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Eco Etiquette: How Can I Convince My Husband to Use Cloth Diapers?

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Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at eco.etiquette@gmail.com. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

My husband has been fine with the green changes I've made in our household. He doesn't complain about composting, taking canvas bags to the grocery store, or even the vegetarian dinners I make. But we're expecting our first child, and he's drawn the line at cloth diapers. He says it's too inconvenient. How can I change his mind?

-Layla

Well, for starters, the cloth diaper argument couldn't be more timely: Last week, I wrote about how the BP oil disaster is compelling Americans to consider new ways to reduce their oil footprint; more specifically, by reducing the amount of petroleum-based products they buy.

Plastic disposable diapers, of course, fall into this category. I regret I didn't think to include them in last week's column, because the statistic is a whopper: Nearly 3.5 billion gallons of oil are used to produce the 18 billion throwaway diapers that Americans toss each year. To put that in perspective, that's more than the amount of crude we import annually from Kuwait.

Need a visual? Picture one of those diaper commercials where someone pours a container of liquid into a nappy to demonstrate absorbency. Now replace the pretend pee in that cup with petroleum -- that's about how much oil (2/3 cup) it takes to make just one disposable diaper.

Of course, relaying these facts to your husband (along with any of the other convincing environmental arguments in favor of cloth diapers, like less landfill waste, water pollution, and destruction of virgin forests) may do little to change his mind if convenience is his priority. We all do stuff that's bad for the environment because it's more comfortable, right? If that weren't true, then 300 million of us would be biking 20 miles each way to work and making home-cooked meals out of the organic produce we planted in our backyard gardens.

So to sway your husband, I enlisted the help of the aptly named Sarah Greenshields, COO of GroVia, which makes one of the most convenient cloth diapering solutions on the market: the hybrid diaper. (Hybrid diapers are essentially Cloth Diapering for Dummies. Gone are the pins and folding of yesteryears: Instead, an outer washable shell fastens much like a disposable diaper; inside, you can attach either a washable cotton pad or an eco-friendly disposable liner to do the dirty work.)

I played the part of the questioning first-time parent (not much of a stretch, as those of you who regularly read my column know); Sarah countered with her case for cloth.

Jennifer Grayson: My mom says she tried using cloth diapers with me, and she gave up after a month, it was such a mess.

Sarah Greenshields: Diapers used to be these big, huge squares that you'd fold into shape, and then you'd use pins, and then you'd get scared that you were going to poke your baby with a pin, and then you'd have to put plastic pants over the cloth diapers. And the plastic pants, they were equivalent to today's shopping bag -- just big and bulky...so what we've done is stripped out all that extra nonsense and made it so, so simple.

JG: But we don't have a washer/dryer in our apartment. Isn't it gross to use laundromat machines for washing dirty diapers?

SG: Not at all. Most laundry cycles are going to finish on at least one, if not two, rinse cycles, so you're cleaning the washing machine out well. Nowadays, laundry detergents are so sophisticated that you don't need to worry.

JG: Don't you have to rinse off the um, more solid matter in the toilet first? I don't think I have the stomach for that.

SG: Even if with disposables, you're always supposed to take the poo and wash it down the toilet, no matter what.

JG: But people who use disposables don't actually do that.

SG: They should. You take the diaper off, you wrap it in a plastic bag, you put the plastic bag in the garbage...I mean, you're making a poop bomb.

JG: But three years of having to rinse off poop in the toilet...

SG: Well actually, your children toilet train much, much earlier [with cloth diapers]. From my personal experience, my daughter started using the toilet all by herself at 15 months.

JG: Why is that?

SG: They do feel the moisture up against their skin. I also think that when you're cloth diapering, it may take an extra minute or two...but that extra time and communication with your child can really encourage the child to become aware.

JG: But isn't feeling that wetness unhealthy?

SG: [With the GroVia hybrid] you have an organic cotton [soaker pad] up against their skin, or you have a corn-based [disposable liner] against their skin. No dyes, no fragrances, no chlorine. Babies who have chronic rashes do much better with cloth diapers. There's a whole thing going on with Pampers right now: Their Dry Max diapers are causing severe diaper rash.

JG: OK, it seems like you win the health argument. What about cost?

SG: On average, a family will spend $70 to $150 per month on disposable diapers. For cloth, it's a lot of money up front, but it's cheaper over the entire time you're diapering. It's about $375 to get your full cloth diaper setup, but you've paid yourself back in the fourth month.

JG: Thanks for giving me the bottom line on cloth diapers, Sarah. Sounds like it's my number one choice (and my number two).

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