Pooping the Progressive Way

11/22/2008 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

Stop... what's happened to my Huffington Post? I come to the best blog in America to find policy, the economy, the election... I am an intellectual: What does the bathroom have to do with the state of our world? Well, I'm Sloan Barnett and I'm here to tell you that while you are worrying about November 4th and your stock portfolio--your kids are still pooping. And it's more important than ever that they are doing it in the right place. So let's jump in head first to a mess even bigger than American politics.

Today, the average baby goes through some eight thousand diapers before being potty trained, a number that's increasing steadily with the ease and convenience of disposable diapers. By some estimates, 95 percent of parents use plastic disposable diapers. They're incredibly convenient. They work. As a working mom I've struggled with the Great Diaper Question since my first son was born. I like the ease of disposables as much as any parent, but I also want what's safest for my children and the planet. After all, in those first years, diapers touch your baby's skin even more than you do.

Despite their convenience, however, the plain fact is that according to the EPA, diapers account for 3.4 million tons of waste dumped into landfills every year. And no one knows how long it will take for these diapers to break down. Think of them as little bundles of infant poop wrapped loosely in essentially indestructible packages. If that weren't enough to make you stop and think, there is the matter of the chemicals used when these diapers are being made. Conventional disposable diapers are made of bleached paper fibers, sodium polyacrylate absorbent gels, plastics and other materials I don't want next to my baby's skin. The chlorine used to bleach the paper fibers is bad enough, but the manufacturing process is also known to release dioxin, a probable carcinogen, as well as tributylin (TBT), a biocide used in paper mills that is highly toxic to wildlife.

Cloth diapers, on the other hand, are made of cotton, and you can wash and reuse them over and over again before adding them to your rag pile. So this should be another no-brainer. But it's not that simple. Think of all the energy and water you use doing load after load of diapers. Think of the dollar value of your time while you're doing all that wash. And think, too, of the environmental costs associated with growing the cotton (conventional cotton production is a massive use of fertilizers and pesticides) and producing and bleaching the cloth.

From an environmental and cost standpoint, there is no perfect option. Like they sometimes say in politics, choosing what to do with your baby's poop is like choosing between two evils. So here are a few options that I found on my "Great Diaper" quest.

* Cotton reusable diapers have come a long way since our mothers were using them. They now conform to your baby's bottom and can even be closed with Velcro instead of those scary safety pins. Try to find some that are made of organic cotton.
* There are a few disposables that are better for the environment and do not contain the nasty chemicals listed above. Some even come with biodegradable liners that can be flushed down the toilet.

There is no one answer; so find a combination that works for you and your family. I, for one, found that organic cloth diapers work best for the day while eco-friendly disposable diapers work best at night. The point is that we have choices today. Choices that are safe for our babies and for the planet (and depending on the option you choose, better for your wallet). So believe it or not---after the election is over, we will continue to have to make important decisions. But just like politics, always consider all options and try to make your best green choice.