Are Cloth Diapers Back? Why Some Eco-Conscious Parents Are Making the Switch

December 4, 2015

“Eight diapers per day going straight into a landfill didn’t sit right with us,”  says Elise Varnell, a Los Angeles mom with one baby girl and another on the way. “And that’s not to mention all the resources that go into manufacturing all those diapers you go through every day, week, year.” It’s not hard to see why Varnell and her family gravitated towards an alternative.

About 20 billion disposable diapers are dumped in landfills each year, adding up to more than 3.5 million tons of waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Comments on popular parenting blogs and forums echo the concern about excess waste, and moms also cite chlorine, polyacrylate, and other chemicals found in plastic disposable diapers as reasons they’ve banned them from their households. So Varnell isn’t alone—more and more parents want to make greener choices at home.

Cloth diapers are making a comeback, and according to proponents, they’ve come a long way since the days predating Marion Donovan’s first disposable diaper—made out of a shower curtain—in the late 1940s. Donovan’s innovation slowly made its way into households across America as moms had grown tired of the inconvenience of traditional cloth diapers.

Fast forward to the present, and reusable diapers are back, and they’re a far cry from the safety-pinned origami-like contraptions moms of the early 20th century had to deal with. Today’s versions boast some of the trappings of their disposable counterparts, including Velcro or snap closures, waterproof bands around the waist and legs, and even removable linings, all of which make it easier than ever for eco-conscious parents like Varnell. About five percent of American families are currently on the cloth-diaper bandwagon, and the movement is growing.

But for Varnell and many other like-minded parents, there’s just one caveat: “Going with cloth has been really easy, but the main drawback for me—sounds shallow—is that clothes don’t fit [my baby] Loretta, because of how bulky the diaper and cover are,” says Varnell. “Pants for baby girls are so tight, so I usually buy her boy pants.”

Designer Adrian Layne has a fix for that. Her line Cat & Dogma, featuring cloth-diaper-fitting onesies and two-pieces, is perhaps the cutest (and most eco-friendly) reason to make the switch. The 100-percent organic cotton, Layne explains, does more than just protect the babies wearing it. Since organic cotton is grown without chemicals, there’s no risk for toxins to seep into the ground and water; it’s a farming practice that helps keep farmers, animals, and the land safe and clean.

Produced by a dependable, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)–certified manufacturer in India, Layne’s baby clothes and accessories allow parents to continue using bulkier cloth diapers without having to upsize their baby clothes—Cat & Dogma is the only line of its kind, and it’s available exclusively on Thrive Market.

While cuteness is a bonus, for Layne, making organic cotton clothing for babies is also about preserving the planet for posterity. She quotes a Native American proverb to explain this significance: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” Whether they opt for disposable or cloth diapers, that’s a message parents everywhere can get behind.

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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Dana Poblete

Dana's love for all creatures under the sun (bugs, too) drives her in her advocacy for ethical eating, environmental sustainability, and cruelty-free living. A natural born islander, she surfs when she can, and writes, always.

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