The Environmental Hypocrisy of Paper Diapers


| 2/18/2011 1:24:34 PM


Tags: paper, diapers, environmental impact, dishwashers, Cam Mather,

I believe I do a good job of pointing out my own hypocrisy whenever I’m railing on about something. I make it very clear that while I really think I’ve got my “energy” house in order when it comes to heating and powering my home, I live in the country and drive way more than I should. I admit my shortcomings but also share how Michelle and I try to minimize our car trips, use our bikes, invested in a solar-powered electric bike, etc.

As I read The New York Times on November 28th I noticed an article called “Living a Green Lifestyle, But Wrestling With Guilt.” I could certainly relate. My reality of living in the country and being able to grow my own food and produce all my own heat and electricity means that I drive more than someone living downtown with access to transit. But if you live in the city, your food is grown by someone living in the country and is trucked to your local store. So I think it kind of cancels each other out.

The article included an interview with the author of “The Lazy Environmentalist: Your Guide to Easy, Stylish, Green Living.” Alarm bells obviously went off for me. Let’s be honest - if you really want to be a good environmentalist, it’s going to be pretty tough to be stylish in your second-hand store clothing. And I don’t think anyone would suggest that riding your bike 40 miles to visit your Grandma could be considered as “easy”.  By the time you get to your destination, after riding your environmentally friendly bicycle, you’re going to be all hot and sweaty with bad hair. The last time I checked a fashion magazine this look wasn’t considered “stylish.” But really, this is the stuff you’ve got to do. To describe it otherwise is false advertising.

In the article the writer got the author to admit that he and his wife tried using cloth diapers for their 5-month-old baby and he said, “We tried cloth and think it’s totally unrealistic.” Huh? Have you read the title of your book recently? I’ve got news for you, up until about the last 30 years there was no alternative to cloth diapers. Pretty amazing that civilization was able to survive all that time without them. In fact disposable diapers are the poster child for what’s wrong with the planet. And what is that? What’s wrong with disposable diapers? EVERYTHING! Amazingly enough, the writer of the article was able to find a number of other “environmentalists” who use disposable diapers.

So let’s try and get our heads around this. We head out into the forest and we put gas in our chainsaw and we cut down live, beautiful, carbon-absorbing trees. Then we use massive diesel-sucking, pollution-belching tractors to haul those trees out of the forest, and put them on huge diesel trucks and ship them to huge energy-inhaling factories that turn those trees into pulp. Then we package and ship that pulp to another factory hours or days away in another diesel-belching truck, then use massive amounts of energy to turn that pulp into diapers. And since no one wants a leaky diaper we then wrap those diapers in plastic liners. And where does that plastic come from? … Anyone, anyone?… Yes - oil. Did you watch TV last year? Did you see the Macondo oil well blow out in the Gulf of Mexico? And you say cloth diapers are unrealistic?

Don’t forget all those wonderful “moisture absorbing” chemicals like sodium polyacrylate that we put into those diapers so they that can retain more liquid. And since they don’t leak we tend to leave them on our babies for way longer than their tender behinds should be exposed to that stuff.

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t brandt
2/19/2011 10:05:51 AM

I wouldn't get my diapers all in a bunch over this one. The energy cost of growing, harvesting, shipping and processing trees for diapers is probably pretty close to that for doing the same with cotton- and forests may have more eviro-benefits for the planet than cropland. Don't forget the energy input of heating water to wash cotton diapers. And that cotton prices are at all time highs and going higher. Land fills are a problem when viewed on a "human life" time scale, but not in geologic time, so this isn't really a problem. Landfills are often turned into excellent, usable recreational areas when filled. Very importantly, babies using disposable diapers have fewer infectious problems- probably because parents change the diapers more frequently because it's so easy. It's nice to have choices and one shouldn't feel badly about taking the easy way out on this one.





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