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Diaper Debate Redux: the Case for Cloth

In the article ``The Great Diaper Debate,'' Dec. 31, the author argues that cloth diapers are less environmentally sound when you look at ``hidden'' costs, such as emissions of trucks delivering diapers, sewage from washing machines, and depleted soil from the cultivation of cotton. Has the author considered the hidden costs of disposables? I have 60 cotton diapers which I plan to use for two to three years. The only emissions involved were those emitted when the diapers were delivered to the store and when I drove to buy them. Certainly more trucks are used, and more frequently, to deliver the thousands of disposables families use. Surely the amount of cotton in my 60 diapers would not deplete the soil as much as the clear-cuts needed to produce the pulp for thousands of disposables.

There is a place for the responsible use of disposables. I use them myself on long trips (recycled paper, of course).

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Gaye Fifer, Mountain City, Tenn.

Nothing in the article addresses the environmental impact of the manufacture of massive amounts of plastic, synthetic fibers, and paper needed for disposable diapers. The author does, however, bring to light a point of view often buried under an avalanche of ``environmental'' rhetoric. He points out that we should examine the hidden agendas of environmental proponents and should also acknowledge that using either nondisposable or disposable diapers requires tradeoffs in energy consumption, air and water pollution, and solid waste disposal.

James Canter, Santa Rosa, Calif.

The article leaves parents with no credible new information on which to make their own informed choices. Contrary to the author's claims, cloth diaper users aren't ignoring the fact that their choice impacts the environment. They are using their own best judgment on a subject which has seen little impartial evidence. Sally Rosen, Cleveland Heights, Ohio

While the author offered various standards of comparison (absorbency, convenience, environmental impact), he left out one important issue - quantity. With my first child we used disposables. At four to five diapers each day for two and a half years, we purchased and threw away 3,600 to 4,500 diapers. With my second child we are using cotton diapers. In one and a half years, we have purchased two dozen diapers and are delighted to be free of our dependency on the marketplace. Sandra Cook, Woodland, Calif.

The author's arguments regarding pollution are rather strange, since all diapers must be delivered to the consumer before the first use. On all subsequent uses, cloth diapers are distributed by a local delivery truck, which starts out full of clean diapers and slowly trades them for a load of dirty ones, thus traveling in its most efficient mode, fully loaded, all the time. Disposables, on the other hand, must be trucked to a landfill. My garbage travels 200 miles to an eastern Oregon landfill. I understand that the trucks return empty, there being no market for rural garbage among sophisticated urbanites. And of course the next batch of disposables must again be trucked in from the factory, usually far distant.

Thus on the average, each batch of cloth diapers will travel five or 10 miles, while the disposables will travel several hundred miles.

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Robert Fankhauser, Portland, Ore.

The assertion that disposable diapers have so liberated the mothers of our society as to afford them the ability to find jobs, continue education, and pursue political activity is so absurd it is insulting. I can assure the author that since the majority of us ceased pounding our laundry on a rock and embraced the liberating convenience of a modern washing machine, the time investment in turning on the machine is quite manageable. Mary Ann Sharon, Dillin, Mont.

The article convinced me of nothing except that the author doesn't want to feel guilty about using disposable diapers, and he should. Alice McElfresh, West Lafayette, Ind.

I would like to point out that the diaper service I use costs less than half as much as the cheapest disposable diapers in the local supermarkets. And I do not see how the same cotton diapers being used week after week creates a strain on cotton growers. I am still using diapers that diapered me more than three decades ago. J. Herendeen, Lyndonville, N.Y.

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