Saturday, May 17, 2014

Flats and Handwashing: a Question of Time or a Bigger Socio-economic issue?

When I first started this challenge, I had some serious doubts about if it was going to be worth my time.  I'm a busy parent, I work full time, why would I want to give up a moment of my life to handwashing?  Is this really something that is practical for working parents and would I want to do this on a regular basis?

Even I was shocked by how easy this challenge was for me this year and by the amount of money I saved compared to using disposable diapers.  Last year's challenge seemed much more difficult to me, but this was because we had so many health issues during the challenge, my baby was a mere 2 months old (he used 15+ diapers per day!), and I was recovering on my maternity leave.  It was a constant battle to keep up with the washing!  My now 14-month-old is only using 5-6 cloth diapers in a day and that makes handwashing almost too easy.  I'm probably the laziest handwasher out there: I do the least amount of agitation possible, and I soak in hot water to avoid having to do a lot of work.  I've also been known to recruit my older daughter to help with the process!

Handwashing was much easier than I was expecting, but I still wondered if it was actually worth it.  Environmental impact aside, many people just want to know if it makes sense financially.  Is my time too valuable to cloth diaper? I first looked at the cost of disposable diapers for 1 week.  Pampers brand (size 4) best price found at Walmart, estimated a 7.252% tax: $16.12 per week.

Since I never buy disposable diapers except for overnight use, I was surprised to see how expensive the diapers actually are. A package of 152 size 4 diapers would only last us about 25 days and would set us back $46 + shipping.  Maybe I could save some money by buying generic disposable diapers, but we've tried generic brands and had really bad experiences with them (gel beads exploding out of the diaper or getting peed on because the diaper didn't hold everything in).  We often used more of the generic diapers because of leaks, so I think estimating $0.36 per diaper is pretty accurate (reference).

During this challenge, I was saving about $2.30 a day by handwashing and using cloth diapers.  It doesn't seem like a lot, but that amount adds up quickly. It's $840 a year, it's $1681 over two years.  If I planned to handwash diapers full-time, I would definitely invest in some equipment to help with the process.  What about a mini-hand washer?  What about a bigger bucket so I could wash 2 days' worth of diapers at a time?  There are certainly ways to make the handwashing easier on yourself and make it worth your time.
Line Drying Cloth Diapers on a Shower Curtain

However, aside from complaining about convenience or discussing how "My time is just too valuable, blah, blah" this does not address that there are real people out there who are struggling to come up with the money to buy disposable diapers at all.  Government assistance won't help with the cost of disposable diapers (reference).  I've heard of people cleaning poop out of a disposable diaper to reuse it.  I've heard of people limiting their child to only one diaper PER DAY. Can you even imagine it?  Here we are debating about only saving $2.30 a day, and children are living in terrible conditions because their families don't have $2.30 a day for them.  It makes you a little sick, doesn't it?  Research is telling us that 1/3 of American families are struggling with these issues (reference).
Some companies provide a diaper to a child in need with each purchase.

Awareness is perhaps the biggest issue we need to overcome.  We need to show people that they can cloth diaper with re-purposed fabrics, old T-shirts, or whatever they have around the house.  There should be no reason to let a baby go an entire day without a diaper change.  There should be no reason to have to choose between diapers or heat for your home.  Please, please, please take the time to spread the message about cloth diapers. Make a donation to an organization that educates parents and provides free cloth diapers to those in need (like Cloth For Everybum). This is a big issue, and, just like handwashing, we can tackle it with a little bit of work.

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