The Diaper Dilemma: Cloth or Disposable? Part 2

When I started to write about backpacking with babies and camping with kids, I carried a prejudice against disposable diapers. I assumed that disposables used up precious resources—wood fibers for the absorbent inner lining and fossil fuels for the plastic coverings. In addition, my experiences with early disposables had not been happy ones; the absorbent layers leaked and the sides of the diapers did not fit well. I thought cloth diapers were more absorbent, fit better, and didn’t waste resources. That was a long time ago. Since then disposable diapers have improved; they fit very nicely around a baby’s legs and they are much more absorbent. Also I have learned a lot more about what constitutes precious resources. My current thinking on the cloth vs. disposable debate: it all depends on where you live.

Here in the Northwest, where I live, water is abundant, hydro-electric power is abundant, and our forests need protection, so I still vote for cloth diapers here. However, a correspondent living in a Southwestern state pointed out that where he lives, water is their most precious resource, not to be wasted washing diapers. Furthermore, in his community, he said, coal-burning electric plants are being phased out, to be replaced by garbage-burning plants fitted with scrubbers that clean the exhaust. Less coal, cleaner air, an argument for disposable diapers.

Next question: what does that mean for diapers in camp? Look for Part 3.

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