Diapering in a Drought

California is in a severe drought. Like many others in the Bay Area (and just about anyone who has grown up in California and lived through many other droughts), our household has long been practicing water-conservation. That means there is not much we can do to cut back further – our lawn is already deader than dead and we dread laundry and dishes so much that every load is completely full anyway.

Having a baby does throw a bit of a wrench in our water conservation efforts, though. There is more laundry to do and being at home during maternity leave means more dishes, as well. When we found out we were expecting, we had thought we would use cloth diapers – one of the few things I saved from Jack’s infancy. But then the drought got worse – it’s now considered to be one of the most severe droughts on record for California. There is talk of fining households that don’t cut their water usage. Even worse, there are worries over drinking water shortages.

Considering this, we started thinking cloth diapering may not be the way to go after all.

There is a lot of debate about the amount of water required to wash cloth diapers versus the resources needed to manufacture disposable diapers and then dispose of them, and which type of diaper has the bigger environmental impact. Most studies seem to come to a similar conclusion – there is no clear answer as to which is better for the environment because availability of resources (water vs. landfill space) differs by geographic area. Landfill space is always an issue, sure, but the scarcity of water can reach emergency levels much more quickly – which is now what we’re looking at in California.

With these things in mind, I started wondering about alternatives to both cloth and disposable diapering. Aside from elimination communication (which I have neither the time nor the stomach to try), other options are gDiapers (with flushable inserts) and cloth diapering services. Unfortunately, gDiapers present many of the same problems as disposables, with the added concern over the possible clogging up of the plumbing in addition to the extra flushing required. Further, in our county they cannot be composted by our waste management company. Diaper services, on the other hand, use only prefold diapers (the kind that require folding and pinning/snappi-ing and a cover) – which I loathe due to the bulk and the lack of moisture-wicking. When I used prefolds with Jack, we easily went through twice as many diapers each day as we would have with other types of cloth and/or disposables. Using twice as much cuts into the benefits of using a service that washes them in bulk, no?

This diapering thing seems so much more complicated that it used to be.

I finally stumbled upon diaper composting services. Some of the same diaper services that offer drop-off/pick-up and washing of prefold cloth diapers also offer a disposable option – you can buy eco-friendly disposable diapers from the company, which will drop them off weekly and pick up the dirty ones to compost at their facility. The service eliminates the extra water usage issue AND saves us from sending more garbage to the landfill (and paying for a bigger garbage can)! Two such services here in the Bay Area are Earth Baby and Tiny Tots.

Right now we’re trying out Earth Baby (they offer a 1-month free trial). So far it’s working out fairly well, although I have to mention that Desmond is a super soaker and has leaked out of the diapers at night lately (in reading reviews, it’s an issue with some babies using the Naty brand of diapers, which are the only brand Earth Baby offers), so we’ve taken to using Huggies for nighttime diapering. The Huggies have to go into our garbage can, of course, but it’s only around 10 diapers a week so…we’ll take it; I can’t be washing sheets every day!

The diaper composting service is not a big money-saver, unfortunately. The diapers and wipes can only be purchased through the service and are more expensive (the service has to make a profit somehow). We are avoiding the cost of additional water usage and a larger garbage can, though. And, well, I am not sad that I’m avoiding the laundry involved with cloth diapers, either…cloth is soft and cute and great for sensitive baby skin, but extra laundry still sucks!

I’m no expert but so far, this seems like one of the most environmentally-friendly diaper options for Californians right now.

What do you think? Does the environmental impact influence your household’s diapering decisions? Do you have drought conditions to take into account in your area?