If a mother uses disposable, plastic diapers from the time a baby is born until potty-training, those diapers will stay in the landfill for 500 years after being tossed — far after the baby, the baby’s grandchildren and subsequent generations have grown out of diapers. A Kaua‘i mother of two, with one more due in October, has taken it upon herself to address this problem on Kaua‘i (where landfill space is shrinking at alarming rates) and is offering alternative, natural diapers for Kaua‘i’s smallest keiki.
Holly Chew, of Cushy Tush knows what it’s like to fold a diaper or two. Some 24 months ago, when her second son was born, she became determined to find an eco-sensitive solution to diapering her little boy, Zion. “I saw my friend using cloth diapers, and it just made sense to me. Especially on Kaua‘i, this transition should be made, from the tossing away pounds of contaminated plastic into our landfills, to taking a bit more time and making a more responsible decision,” Chew said.
According to Green Shopper.com, an eco-consumer Web site, “About 5 million tons of untreated body excrement, which may carry over 100 intestinal viruses, is brought to landfills via disposables. This may contribute to groundwater contamination and attract insects that carry and transmit diseases. In 1990, 18 billion disposables were thrown into United States landfills.”
According to Mothering Magazine, “… throw-away diapers make up the third most common item in our landfill spaces, behind paper products and food containers.”
Chew began her home business by navigating through the sea of diaper-alternatives on the market. “The current statistic of cloth diaper-users in the U.S. is only 5 percent,” said Chew. In the 1970s this statistic was reversed, with disposables used only occasionally, for going out or long errands with mom. “We should be moving in the opposite direction. Our lives are so fast, everything is instant. I wanted to slow down a bit. It just feels better not tossing away diaper after diaper,” said Chew.
Cushy Tush is a home grown business that provides what Chew feels are the best cloth diapers on the market. Organic and natural fibers, adjustable snaps and Velcro, soft and fashionable colors makes “the nursery look so cute, with stacks of these soft diapers, instead of plastic.”
What about diaper rash and comfort? “I found out that before Pampers, diaper rash statistics were at a 10 percent low; now that statistic is raised to 45 percent. My son has never had diaper rash. The new fabric used in these wicks away the moisture, and unlike plastic diapers that mothers sometimes leave on way too long, the cloth are changed more often and therefore the baby is always much drier,” said Chew.
For Cushy Tush customers, the most common concern is: What do you do if you’re out? “It’s so easy. I just keep a water proof bag with me, change the diaper, take the dirty one home and clean it.” Chew sells a water sprayer that attaches to the toilet, for easy rinse. Then pops the diaper in the wash with a simple and pure detergent, “no softeners, no bleach, just detergent.”
According to Diane Weathers of Consumer Reports, “We’ve calculated that disposable diapers can cost between $1500 and $2100 over the course of the three years it takes the average child to be toilet trained, compared to disposables, using cloth diapers can save a bundle.”
The Mayo Health Clinic focused the issue in a recent report: “Various studies on the environmental effects of reusable and disposable diapers paint a complex picture. Most agree that reusable diapers require more water and generate more waterborne wastes through the laundering process. The downside of disposables? It takes more raw materials to make them, and they are the third largest source of solid waste. Although some diapers are touted as biodegradable, the lack of oxygen in landfills means disposable diapers can take a long time to break down. Judging the relative environmental impact of each method, then, means deciding to what extent solid waste is a more important problem than water use and wastewater disposal.”
Chew focuses the issue for Kaua‘i. “Landfill space is a major crisis here. Living on an island, disposables just don’t make sense. These diapers are ‘compostable.’ They are completely organic. I’ve sold to hikers who can just bury the diaper and not worry that their waste will last longer than their children’s entire lives.”
“I’m the half urban, half granola, girl. I love helping people figure this all out because I did it myself,” said Chew. “Cloth diapers used to be these big square pieces of cotton that had to be folded 10 times over and were so bulky — things have changed. These diapers even have different snaps that ‘grow’ as your baby does. I can buy one diaper that I can use for two years, with different snaps to expand the size. The newborn diaper even accounts for a new belly button — the material snaps down so not to rub on that area,” explained Chew.
The cloth versus disposable issue will continue to concern both mothers and companies that produce plastic diapers. Recently, “Procter & Gamble Company has announced that it is working hard on developing disposable diapers that can be composted — decomposed into organic soil just like vegetable waste. The company also vows to commit $20 million to advancing municipal composting worldwide,” reports the Geophysical Institute on its Web site.
Until the disposable companies make the change to more responsible products, it’s up to Kaua‘i mothers who care for the keiki and ‘aina to get involved.
• Keya Keita, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 257) or firstname.lastname@example.org.