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The Great Diaper Debate

By Kirsten Hawkins

Way back when in the days of Home Ec, one favorite class was 'how to diaper baby'. Turning a flat piece of absorbent cotton into a comfortable, well-fitting nappy was a trick that seemed to require the dexterity and legerdemain of a trained magician. Worse, diapering the baby clumsily came with the very real fear of jabbing a squirming infant with a diaper pin. Generations of mommies suffered pinpricked fingers rather than risk a scratch to baby's delicate skin.

All that changed with the advent of disposable diapers. Even the unfitted, flat, uncomfortable first generation disposables were worlds above typical cloth diapers for convenience and ease of use. Just unfold the back, pull the plastic up between the baby's legs and smooth it against his belly, and tape the back to the front. Voila! Instant diaper. Even better - no need for washing. No dirty diapers soaking in a pail of borax. No smell, no fuss, no laundry service - just un-tape, wrap the diaper up and toss it in the trash.

For mothers of my generation, Pampers was the dividing line between 'back then' and now. I can't count the number of mothers, grandmothers, aunts and older female relatives who started off a tale with 'Of course, we never had Pampers, WE had to..."

The advantages were obvious: disposables were cleaner, more sanitary, more convenient. They did away with hours and hours of laundering and drying, making time for lots of other things. If you were the least bit conscious of disposal, you could completely eliminate the dirty-diaper smell - just wrap it up tight in a plastic bag in put it in the OUTSIDE trash. And no more wrestling with a squirming baby while you tried to pin his nappy closed, nor having the whole thing slip off his adorable little butt because you missed a layer of cloth when pinning.

The disadvantages were not so readily apparent, but they were nonetheless real. The major point against disposable diapers is a potent one: disposable diapers may be great for mother, but they put an enormous strain on Mother Earth. Some facts:

  • Over 19 billion disposable diapers annually end up in landfills - where they do not degrade.

  • Disposable diaper makers use more than a million tons of wood pulp every year.

  • The manufacturing process creates waste that contains dioxins, heavy metals and industrial solvents.

In a world with limited resources, disposable diapers consume resources and create pollutants and hazardous chemicals. Is the convenience worth the damage to the Earth?

On the face of it, the debate does seem to be one more instance of man - in this case mommies - putting their own convenience above what's best for the world.

But there's yet another side to the debate - disposable diaper.

About The Author
Kirsten Hawkins is a baby and parenting expert specializing new mothers and single parent issues.

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