diapers has come up with some interesting environmental, labor, and monetary compromises.
One advance has been in the form of special cornstarch polymers that have begun to replace plastics in many common items, from food packaging and plastic cups, to diapers. While these starch-based diapers are less damaging than their plastic counterparts, they can still take a very long time to degrade in a landfill, and are not re-useable. It’s also very important to be savvy when looking for biodegradable diapers- some well-known diaper manufacturers have actually touted using this new cornstarch polymer, without mentioning that the only starch-based product they have is their packaging, making the diapers inside as plasticky and unbiodegradable as ever. All told, only one one-hundredth of their product’s total weight is actually remotely biodegradable!
Other interesting new products are lined cloth diapers. They fit and function like a combination of cloth and disposable diapers, consisting of a reusable cloth body with a throw-away liner. These have the advantage of generating less landfill waste than plastic or starch based diapers, while not requiring the frequent and extensive laundering of all-cloth diapers. Depending on the mess, one of these diapers may actually survive multiple changes between washings, with only the liner needing to be taken out and disposed of. Some brands have even developed a completely biodegradable cellulose liner which can actually be flushed similarly to toiled tissue, taking up zero landfill space and even eliminating smelly diaper pails and trash bag waste. Once they do finally get dirty, the outer cloth diaper can be washed just like regular cloth diapers and baby clothes, in warm water with hypoallergenic, baby-safe detergent.
While cloth diapers are making a comeback among parents looking for a more environmentally friendly and less expensive alternative to disposable diapers, the ease and convenience of using plastic versus cloth is undeniable. Luckily, with a few eco-friendly new products, parents can have all of the convenience of plastic, without the worry or heavy price tag, and all of the environmental friendliness of cloth, without the work.