Poopy Talk

When my children were younger I wrote a weekly column, “Modern Parenting” for The Pembroke Observer newspaper. Being a stay-at-home dad was rare in our small town in 1991; people wanted to hear about my adventures. When I started this blog I promised to republish some of those old pieces, then I got sidetracked. 

 Over the next week or so I want to revisit some of the articles that have stood the test of time. Or at least I think they have. They’ll be a change of pace anyway. I don’t intend to do much in the way of editing, but may make the odd comment in italics.

By now you have probably seen the television commercial. The one where they tell you that a certain disposable diaper is good for your children and the manufacturer is doing great things for the environment. (I have no idea which diaper company this was for – it was almost 25 years ago that I wrote this)

To me, the commercial is an indication that the pendulum is swinging away from disposables and back to cloth diapers.

My parents had no choice when I was born. There were no such things as disposable diapers. Ten years later I think they were using disposables for my sister, but my memory could be faulty. Certainly by the late 1960s almost all parents were using disposables, freed from many of the unpleasant aspects of cloth diapering.

However, by the late 1970s people began reacting negatively to the idea of disposable diapers. They were convenient, but at what cost to the environment? The debate has raged ever since, with each side firing periodic salvos in the diaper war. So far it remains a stalemate. (In 2016 I think the disposable people have won the war. Or maybe it is just that I don’t hang out with people with infants.)

There are two basic diapering options: cloth or disposable. In some areas those who choose cloth are able to use a diaper service; your dirty diapers are picked up at your door and returned laundered. Not everyone can afford that option. (And I checked, Ottawa still does have diaper services. I didn’t look for prices though.)

Cloth diapers have definite advantages. There’s a hefty initial outlay, but only laundry costs after that. If you are using cloth diapers you should never run out, assuming you plan your laundry schedule and keep enough diapers on hand. It’s easy to forget to buy disposables. Also, cloth diapers can be passed down from one child to the next, a definite saving if you are having a large family. (How long should you keep your cloth diapers? Well we finally got rid of ours last year. We definitely aren’t having more children and the ones we do have are adamant that should they ever become parents they will not be using cloth diapers.)

The big advantage trumpeted by the proponents of cloth these days are environmental. Our landfills are filling up with disposable diapers, and if we don’t return to cloth we’ll be buried by our children’s feces.

Not true say the disposable diaper manufacturers. Disposable diapers make up only two per cent of municipal landfills, for less than newspapers for example.

Still, two per cent is a fair chunk. Especially when you consider it is not just the components of the diaper you have to worry about but what has been added afterward. Someone once told me you are supposed to scrape the diaper out before disposing of it, but I have never met anyone who does that. Where would the convenience go if you had to clean it like a cloth diaper? We know that landfills can leak, which means all those deposits will eventually leach into the ground water and perhaps the drinking supply. Not terribly appealing.

Disposable diaper manufacturers point out that washing cloth diapers uses more water and electricity, and adds phosphates from the soap to the sewage system. (Do soaps today have phosphates? I don’t think so.) And a disposable diaper, because of its design, will keep your child drier than the cloth equivalent.

Our choice was easy. Our son Paul was born 10 weeks before we moved to spend a year in Africa. We didn’t know if disposables would be available, so we went with cloth. (It turned out that you could occasionally buy a small package of disposables in the store, for about five times the cost in Canada.) Since we had the cloth diapers already we continued using them when we returned to Canada.

Not that it wasn’t tempting to switch sometimes.

– January 26, 1992.

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