Diapers - cloth or disposable
Since the average child is diapered 7,000 times before being toilet trained, this is not a trivial question. One recent study found that 18 billion disposable diapers had been dumped in landfills in one year. But another report, issued by the Minnesota Extension Service, said there is no clear answer to which type of diaper is better. Besides impact on the environment and effect on baby's skin, you must also consider cost (disposables cost twice as much), health requirements of child care centers (most require disposables), and convenience.
Regarding the environmental impact, two primary concerns are raised about disposable diapers: the impact of nonbiodegradable materials used in the diapers, and the health risk from untreated feces remaining on the diapers when they are disposed. Experts recommend emptying the waste from disposables into the toilet, but few people do. On the other hand, studies also point out that laundering cloth diapers has environmental costs, too. A large load of diapers requires 45 to 50 gallons of water, half of which is heated and all of which is treated as waste.
As for the impact on your baby, he or she can have healthy skin with either type of diaper. Superabsorbent disposables keep skin dry, but it's important to check often to see if baby needs changing. Since these diapers don't leak as readily, parents are not alerted to change them as frequently. Among cloth diapers, those that are made of layers of different fabrics work best, wicking the moisture away from baby's skin. Also, while it is important to clean the baby's skin carefully when changing the diaper, it's wise to avoid alkaline soaps and diaper wipes that contain alcohol, which can dry the skin. Zinc oxide ointment is especially effective in controlling diaper rash.
So, how do you decide? Since there is no clear environmental or comfort differences between cloth and disposable diapers, use what works best for your child and the circumstances of your family.