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Personal Story: Beyond The Great Debate

By Laurel Web

My name is Laurel and I live in western Colorado with my husband Basil and 4-month- old son, Willow. We live off the grid in a wood stove heated house with a very small solar-electric system and without running water.

When I was pregnant, the question we were most often asked (after gender) was what we were going to do about diapers without having running water, much less a washing machine. I wasn't willing to use disposables for a variety of reasons. I didn't want to add to the 20 billion disposable diapers that Americans throw into the trash every year, didn't like that they'd live in the environment for 500 years or so, and didn't want to support the petroleum industry (30% of a disposable diaper is made out of petroleum). I also didn't want my baby spending his first few years swaddled in all that plastic and chlorine-bleached/dioxin contaminated wood pulp. (The head of the Toxic Effects Branch of EPA's National Environmental Research Center has called dioxin the most toxic chemical ever produced.)

I'd heard about gDiapers, the biodegradable, flushable, and compostable alternative to petroleum-based diapers, but didn't want to use them full-time. Luckily I'd learned about EC by stumbling upon a copy of Ingrid Bauer's book Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene. We began EC'ing Willow at birth by keeping him in receiving blankets for the first week and then by changing cloth diapers immediately when wet or dirty.

After one month, I was near breakdown from driving daily to a neighbor's house to wash diapers. I knew I had to reduce our diaper use so I picked up Ingrid's book again and started experimenting to find a good baby hold and a catching receptacle. Immediately, our washing schedule mellowed to three loads a week. Now in our fourth month of EC'ing we do one load of baby laundry per week. This includes all clothes, blankets, and the few diapers he still wets.

Living in the arid west I have always been hyper-conscious about water use. (One of the most common bumper stickers in 1990's Albuquerque, New Mexico where I grew up was "Save Water - Shower with a Friend!") Calculating 40 gallons of water used per load of wash, I've determined that we went from using 1,120 gallons of water per month washing diapers (7 loads per week) to now using 160 gallons per month washing diapers (1 load per week). That's a savings of 960 gallons of water per month,11,520 gallons saved per year, and 23,040 gallons of water saved over a short 2-year conventional diapering period.

In terms of money, I'll be spending about $100 this year to wash diapers at our Laundromat's prices of $1.75/load. This is in comparison to $640 per year at 1 load per day, or $1,280 to wash diapers over a 2-year diapering period. (This is not including the cost to dry diapers.)

Of course, all these figures are just conjecture since driving to wash diapers everyday was NOT going to be a possibility. (I couldn't keep washing at our dear neighbor's house everyday for much longer and still keep her as a dear friend. I live a 30 minute drive away from the nearest Laundromat.) Given my circumstances I would have had to turn to using gDiapers closer to full-time, which at 8 diapers per day and $.25 per biodegradable refill, would have meant a cost of about $2.00 per day or about $730 dollars per year, or $1,460 dollars for a 2-year diapering period.

The Next Frontier

I never set out to be a radical environmentalist, but it seems through chance and circumstance it is where I have landed. The best I can figure is that I've always been an avid reader and once I learn something I have a hard time turning my back on it. This is what happened a few years ago when my husband and I picked up a book about composting our human waste. The Humanure Handbook, by Joseph Jenkins, is chock full of compelling facts and figures about why it is better to compost human waste than to flush it in with our drinking water supply or bury it in pit toilets that leach into ground water.

Because we were already challenged on the water front and because we were about to fill up our 3rd outhouse hole we decided to begin composting our manure. Jenkin' book walked us through building our new 5-gallon bucket toilets and our large composting bins, and gave us all the information we needed about layering and aging our manure to make sure our resulting compost would be pathogen-free.

Willow's small plastic poop-receptacle gets emptied into our 5-gallon bucket toilet and then gets covered with a handful of wood shavings which covers the smell. We also compost all Willow's gDiaper liners (wet & dirty). When Willow was pooping in his diapers more often we would line them with ripped up sections of an old cotton bedspread that was falling apart and throw the whole mess in the composting toilet to be turned into valuable and nutrient rich soil.

Other Things We Do to be Gentle on the Earth

As for baby wipes, we make up a solution of Dr. Bronner's baby soap, aloe vera juice, water and tea tree oil and put it in the squeeze bottle that was part of my birth packet (to clean my perineum with after the birth) and then put that on cloth wipes when we need them. For travel wipes, we bought a few packets of chlorine-free disposable wipes, used them, and then washed them, put them in a Tupperware container and cover them with our baby solution. This way, if I'm able to throw them in a diaper bag to bring home to wash I do, but if I don't feel like carting a dirty wipe around I know that it's been used at least twice and feel ok about throwing it away.

We read in Mothering Magazine that instead of soaking dirty diapers in water you can use a dry diaper pail. This saved us carting 5-gallons of water back and forth to the house and then to the Laundromat. Our diapers, even the occasional dirty ones, come back clean.

We also line dry almost all of our diaper loads. It's one of the only household chores that's fun to do with Willow in his carrier, and it gets the stains out of our diapers and leaves everything smelling fresh and clean.

Almost all of our baby stuff has come to us second-hand. Not only is this easier on the pocketbook and the earth but it is easier on our baby, since hopefully most of the fire-retardants, bleaches, dyes and other industrial chemicals that are used on new products has been washed out by the time we use them.

We choose to eat organically-grown vegetables and free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free meats and dairy to limit our exposure to pesticides, herbicides, hormones and other toxic chemicals. We also avoid plastics whenever possible in order to avoid passing on bisphenol A and other chemicals to little Willow.

The Final Word on EC

EC allows us to communicate on a deeper level with our child than we would be able to do if we were ignoring (and teaching him to ignore) his elimination needs. But we also use EC because it allows us to raise our child in a way that is consistent with our values.

For many years neither my husband nor I thought we would have children because of the toll the human species has had on the planet, its systems, and other organisms. However, we eventually came to believe that it is important to support life by having children who are raised in an ecologically-sound manner and with values which will allow them to care for and live in harmony with the earth and all of its creatures. Because isn't that what it's all about - leaving our children a better world to in which to grow up ?


Real Diaper Association: Diaper Facts
Diaper Choices

Editor's Note: The gDiaper website does not recommend composting soiled liners. gDiapers:Composting 101


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