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.
Buying Guide: 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.
Environment scores are assigned to diapers by combining company-level environmental indicators (weighted at 75%) with supplemental product-level environmental indicators (weighted at 25%). Available product-level information only applies to a single part of the life cycle (e.g. processing), or does not provide a definitive environmental preference (e.g. diaper type, packaging).
Environmental attributes that are relevant to diapers that are only addressed via a company's Environment score include production waste, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity and ecosystem impacts.
Product-level Environment scores for this category are based on:
Materials management indicators, including the type of diaper and choice of absorbent material, as well as packaging attributes
Positive product management indicators, specifically certifications of either the product as a whole or of a significant material component of the product
Toxic waste indicators, specifically the type of bleaching process used We selected these supplemental product-level attributes after reviewing category life cycle assessments (including a series of recent peer reviewed studies from the UK Environment Agency and a 1992 study from Franklin and Associates) and assessing data availability.
Health scores are not assigned to diapers, because this product category does not typically result in significant human exposure to potentially harmful ingredients.