A much debated question. One study found that disposable diapers use 70% more energy, but this was in 1991 and there are still questions about which are better. Disposable diapers add to 5 million tons of untreated waste and 3 billion tons of feces, plastic and paper end up in landfills per year. The waste can contaminate groundwater and can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, if ever. Annually, 800,000 pounds of plastic and 200,000 trees are devoted to the manufacture of disposable diapers in the United States.
Meanwhile, cloth diapers are made from cotton and unless it is organic, this is an energy-intensive crop that uses pesticides. It takes energy to clean them. Still, the comparison seems to lean in favor of reusable diapers as long as you are careful about what kind you purchase and how you clean it (cold water, hang dry, etc).
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