Late, and I mean late, when I was just about to hit the sack I gave Facebook one more look. I just couldn’t help myself. It was then that I saw an image that stopped me in my (scrolling) tracks. It was a photo of a window display from a cloth diaper retail store in Denver, Colorado. I’ve seen lots of photos of window displays for cloth diaper stores and even a few in person, including the little bunnies wearing cloth diapers for Easter at Diaper Lab in Somerville, MA. Cotton Babies recently made a menorah from blue and yellow cloth diapers. Usually the displays are cute and will make a passerby stop to see how adorable the cloth diapers are.
The Giggling Green Bean took a different approach.
With over 2,000 shares on Facebook and counting this image has gone “cloth diaper” viral.
You can’t tell me that this window isn’t a powerful visual about the true impact of disposable diapers on a family’s wallet and the earth. And the saddest thing is that this only a year’s worth! Multiply this by 2 or even 3 and you can imagine just how many disposables a baby goes through. Even the photo can’t do justice to what must be a staggering sight when you are faced with the true height and depth of the actual stack of disposables right before your eyes. And lets keep in mind that these diapers are new and unused. In reality they would be quite larger after the urine has puffed the SAP gel up, they would be heavier, and many would be full of solid waste on their way to a landfill near you. Lucky for us we aren’t looking at that image because it is disgusting, but it would paint an even truer picture of the waste produced by a baby wearing disposables full time.
Juxtaposed to the gigantic pile of disposable diapers is a small stash of one size pocket diapers. In this case they are the Colorado based brand Rumparooz. A small stack, small enough to all fit onto a table when nicely stuffed and folded, a sight many of us see every 2-3 days when we stuff and fold our own cloth diapers and stack them onto our kitchen or coffee tables. We see them over and over, the same 24 diapers. Waste goes in, waste washes out into the well equipped sewage system.
This is how it should be and how it can be for everyone. And perhaps seeing what it is for most Americans, that gigantic stack to the right, is enough to make people take a moment to consider what they are doing when they use disposables. And then multiply that by the millions of babies each year who use them, And multiply THAT by every single baby who has ever worn a disposable diaper because all of those diapers have yet to decompose since they can take up to 500 years to break down. Disposables became popular in the 1980′s but were in use before that. The diapers worn while you danced to Thriller by Michael Jackson on MTV are still somewhere. So are the ones worn while dancing the Macarena. And of course those worn by babies going Gangnam Style are hitting landfills now. Those will all still be sitting somewhere when our grandchildren have babies. I just hope those babies are dancing to a future hit in their cloth diapers.
Sometimes it takes us facing the cold hard and unforgiving facts to make a lifestyle change. It took a crying Indian to make our parents realize that littering isn’t cool. It took the disturbing images of black lungs to help smokers realize that yellow fingers weren’t the only repercussion to smoking cigarettes. What will it take for us to make cloth diapering the norm rather than the exception? Cultural norms constantly shift and often times it is the result of crafty marketing (like when disposables overtook cloth diapers in the 1980′s) or awareness campaigns that change how we perceive something. I do feel that cloth diaper usage is on the rise but only when we can get the message out to the masses in effective ways such as this will we start to overcome disposables once again. (I do feel a bit Civil War- “The South Will Rise Again”-ish with this statement, my apologies.)
Would this make parents feel guilty? Possibly. A lot of parents will point out that they just can’t handle one more thing, like washing diapers, and rely on disposables to make life easier. (Although I proved that washing diapers is the easy part of parenting) What if they just switch over part time? There is the Change Three Things movement that encourages parents to pledge to just three cloth diapers a day which can still have a huge impact, especially in larger numbers.
And lets not forget the financial burden that buying disposables can have on families. There are absolutely no government or state programs that assist families with their diapering needs. Food Stamps, WIC, Welfare, none of these provide diapers and so families are put into tough positions in hard economic times, even going so far as to reuse disposable diapers. The best coupon-er will still be spending money on disposables, sometimes even $1,000 or more for multiple babies in diapers. The window display has a set of 24 Rumparooz which would last a baby from infancy to potty training at a cost of $500. In reality parents can and do spend much less on a stash of cloth diapers by choosing to buy less expensive brands, buy used, or waiting for sales. There are also local and national cloth diaper banks who provide cloth diapers for free or the cost of shipping to families who qualify.
Until we are smacked in the face with how bad disposables really are, how expensive they can be, how many chemicals they contain, how much they suck at holding in the poop they are designed to contain, how much they smell, how unattractive they are compared to cloth diapers, and how inconvenient they can be when it is snowing and you run out in the middle of the night then we as a society will keep using them. We NEED these visual aids because most of us are visual people. You can say “A child can contribute 1 ton of disposable diaper waste to the landfill” until you are blue in the face but show someone what 1 ton of disposable diapers looks like and you might win your argument. Kudos to The Giggling Green Bean for creating such a powerful display and even if it was just to sell some cloth diapers I don’t care. I love it.
In case you are curious it appears that GGB purchased back the disposable from customers in their stores and gave them store credit. They have also let us know that they will be donating the diapers to a local women’s shelter once the display is over so they will go to those who can really need them. No one is denying that disposables have a role in our modern world and I have used them on occasions like traveling or battling night time ammonia myself.