Should We Trade Environmental Consciousness and Health for Convenience?
By Amami Monesson
An estimated 500 000 people marched through the streets of Montreal to protest a lack of global action in the struggle to stop climate change. This growing social movement has led me to consider my own habits and figure out ways that I can produce less waste.
As a new parent, I have recently become aware of the impact of the disposable diaper industry on our environment. Disposable diapers were invented in the 1950s, and today, most parents in first world countries use them. The average newborn child will soil 3 800 disposable diapers per year. When you multiply this number by the 3 years that the average (first world) child takes to kick the diaper habit, you end up with a colossal mountain of 11 400 soiled diapers per child! Now, let’s try to imagine the size of that mountain multiplied by the 382 533 children born in Canada in just 2019 alone.
When we take into consideration that it takes between an estimated 250-500 years for these disposable diapers to decompose, and that new babies are born every day, it becomes evident that this practice has an undeniably negative impact on our environment.
However, the disadvantages of disposable diapers are not only limited to the colossal amount of waste they produce. There have been reports of negative health effects resulting from the use of disposable diapers; the super gel (called sodium polyacrylate) that makes disposable diapers so absorbent has been associated with toxic shock syndrome, allergies and skin irritation. Due to less frequent diaper changes when using disposables, children may become more accustomed to dirty diapers which can make potty training more difficult. Lastly, there are the financial factors. On average, a child’s disposable diapers will cost a minimum of $550 per year depending on the brand. Nevertheless, we continue to use disposable diapers because of perceived conveniences, and a lack of knowledge of the alternatives.
Most of us living in the modern world don’t know much about cloth diapers. Cloth diapers offer a variety of benefits beyond just reducing our impact on the environment. Not only are they reusable, but they are adjustable so they will continue to fit for the full three years. It reduces the waste introduced into our environment and it reduces the wasted cash flowing out of our wallets!
My family shopped around and was able to get a complete, really cool selection of 25 modern cloth diapers for under $250. These will last us until our child is potty trained and are considerably less expensive than the average minimum cost of $550 per year for disposables. Furthermore, in 2018, some boroughs in Montreal began encouraging parents to use cloth diapers by offering to subsidize the purchase and maintenance costs.
Some additional health benefits of using cloth diapers are a reduced exposure to synthetic materials and chemical absorbents, which are commonly used in disposable diapers. Also, when using cloth diapers, your child’s waste is properly disposed of in the toilet, which poses fewer health risks than having it sit in your waste bin until garbage day.
Unfortunately, some daycares do not currently accept cloth diapers and force parents to buy disposable diapers. 4 out of 6 daycares say “NO”, because of the need to change the babies more often.
Furthermore, in 2018, some boroughs in Montreal began encouraging parents to use cloth diapers by offering to subsidize the purchase and maintenance costs.
However, according to Ms. Melanie Boucher, a specialist in infant care at the CLSC, when used properly and changed periodically, cloth diapers should not leak and provide a healthier environment for children, since leaving children in wet or soiled diapers causes increased health risks.
At large daycares, it may not be easy to accept cloth diapers, however, the health and environmental benefits are huge. I hope that in the future, caregivers will be given the knowledge and resources necessary to create a system that accepts this alternative.
In the meantime, there are biodegradable disposable diapers that contain less chemicals on the market. We can try to use cloth diapers at home, and when we must use disposable ones, we should choose the best of the worst!