The Environment and Your Baby’s Diapers and Wipes

Posted on August 11, 2016 in


, by Jennifer Zethner, RN,MS, PNP


The Environment and Your Baby’s Diapers and Wipes

Consider how many diapers and wipes you use every day, every week and then every year - for just one child. Then multiply that number by 2 or 3 years—the average age a child is before toilet training—and you have well passed the 1,000 mark. Some diapers and wipes may have a negative impact on your child’s health and can also harm the environment, so it’s best to learn more about the different diapers and wipes available.

Disposable Diapers

The chemical (sodium polyacrylate) that makes many disposable diapers “super-absorbent” can stick to a baby’s bottom, causing a rash. Super-absorbents heat up when wet, adding to the risk of rash, as well as a concern for baby boys developing testes.

Disposable diapers also contain a chemical called tributyl-tin, which is not biodegradeable and has been shown to trigger genes that cause obesity in humans.

Disposable diapers constitute the third largest source of solid waste to landfills. 1.3 million tons of wood pulp or ¼ million trees are consumed in the production of diapers. The production of diapers releases toxic byproduct- dioxin into the air during chlorine bleaching of the wood pulp; dioxin is a carcinogen


Why choose organic-cotton disposable diapers?

For one thing, organic-cotton disposable diapers are free of pesticides. Huggies Pure and Natural, for instance, is made of organic cotton.

Conventional cotton, on the other hand, covers only 3 percent of the world’s farmland, but uses 25 percent of the world’s chemicals—pesticides and fertilizers. And in the U.S. alone, it is estimated that 900 million pounds of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and chemical defoliants will be used on conventional cotton each year.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, many of the pesticides used on conventional, U.S. cotton crops are potential or known human carcinogens, as well as neurotoxins.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that organic cotton is not free of chemicals.

Green Tip: Purchase organic cotton and support those farmers who are not using toxic chemicals to produce their products.


Why choose chlorine-free diapers?

The production of wipes, diapers and other “white” paper products involves bleaching. Whitening with chlorine creates dangerous toxins which can cause serious problems in the environment. For example, the Seventh Generation and Earth’s Best brand is chlorine free, but is not made of organic cotton, and is not chemical free.

Green Tip: To avoid the harmful effects of chlorine, try to avoid “white” products (napkins, toilet paper, etc.) as often as possible.


Cloth Diapers

Depending on the type of cloth used, these diapers are gentler on a baby’s skin. Plus, they are reusable, so there is less of an impact on the planet, and free of chemicals.

However, production of the cloth diaper and cleaning consumes energy and water, and generates air pollution, even more of an impact on the environment if the cloth diaper is made of conventional cotton. Diaper service delivery trucks consume gas and release fumes. The laundering of diapers uses electricity/gas and may add toxins into the water supply if chemical free detergents are not used.

Therefore the overall environmental impact is about the same for all options of diapers (disposable, cloth with diaper service/cloth laundered at home).

For disposable diapers, the most significant impact comes during manufacturing and disposal; for home laundered, the primary impact comes from electricity used in washing and drying and for commercially laundered, the biggest impact comes from use of fuels and electricity.

Green Tip: Try alternating the use of both disposable and cloth diapers on your baby. 


Many of us become “addicted” to the baby wipe—using them for multiple purposes, not only on baby but for wiping down the changing table, hands, toys, household chores and more. Many wipes contain alcohol which will dry baby’s skin. And unless it reads ‘chlorine-free’ most are made of bleached materials. Instead, use a spray bottle with water and a washcloth.

Green Tip: Rid your home of wipes; use spray bottles instead! Use them everywhere—to dust, wipe down counters and baby’s high chair. Add some vinegar, lemon, and essential oils to the water to create a clean, fresh scent.


Other Resources:

  • Green Babies, Sage Moms, Lynda Fassa
  • Growing Up Green: Deirdre Imus
  • Guide to Natural Baby Care, M. Pennybacker/A. Ikramuddin


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