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Shopping Tips for Disposable Diapers

The issues

Which are the best baby diapers — reusable cloth or disposable diapers? The impacts of diapers, which come from manufacturing, consumer use and disposal, vary significantly depending on whether the product is reusable or disposable. The most important impacts include:

  • Water consumption and pollution from manufacturing disposable diapers or growing cotton for reusable cloth diapers.
  • Water and energy consumption at home or in a commercial laundry to wash reusable diapers.
  • Solid waste from manufacturing and landfill disposal of disposable diapers.

What to look for

Cradle to Cradle certification, which identifies products that have met stringent health and environment standards (requiring ingredient analysis and a life cycle assessment)

Organic cloth reusable diapers or diapers with flushable inserts. Cloth diapers consume more water, but disposables generate more landfill waste. If you have a high efficiency washing machine and know how to use it effectively, organic cloth diapers are estimated to have the lowest overall environmental impact. If you live where fresh water is limited, disposables better preserve regional water resources.

Diapers bleached using a totally chlorine-free (TCF) method.

GoodGuide recommendations

When buying diapers, select the product that works best for you and your baby. Maintaining hygiene and your child’s comfort are the most important considerations. From an environmental perspective, reusable and disposable diapers both have significant impacts and neither type has an overwhelming advantage. Do what you can to pick the best baby diapers within either type:

  • If you opt for home laundered cloth diapers, reduce your impact by choosing organic cotton products and by using an efficient washing machines with recommended detergent and cold or warm water. Air dry for the smallest environmental footprint.
  • If you opt for disposable diapers, select a flushable version to avoid the solid waste impacts of adding diapers to municipal waste streams.

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