The environmental arguments centered around methods of diapering break down into 2 categories:
1. The aggressive consumption of natural resources.
2. The landfill impact.
NATURAL RESOURCE CONSUMPTION:
The manufacturing of disposables consumes 70% more energy than the average reusable diaper per diaper change, consuming 3.4 billion gallons of oil and over 250,000 trees annually. Over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby EACH YEAR.
To better understand consumption's relationship with disposable diapers, you need to know WHAT EXACTLY it takes to make a disposable diaper.
Disposables are made of:
a: a waterproof polyethylene outer layer
b: an inner layer made from wood pulp and synthetic polyacrylate
c: a water-repellent liner.
d: most brands have fragrances and perfumes
So, beginning with the waterproof polyethylene outer layer and water-repellent liner, let's look at their raw materials. Oil is the raw material for the polyethylene in disposables. We are all aware it is a 'pressed' non-renewable resource. It takes 1 cup of crude oil to make the plastic for 1 disposable diaper. Taking that a bit further, it takes 286 lbs. of plastic (including diaper packaging) per year to supply 1 baby in disposable diapers. Going inside of the diaper, you'll uncover an inner layer made from wood and sodium polyacrylate. Getting back to numbers, it takes 200-400 kg. of fluff pulp to supply 1 baby in disposables for 1 year. On the other hand, if you go the cloth diaper route, you'll use less than 10 kg of cotton for 2 (not just 1) years worth of diapering! That is a significant way to reduce oil consumption and cotton is a very renewable resource. Wood pulp, in and of itself, indirectly serves as a contaminant, because it has to be bleached for that 'whiter than white' look of disposable diapers.
According to the CDC (Cotton Diaper Coalition), it takes massive amounts of water to process wood pulp into paper for throwaways. Little recycled paper is used in the production of most throwaways. The production of a disposable diaper comes at a high environmental price both in water and energy.
Approximately 28 billion disposable diapers are consumed every year in the U.S.-- ultimately ending up in our landfills. No one knows how long it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose, but it is estimated to be about 250-500 years, long after your children, grandchildren and great, great, great grandchildren will be gone.
Disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills, and represent about 4% of solid waste.
In a house with a child in diapers, disposables make up 50% of household waste.
Disposable diapers generate sixty times more solid waste and use twenty times more raw materials, like crude oil and wood pulp.
The manufacture and use of disposable diapers amounts to 2.3 times more water wasted than cloth.
For more information and sources go to The Real Diaper Association
...a non-profit organization working to create a cultural shift to increase the use of simple, reusable cloth diapers.