Green Gripes: Dirty Diaper Dilemmas

06/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We know people do it. And we admire them, we truly do. But from our vantage point -- standing over a changing table with a squalling, "soiled" infant -- the choice between cloth and disposable diapers doesn't feel like much of a choice at all.

We know our mothers and grandmothers managed just fine with cloth diapers. But we believe that if Mom and Grandma had other options, they would have struggled with the decision just as we do.

The facts on disposables will turn your stomach faster than the scent of a freshly filled Huggie. The average child uses around 4,000 diapers before mastering the potty. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that disposable diapers make up 3.4 million tons of waste, or 2.1 percent of U.S. garbage, each year. And most disposable brands contain absorbent gels made with potentially toxic chemicals.

But here's another fact: Parents cope with messes all day long. Dribbles. Spills. Clutter. Spit-up. The inevitable crayon-on-the-wall episode. And in the face of this particular brand of sleep-deprived chaos, the idea of laundering soggy, stinky diapers feels truly overwhelming.

What can we do?

First, it turns out we can dispose of the guilt. Cloth diapers may not add to landfills, but they drain environmental resources by sucking up water and energy in the laundering process.

If the diapering dilemma, then, is really a matter of choosing between two imperfect solutions, some companies are making it easier to do so. Seventh Generation sells a non-toxic, chlorine-free diaper. And gDiapers makes one you can flush, compost or toss in the trash, depending on what works best for you at the moment.

For those willing to consider cloth, there are benefits to offset the mess factor: They don't require pins anymore; there are all sorts of Velcro contraptions and diaper covers to make changes -- and, um, containment -- easier. And even when you splurge on a diaper laundering service (and seriously, why not?), cloth can wind up costing less than disposables.

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