considering diapers

My husband and I recently had our first child, a gorgeous and giant-cheeked little girl named Annie. Sleep routines still occupy most of our child-rearing mental space, but we spend the majority of her awake time managing fluids. The inputs—nursing, pumping, practicing with a bottle—occupy hours of every day, and every 15 minutes finds us sopping up some emission with one of several absorbent materials.

Being kind of a hippie, I have been troubled by the thought of sending Annie’s 10 daily diapers to sit in a landfill for hundreds of years. We Americans threw away 3.5 million tons of disposable diapers in 2012,* and I don’t particularly want 5-10,000 of those to be Annie’s. Nine months pregnant, when no one can refuse you anything, I dragged my husband Bryan to a cloth diapering class at our frou-frou neighborhood baby store, where he endured a store-cat-provoked allergy attack so we could learn about all the new-fangled cloth diapering technology. It’s come a long way from prefolds and pins, let’s just say. We’d talked about how having children might renew our passion for long-held but imperfectly-practiced principles, and environmentalism is high on that list for me, so I’d been determined to at least give cloth diapers the old college try. Learning about our options was the first step.

The bar is high for entry, though: you want at least 15 diapers to get through a day with margin for error, and good, easy-to-use ones run $25 or more apiece. Sticking with it saves a lot of money in the long run—at 25 cents a diaper, a couple years of Pampers would cost us nearly 2 grand—but it’s hard to give cloth diapering a casual try without dropping hundreds of dollars. Enter Sophie, Auntie Extraordinaire, who offered us a complete set of thrice-used but still in great shape Fuzzibunz pocket diapers. She even delivered them to our door. No excuses left.

Cloth diapers: maybe worth it.

Cloth diapers: probably worth it.

Four days in, here’s my assessment. The diapers themselves are bulkier than disposables and more obtrusive under snug onesies. On the other hand, they’re cute bottoms in themselves and lend themselves better to wearing with shirts or dresses. We’ve had no problems with leaking or blowing out—or at least nothing worse than with our favorite disposables. Changing her takes a tiny bit more effort: because the diapers are not quite as absorbent, poops require a little more mopping up, and fastening four snaps takes perhaps 3 seconds longer than two bits of tape. But the difference is negligible. When we have gone out, we’ve just brought along disposables so we don’t have to mess with carrying dirty diapers home—I feel no compulsion whatsoever to be a purest about this and use cloth 100% of the time. The biggest hassle, unsurprisingly, is that cloth diapering requires doing an extra load of laundry every day or so, and 5 minutes of reassembling the shells and soaker pads afterward. 

Overall, it’s a much smaller sacrifice than I feared it would be. Granted, she is not eating solid food yet, so there is no poop-removal step, but between the sprayers and liners now available I don’t anticipate that being much worse than mopping off her butt.

So cloth diapers are not much trouble, and they’re cheaper than disposables if you use them for even 6 months (and vastly cheaper if you use the same set for a second kid). But as I looked into it, counterintuitively, it’s not actually so clear that they’re a slam dunk for the environment. The best comparison I could find was a 2008 update to a UK study quantifying impacts of the entire lifecycles of disposable vs. cloth diapers (British-ly called nappies). Title: An updated lifecycle assessment study for disposable and reusable nappies.** They figured in absolutely everything they could: “For example, polymer materials used in disposable nappies were linked to the impacts associated with crude oil extraction and the flows associated with the fluff pulp used in disposables were traced back to paper and forest growth. For cloth nappies, the flows were traced back to cotton growth and production. All transport steps have been included.”

I mean, how fun is that? A slight career-path turn after public policy school and I would be writing this stuff.

The study concluded that when you factor everything in, there’s just not a big difference in environmental impact between disposable diapers and cloth, at least the way they’re most commonly used. Who would have guessed? However, built into that are a lot of assumptions that don’t necessarily apply to our situation, and a lot of detail about how specific choices and practices can lower the impact of cloth diapers quite a bit, making them an unequivocal better choice. For example, if you reuse a set for a second kid, you amortize the big impact of manufacturing and transporting the cloth diapers to begin with. Using a high-efficiency washer reduced total impact by 9% in the study. (And washers have gotten better since then—our model uses about two-thirds of the energy and three-quarters of the water per load than do the best-performing washers in the study.) Tumble-drying every load, on the other hand, increases emissions by 43% (dryers are awful, wow!). The combination of reusing diapers for a second child, washing in fuller loads, and line-drying reduces total carbon impact by 40%, making cloth a clearly better choice.

It’s worth mentioning that a lot of the specific assumptions in the study aren’t quite right for us. The energy and water use of washer/dryers, for one, but also things like the mix of energy sources used to generate electricity in the first place. I wasn’t quite crazy enough to look up how our Austin Energy mix differs from the 2006 UK average used in the study, but it certainly isn’t the same. Regardless, there is plenty of information to conclude with some confidence that, given Annie is the fourth user of this diaper set, and that our appliances are top-notch, cloth diapers are hands down the better environmental choice, probably by quite a bit.

Annie, contemplating the carbon footprint of her diaper.

Annie, contemplating the carbon footprint of her diaper.

But maybe the more important question is whether choosing reusable diapers is how we, Leslie and Bryan, American consumers, can make a meaningful difference. 3.5 million tons/year sounds like a, pardon me, poop-load of disposable diapers, but it’s less than 2% of everything we send to the landfills. We Americans throw away almost 9 million tons of clothing and shoes—clothing and shoes!* Let’s do a little more creative reuse and work on that number. Or step up the composting to cut down on the 50 million tons of food and yard waste we send, which get packed so tightly in landfills that they don’t degrade much better than a plastic bag.*** Or how about this fun fact: the total carbon impact calculated for diapering your kid in disposables in that UK study is about 550kg. That is almost precisely the same footprint as my seat on the 3000-air-mile roundtrip flight I took this summer from Austin to SFO.****

I suspect that the real reason diapers trouble me is simply because they’re a new thing to throw away. The vast majority of my waste and profligate energy use I have long since gotten used to, and any outrage I may have felt about it is too stale to motivate much action. In the long run, perhaps the best thing the cloth diapering debate will accomplish is provoking us to buy carbon offsets for our plane travel.

Resolution: A few days after I originally wrote this, we did indeed buy some carbon offsets. Here’s a quick overview if you’re curious. An important thing to look for if you’re purchasing them is for a credible certification that the projects they support are delivering what they promise and would not have happened otherwise. Green-e seems to be the most common and well-regarded. I used one of several good calculators to figure our transportation emissions and bought offsets for 2 tons/month from Terrapass, for about $12/month. Like most offsets, the majority of the projects they support capture methane—a really bad emission—from landfills and burn it off as CO₂—a not-quite-as-bad emission. Still worse than not polluting in the first place, but at least does some quantifiable good. I also went into our Austin Energy account and switched us to their Green Choice program, which charges an extra .75 cents/kWh (about $5-10/month for us) to supply our electricity from 100% wind sources. This program has been around forever, and I’m a little embarrassed we weren’t already signed up.


* — See tables 1 and 2 for food/yard waste; tables 15 and 16 for diapers and clothing/shoes. Figures I mention for clothing/shoes and food/yard waste are the total tons sent to landfills minus what’s recovered.

**The original 2005 study is an even bigger hoot, including no fewer than 12 tables on children’s urine and feces production. Yes, this is what I read on maternity leave; somebody get me back to the office already.

***Here’s a nice little fact sheet on landfills from presumably-trustworthy academics. The slow degradation of waste is why paying 3-4x as much for diapers that advertise biodegradable or even fully compostable materials is pretty useless, unless you also pay for a service that will pick them up and compost them.

****3000 air miles times .185 kg/mile, the lowest estimate of carbon output per passenger mile, is 555kg of carbon.

I’m Focusing on Reusing This Week

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Yep, Tony Carillo of F-minus totally gets us.

When faced with parting with any physical object from our lives, ask yourself some simple questions.
Can I fix it and give it new life?
Can I donate it to keep it out of the landfill?
Can I reuse it in some new creative way?

Even the things we throw in our recycling bin will require energy and resources to bring it back to life.

Our Creative Reuse Center will help you make some of these choices. Our mission is to promote conservation and creativity in our community through reuse. We hope to offer folks a way to extend the life of the stuff they have and means to pursue your creative dreams by providing lots of donated art, craft, life materials.

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Setup has started!

Thank you to all the volunteers that have showed up to help us start the setup of the center. We assembled shelves, built containers and moved in materials.

We’ll continue to have volunteer events on Saturdays and other week nights. Please check out our events calendar and join us!

We signed a lease!


We couldn’t have done it without you!  Austin Creative Reuse is proud to announce the signing of a lease for our first brick and mortar creative reuse center!

Thanks so much for your support, and we hope to see you soon at our reuse center in The Linc shopping center (formerly Lincoln Village) at  6406 N IH35 ,#1801, Austin, TX 78752map_store

Our vision for the center involves:

  •  Workshops where people can learn how to give new life to commonly discarded items.
  • Store space where the community can shop for supplies to create their reuse masterpieces and get inspired by interesting materials.
  • A gallery space that features exhibits showcasing works made with reclaimed materials.

We’ll be doing some light renovation like painting, shelf-building and other small projects to spruce up our new space.  Watch for volunteer opportunities in our upcoming newsletters!


When will you open up?

We do not have a date set yet for opening the store. We will have a “soft opening” soon and a Grand Opening later this fall.  This will give us some time to get the store organized and to train volunteers. We’ll continue to provide updates with our progress and will post a date of opening as soon as the center is ready.

What types of materials can I donate?

We accept a variety of materials. Please review our materials donation list for details.

I have materials to donate, when can I bring them to the center?

We will be posting the days and hours that the center will be open for donations soon. Meanwhile, please contact us if you have donations that need to find a home quickly.

How can I volunteer?

We will need volunteers more than ever now that we have a center to take in more materials. We are planning volunteer events to assist with the setup of the store and to sort materials.  We’ll post these on our events calendar.  A great way to be notified of the events and our volunteer opportunities is to sign up for our volunteer newsletter.

How did you select the location?

Our criteria for our new space was first based on cost and size; we worked with our real estate brokers to locate sites all across Austin that fit those parameters. We then used an evaluation tool that included criteria like the amount of parking, safety, and access to public transportation to select sites to visit. We looked at several properties and the Linc proved to be the best location for the first center.  It was so helpful to have Kristi Svec Simmons and Max McDonald of Aquila Commercial to work with as they guided us through the lease process to ensure that we knew our responsibilities and to find a mutually beneficial agreement with the owners of The Linc.

The Linc has several great occupants now including the Marchesa and Vivo , is the home of the yearly Blue Genie Art Bazaar and coming soon La Chaparrita and Easy Tiger.

We were also excited to be near the innovative campus of  Austin Community College- Highland Campus; an amazing adaptive reuse example.

Thank you!

The Austin Creative Reuse Team!


Take the One Minute Challenge

Do you think about the environment when you’re grocery shopping?

Maybe you buy the bulk container of your favorite snack.  You know, the one that comes in the large plastic tub instead of smaller individually-sized plastic containers (ie. yogurt, nuts, animal crackers). You feel good that you made an environmentally-friendly choice since less material generally goes into larger containers compared to several small containers.

But what happens when the container is empty? Do you dutifully throw it into the recycle bin?
What if you spent one minute thinking about what else you could do with that container first? How can you give it a new life once it’s clean?

Could you store rice or pasta in that large container instead of buying a dedicated pasta storage jar?
Could you store leftover soup in that large yogurt container instead of buying new plasticware?
Maybe your kids’ small toys would fit nicely in the large nuts container.

Please accept our challenge to spend one minute thinking about alternative uses for your used items before you put them in the trash or recycle bin. Even if you don’t have a use for it, save it for Austin Creative Reuse! There are some amazingly creative people in Austin who want your stuff.


Austin Creative Reuse Takes a Roadtrip!

We recently found our way to Houston to visit our friends at Texas Art Asylum. These folks have an absolutely awesome space just south of downtown where you can find all sorts of cool, creative, reusable, up-cyclable and “just too good to throw away” stuff!
Besides being treated to a wonder art gallery and “curiosity shop”, we found loads of wonderful art and craft supplies as well as examples of absolute creative reuse genius everywhere. Check out our gallery of photos and if you find yourself in Houston, do yourself a favor and get over to Texas Art Asylum!


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How to Organize a Drawer the Creative Reuse Way

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We all have them, and it’s called a Junk Drawer.

Often though, these drawers don’t really contain “junk” but stuff we need, stuff we reuse, stuff that’s small, stuff that’s just too good to throw away. The key is always organization.

Take for instance this sewing/craft drawer. It has its pluses. It’s big, it’s shallow but those things also mean it can get to be a disaster pretty quickly.

Big is great but stuff tends to move around in any direction it wants. Shallow is great too but it also means that most premade drawer organizers won’t fit. Not to mention, there never seems to be the right combination of those little trays. Always just a bit big or a bit small.

One great and reuse minded solution is to just go through your recycling and trash bin. What do you have around that can be manipulated easily into a custom holder. Lots of small trays of varying sizes means everything can have it’s own container.

Sometimes it seems we make the choice, new and shiny or just plain old useful. We’ll take “reuseful” anyday.

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Vinyl Banners and Foam Core – What can be done!

While the average citizen doesn’t generate piles of “dated” vinyl banners and foam core signs, business and event planners do! Groups often turn to us to find a way to humanely redirect these very durable and completely reusable materials. We offer these to schools and arts groups for repurposing. Often one side is blank and can be given new life, usually as a new sign. Big tip here is to make them as versatile as possible by leaving off specific information about day, dates or times. That way the sign can be used again and again.
We came up with a pretty nifty idea the other day when faced with such a pile. At ACR, we often need sturdy storage boxes for all our donations. You will need a sewing machine for this but overall, it’s pretty easy.
Here’s the basic steps.
1. Cut two pieces of vinyl in a rectangular shape, same size.
2. Draw a border around the rectangle. The width of the border will be the height of your box
3. Miter each corner using a sewing machine. Heavy duty needle recommended.
4. At this point you can cut the excess material off the mitered corner.
5. Your “box” probably won’t stand on its own, so cut some foam core the exact size of each of your sides. You want a tight fit.
6. Slip the foam core into the openings at the top of each side.

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You should now have a pretty sturdy box. By removing two of the foam core sides, the box will compress flat. The box we made goes perfectly in the trunk of a car for corralling loose items or grocery bags, but can pack flat when needed.

More pictures and detailed instructions to come later.  Just wanted to get this idea out there now.

What Do I Do With… Toys?

If your child outgrows their toys quickly, don’t throw them away! You can make another child happy by donating them. You can donate used toys to traditional thrift stores and charities, however, due to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), not all thrift stores and charities will be able to accept used toys donations.

Here are some local, alternative places that will accept used toys:

  • Toybrary provides a positive, clean, welcoming environment in which children, parents, and teachers can interact and learn. (7817 Rockwood, Ste 101, Austin, TX 78757)
  • Any Baby Can improves the lives of children by strengthening them and their families through education, therapy and family support services. (6207 Sheridan Avenue Austin, TX 78723)
  • Legacy of Hope is dedicated to serving families of children with special needs. You can call toll free 866-HOPEATX or email them at to set up a donation drop-off time.
  • The Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation is dedicated to the well-being of abandoned, outgrown, or neglected stuffed animals by finding permanent and/or foster homes for rescued stuffed animals. Email them at for more information.
  • Safe Place strives to end sexual and domestic violence. Be sure to check their wish list to see what they need. (1401 Grove Blvd. Austin, TX 78741)

Additionally, Austin Creative Reuse also accepts board games and puzzles!

Here are some helpful tips before donating toys:

  • Wipe toys down
  • Make sure toys are not broken
  • If you are donating toys with multiple pieces/parts, keep them together in plastic bags or tape boxes together so that they don’t get lost

The search for our first home


Thanks to you and your generous support, we’re actively searching for our first permanent retail and community center space!

We have been visiting available locations and evaluating the options that we think would make a good home for Austin Creative Reuse.

As part of this process we are figuring out all the logistical details of opening the center and making sure that we stay true to our values.  For example, many of the spaces that we have viewed have flooring that has to be replaced or fixed, so we are having discussions about what to do with the floor and who could help us with this.

We are also planning on how to find or build the shelving and containers that we will need and how we will collect materials while we build out the space.  We’ll be needing your help soon to make all this happen.

Thank you again for you continued support and enthusiasm!


2005 Wheless Lane, Austin, TX 78723
Tel: (512) 375-3041