Sunday, April 24, 2011

The environmental impact of cloth diapers

The great cloth diaper change to raise awareness for cloth diapering was on Saturday. People across the world changed a cloth diaper at the same time. It will be in the Guinness book of world records.  A lot of communities held events.  I debated attending the Anchorage event due to the early a.m. start time but I went anyway.

In honor of the great cloth diaper change the topic of this post will be the environmental benefits of cloth diapers over disposable diapers. I am not doing this to put down people who don’t use cloth but to debunk  the myth that there is no difference in the environmental impact between cloth diapers and disposables.
There are numerous articles out there claiming that the impact of cloth is similar or worse than disposable diapers. Many of these articles are sponsored by disposable diaper companies. They claim that because of the energy used to wash the diapers and the water used in a load of wash that the impact is the same or worse for cloth. This is not true. While attending college and studying environmental issues I have done many environmental impact analyses which analyze the impact of different products.

What makes washing a diaper any different than washing your clothes? Is anyone suggesting disposable clothing or towels? Most water use actually comes from manufacturing and agriculture. Water is a renewable resource and a very local issue. If you live in an area that is water insecure it is very important to conserve water. The main reason rivers don’t reach the ocean is because of agriculture and manufacturing practices not because of household usage. Manufacturing disposable diapers uses more water than washing cloth diapers.  Each time you use a cloth diaper it is comparable to a toilet flush. There are plenty of ways to conserve household water. There are multiple ways to conserve household water such has low-flow toilets, not flushing every time you urinate (if it’s yellow let it mellow), taking shorter showers, brushing your teeth and not letting the water run, and purchasing energy star appliances.

Running the washing machine also uses energy but you cannot ignore the huge energy costs of manufacturing thousands of throw away diapers.  An average baby goes through 6-12 diapers a day. As they get older they use less but if that baby is in diapers for 2-4 years that is thousands of diaper changes or disposable diapers that need to be manufactured and shipped across the world.  Cotton is a crop that uses a lot of energy and pesticides to produce compared to paper but much less cloth diapers are being produced than disposables so it isn’t a good comparison. Not all cloth diapers are made from cotton any way. More energy is used in producing disposable diapers even when you compare it to the energy used to wash the cloth. Washing machines are much more efficient now than in the past. The studies that say they are similar are not accurate with how long cloth diapers last, with the water temperature used or with the energy current washing machines use.  

Producing disposables uses 20 times more raw materials than producing cloth diapers and generate 60 times more solid waste.  It also releases dioxin from the bleaching of paper.  Articles have said that cloth releases more toxins because of the detergent but it isn’t comparable to what is released from manufacturing. Most people who use cloth diapers use green detergents anyway.  There is also concern over the substance that gels up in the diaper. Disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer item in the landfill. In a household that uses disposables it will be about 50% of that household’s waste.

It takes audacity to try to claim that a throw away product that you need to use thousands and thousands of compared to a renewable product that you reuse but have to wash is similar in impact.  

There are ways of using cloth that are more environmentally friendly. You can line dry your diapers and use flats and hand wash them in a basin and dry them on a line.  I am not a fast and good folder so I don’t use flats but all of my diapers have been through 2 kids and most have been used for 3 kids.  I am not perfect though and I am not putting down people who don’t use cloth. I am using disposables at night right now because I haven’t found a good nighttime system for my children. I definitely encourage people to consider using cloth if they are considering it. It is not difficult with the cloth diapers available today that have snaps and velcro. It saves money and uses less resources and energy.  Another bonus is that they look pretty cute. Below is my 3 babies around the same age with the pets in cloth.

Delia in a cloth diaper with the dog
Teddy in a cloth diaper with the cat
Cora in a cloth diaper with the cat

Monday, April 18, 2011

Garden Boxes

I got the idea to make garden boxes from pallets from a friend and this weekend we started making them at my friend Sarah's house so we can grow more vegetables this year. We used the instructions from this site.

Mike saw pictures from my friend's project and the website they got it from and said he would build them for us. We picked the pallets up for free from an air cargo place and got to work on Sunday. It was a beautiful sunny day with perfect weather for staying outside all day. The kids were pretty good. Sarah's friend helped her clear the leaves from her property. Mike took the pallets apart and built the boxes. I cut the pieces with a power tool and nursed the baby and we all helped with the kids. No one lost any limbs or digits so it was a good day.

It takes a little bit extra time to build garden boxes this way but it was using a material that would otherwise be thrown away and putting it to use and they are free. They are cool because we can put a bunch of raised beds on the property but if we ever have to move and the buyers don't want a yard filled with garden beds they are portable and can moved. It was a fun project and I even used a power tool to cut the pieces to size. We will be making more. Hopefully we will eventually get to make them for our mini homestead. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I woke up this morning to white stuff flying. I don't mind snow but I like it to occur between late October and late February. The snow isn't bothering me too much because some how it makes spring and planting season farther away than it is.

Soon our condo will be on the market and we can start looking for places and I can have at least a small yard. Most likely this year won't be able to plant at our place and we might not even be in a place in time to build any beds or a greenhouse. I do have my friend's yard and her parent's have even offered us use of their greenhouse. We can at least design some cold frames/greenhouses with pvc pipes hoops and row cloth at her house. She will probably get chicken for her yard and we will have eggs. I will get to garden.

I just can't wait to have my yard. I always wanted to live in eco village and grow my own food on a large piece of land. I know now you don't need huge amounts of land to grow a lot of your food. With 3 small children and a need for income we can't build the straw bale dream house. I can get a south facing place with a yard and aside from a sand box and a swing set and a dog run start building raised bed garden boxes and cold frames and Mike can probably build a big green house. I can make all kinds of stuff in a bigger kitchen that I don't have to worry about being ready to show. I can build a turkey coop and possibly buy a dog house on craiglist for a pair of goats. I know I have next summer and that I do at least have my friend's house where we can garden.

I don't mind living in a condo and try to live with less. I think condos are good for neighborhood development if they are designed well since they add density. I wish the condo had land where you could garden, a dog run and a place for children to play. Our condo has served our growing family well for 6 years now. We didn't have to worry about shoveling and have a nice storage space and a garage. We are close to a trail that is nice to take walks on. Now that we are moving on I can't wait for the transition period to be done with. I can have my own little mini farm where I can experiment and grow a lot of our food. I can try growing hulless oats, lots of tomatoes, strawberries, corn and quinoa. I know there will be bad years and some failures but in the process there will successes too and we will learn from mistakes. There will be bad weather years like last year without much sun  where we didn't get much but there will be nice sunny summers with bumper crops too.

Snow is falling and it is still winter like outside so it isn't spring and I don't have to worry about having a yard yet. ; ) This summer will be a nice one since we are due for a sunny year. It will be nice to not have to worry about multiple layers and gloves an the extra prep time that goes with that to enjoy the outdoors. Next winter Teddy will be older and hopefully will tolerate layers and a cold face better.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Rural vs suburban

Today I went to a backyard chicken class with my friend. It was neat and I at least gained some confidence to try for some chickens. There will probably be some trial and error like with the garden. I also hoping to have some turkeys for meat and a goat for milk. I will need to keep the turkeys away from the chickens.

Today the kids went to a babysitter and we got a lot done to get the condo ready. All the clutter has gone to thrift stores or boxed up in storage for when we move. I am glad we finally got someone to watch the kids because we got so much more done than every other weekend when they are around. Delia and Teddy had a good time and Cora did ok. She cried a little but she was able to calm down.

I can't wait until we get the place on the market. I hope it sells soon. With spring and summer around the corner I wish I could start gardening and homesteading this summer but it most likely won't happen this summer. We have been considering moving to Palmer. Mike would be able to work from home if he had an office. I am worried he have to go in to Anchorage pretty often and I don't want the carbon footprint of a long commute. He is willing to do a rideshare or a bus on the days he goes in. I am torn on whether to get a place in Anchorage with a decent yard and doing a urban homestead or moving to the Valley and getting a place on an acre and doing a larger homestead. I found a really nice preschool and swimming classes in Palmer. There are 2 good schools and the place I am eyeing is in a school district that has a 10 on I am used to living in the city though and I have friends in Anchorage. It would be hard to live farther away from Sarah and see them less and I couldn't convince her to move there herself ; ) I also like the idea of an urban homestead and don't need a lot of space if a house made good use of space. Anchorage is actually a suburb city and not very walkable and the new governor it will most likely not be making much effort on title 21 to improve that.

So we will look at places in both Anchorage and Palmer and hope our place doesn't take to long to sell.