Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Next Thing for Cloth Diapers?

I've been starting to prepare for show season -- the time of year through spring and summer when we at Two Little Whales and Punkernoodle Baby do green and baby shows. It's a fun time, because we get to talk to lots and lots of new and about-to-be parents about cloth diapers and other green parenting issues. We sell diapers at shows, but the much more important goal is education and advocacy. Some parents have heard about cloth diapering and want to know how much money they can save, or they want to get into the nitty gritty about carbon footprints (fun!!), or they simply want to put their hands on a modern cloth diaper and see what's out there beyond flat cotton and plastic pants (so much!!). Other parents had never even considered cloth, and they leave a show committed to use it after talking to and learning from us. SO COOL!

And thinking about show season got me thinking about what's next for cloth diapers? Cloth diapering has been going mainstream the past few years, and now you can even find a couple brands in big discount stores and groceries (though no one there to help you use, care for and troubleshoot with them).

So what is next? Pocket diapers have become soooo popular, and most companies over the past 18 months have crowded into the one-size diaper market. There's still room for innovation on that front -- room to solve common problems like Velcro wear, bulk, newborn sizing, and stink issues. But is that the end of the trend? The last stop on the diaper train?

I don't think so. One thing I wonder about is how to move the discussion and use of cloth diapers into even more environmentally friendly ground. I love that more and more parents are choosing cloth instead of disposables filled with chemical gels, which do not decompose in our landfills and take precious resources -- and a lot of pollution -- to produce.

But if I am honest with myself, I can see that most modern cloth diapers are not perfect in terms of their impact on the planet. Or for the health of our babies, perhaps.

Cloth diapering has been made so easy because of fabrics like PUL (polyurethane laminate), which keeps leaks in, comes in adorable colors and prints, and can withstand years of home washing routine.

But many modern cloth diapers are still manufactured with chemicals, contain plastic and synthetic materials such as polyester, and DO have an impact on our carbon footprint with regard to manufacture. These fabrics have been found to be perfectly safe for babies! Cloth diapers are now tested more stringently than ever in the U.S. under the new CPSIA law. Parents should feel as secure putting their child in a PUL pocket diaper or cover as they do putting on a nighttime fleece sleeper. But are they the best for our planet? The health of our Earth also impacts the health of our children!

Ideally, in my opinion, the safest, most environmentally and health conscious diapers are of natural fibers harvested organically, safely, either in the U.S. for a lower transportation impact, or elsewhere but still with strict oversight to make sure that the natural resources are being harvested ethically, fairly and greenly, and that they are being replenished. And that those harvesting and making diapers are being paid fairly and treated humanely.

This means organic cotton diapers, hemp or bamboo harvested in the right way, and wool covers, preferably organic wool.

Can most parents get hip to that? I don't know. It's a mental jump, one that we should be making when considering the source of all our fibers, not just diapers. Sure, a cotton diaper and wool cover might not be as "easy" or self-explanatory as a PUL one-size pocket with a polyester inner. But it has great benefits -- less chance of stink, possibly more economical, simple, customizable, easy to clean.

And, most likely, better for our planet. Food -- or fiber -- for thought.


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