Paper vs. Plastic, Cloth vs. Disposable

diaper.jpgYou can find the answer at the Institute for Lifecycle Environmental Assessment website.

In short, plastic bags are probably better — though a reusable cloth bag is best.

And disposable diapers are probably better than cloth, unless you live in an area with a real landfill shortage.

I like their list of 10 big things you can do for the environment:

1. Purchase a more efficient automobile AND drive less
2. Increase energy-efficiency in your household
3. Purchase green electricity and/or generate your own
4. Include more vegetable protein in your diet
5. Teach children about the environment
6. Consider having a small family
7. Contribute money to an environmental organization
8. Give time to an organized environmental cause
9. Live in the city
10. Vote

2 Responses to Paper vs. Plastic, Cloth vs. Disposable

  1. Hi there,

    I just heard you on NPR. I am the CEO of gDiapers – the flushable diaper that was mentioned on the program.

    There are three issues with Lifecycle Analysis and diapers.

    The first is who foots the bill. In the LCA that you cited, it was paid for by the disposable diaper companies and the American Forest and Paper Association who manufacture pulp for disposable diapers.

    The second is inputs. In a more recent (2004) LCA done in the UK, an assumption was made that cloth diaper users would actually iron each cloth diaper – ths is not in fact the reality. The energy of that was included in the calculation and lo and behold disposable dipaers won the day.

    The third is that no LCA done to date has attempted to focus on the downstream impact of 20 billion disposable diapers getting landfilled each year for up to 500 years each. Probably because it is impossible. So it is left unaddressed and you end up with a very skewed result.

    We were very keen to do an LCA to compare our product to cloth and disposables but we soon realised that the assumptions made can swing the result very easily.

    We have chosen to use MBDC ( – William McDonough’s firm to gain “Cradle to Cradle” accrediation.



    Jason Graham-Nye

  2. Joe says:

    Good points. LCA is very assumption-dependent. The results also depend greatly on what you care about. I don’t lose any sleep over landfills. I lose a lot of sleep over global warming.