The Best Diapers Part #1: Traditional Diapers

This one was my fault. The environmental impact diapers can have devastating. Between the high volume of non-biodegradable solid waste, or petrochemicals and chlorine use in their production, I thought we should take a look at the alternatives. Living in Chicago gives us access to diaper services and some of the alternative baby-waste-control options. Thus began extensive research into the cost of baby-waste removal. This is not about buying the diapers that would get our kid into Harvard or buying the cheapest diapers, but finding some sort of balance between cost and impact.

What we discovered was that no matter which option we chose—and unless we went with traditional diapers, no one single option would work in every situation—we were screwed. Each option had a downside worse than the last.[1] So maybe paper training really is the best option. Over the next week or so we will be detailing some of our research and posting a price comparison.

Traditional vs. Eco-Friendly Disposable Diapers

This whole farce started because I thought we could find some way around dumping 4700 diapers into the landfill each year. In addition to the raw environmental impact of traditional diapers, we were concerned about the health impact they would have on the baby. Some studies have linked the chemicals in diapers to childhood asthma. Other studies have found that the chemicals in stay-dry diapers may be the cause of diaper rash.

How about more “eco-friendly” traditional diapers. 7th Generation and Huggies offer “organic” options? These diapers use organic cotton and forgo the chorine, but are still pretty elusive when it comes to trying to track down the actual makeup of the diaper itself. Both brands say they use aloe instead of petroleum-based lotions. 7th Generation takes it a step further by eliminating latex. These options let us avoid some of the chemicals that traditional diapers use—but we are still going to be dumping non-biodegradable diapers in the landfill.

There is another problem with 7th Generation. They dye the diapers brown to make them “appear” more eco-friendly. This sort of cultural green-washing makes you feel good about using an eco-friendly solution without really reducing waste.

The only real advantage eco-friendly diapers have over traditional diapers is the reduced amount of harsh chemicals used in their production.

Price

The cost of diapers is astonishing. Baby-waste removal will cost around $1500 to $3000 a year. Diapers may be one place where the near infinite choices of the baby-industrial complex got it right. There are diapers at every budget level. As you go up the ladder from Luv’s to Earth’s Best, there is a correlation between cost and “quality.” Below is a table where we have compiled 10 different disposable diaper options [2].

Brand Type Size Package Size Cost/Unit Cost/Month Cost/Year
Luvs Ultraleak Guards Traditional 1 300 $0.13 $39.00 $1,170.00
Munchkin Super Premium Traditional 1 200 $0.15 $45.00 $1,350.00
Pampers Baby Dry Traditional 1 276 $0.17 $51.00 $1,530.00
Pampers Swaddlers Traditional 1 234 $0.20 $60.00 $1,800.00
Nurtured by Nature Eco-Friendly 1 160 $0.21 $63.00 $1,890.00
Seventh Generation
Free and Clear Baby Diapers
Eco-Friendly 1 176 $0.23 $69.00 $2070.00
Huggies Snug and Dry Diapers Traditional 1 100 $0.24 $72.00 $2160.00
Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive Traditional 1 192 $0.25 $75.00 $2,250.00
Huggies Pure and Natural Diapers Traditional 1 160 $0.30 $90.00 $2,700.00
Earth's Best Tender Care Eco-Friendly 1 176 $0.36 $108.00 $3,240.00
  • Luvs Ultra Leakguards diapers are the cheapest non-house brand diapers available today. Amazon sells them in cases of 300 for $37 or $0.13 per diaper. There is a trade off. Luvs have a bad reputation for leaks and increased diaper rash. Several bloggers also noted the strong “chemical” smell when they open a new package.
  • Pampers, like Luvs, are also made by Procter & Gamble and are positioned as their “deluxe” brand. Because of their larger-than-life marketing budget, Pampers is also the “#1 Hospital-Recommended” brand. This did not sit well with us for multiple reasons: At $0.17 a diaper for the basic Pampers Baby Dry, you are paying for a slightly thicker diaper but little else. Moms on this message board report not being able to tell a difference between the two. And then there is the issue of diaper rash caused by the “Dry Max” component of most of the Pampers line.
  • Huggies Snug and Dry diapers and Huggies Pure and Natural: For the most part, Huggies and Pampers are pretty much the same. We found a bunch of comments on different blogs that said they preferred Huggies for boys and Pampers for girls. I’m going to assume here that it’s a different distribution in padding and leak coverage. Pampers seem to reign supreme over the Huggies brand, but I’m not sure that is anything more than the brand coverage and recognition Pampers has maintained through spending millions of dollars on advertising and for their placement in hospitals. Smooth and easy indoctrination. So smart and so evil, Pampers. The real difference comes in comparing Huggies Pure and Natural to Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive. Huggies P&N markets itself as not only hypoallergenic, but lacking in the harsh chemicals found in cheaper diapers. The DaddyTypes blog took a look at their press release and provided a great dissection. At the end of the day, Huggies is still screwing you. Sure, the diapers are hypoallergenic and latex and fragrance free, but it is in a closer read that you see the only big difference between these diapers and their counterparts is a larger price tag.
  • And then there are your “eco-friendly” options. Nurtured by Nature, 7th Generation, and Earth’s Best diapers come in at $0.21, $0.23, and $.0.36 respectively. For about 5¢ more than the previous options, you remove latex and chlorine from the equation. These “eco-friendly” options are still not really eco-friendly. As discussed above, neither are biodegradable. Their advantage over The Big Three (Luvs, Pampers, and Huggies) is that you do not expose your baby to harsh chemicals.

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  1. For instance, many caretakers or daycare centers will only use traditional diapers. Also, who wants to schlep around cloth diapers when you are going on vacation or even for a weekend at the grandparents’.  ↩

  2. In order to keep things as even as possible, we are using Amazon.com’s standard prices for Size 1 diapers. Clearly this a baby will not spend a whole year in a single size nor will ever baby go through ten diapers a day, everyday for a year. As a child grows older, she or he is going to need less volume but larger diapers. Instead, the goal of this table is to give a visual guide to the disposable diapers in 2012.  ↩