I’ve been enjoying Slate’s “Green Lantern” feed:
A 1992 study from Franklin Associates estimated that producing a year’s supply of disposables, which are composed largely of plastic, consumes roughly 6,900 megajoules of energy, vs. around 1,400 megajoules for a year’s supply of cloth diapers. Yet the study concluded that cloth ended up being 39 percent more energy-intensive overall, given the electricity needed to wash load after load of dirty diapers.
That conclusion is now woefully outdated, however, given the major advances that have occurred in washing-machine efficiency (PDF). For a washing machine made in 1985, an 11-pound load of cottons washed in warm water used up 1.68 kilowatt hours of electricity and 34 gallons of water; for a machine made two decades later, the relevant figures are just 0.95 kilowatt hours and 12 gallons.
A 2005 study (PDF) by Britain’s Environment Agency took into account some of these technological advances. In making their calculations regarding cloth diapers, the study’s authors used average energy-consumption figures for machines made in 1997. They concluded that there was “no significant difference” between the environmental impact of cloth and disposable diapers. Keeping a child clad in home-laundered cloth diapers for 2.5 years emitted 1,232 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent, vs. 1,380 pounds for disposable diapers.
More than 100 Europeans were observed cleaning a dozen full place-settings by hand. The German researchers found that the average hand-washer is quite the wastrel, using 27.2 gallons of water, which requires 2.5 kWh of electricity to heat. (The most careless hand-washers were Spanish and Portuguese, while the most economical were German.) An ultra-efficient machine, by contrast, used only between 3.96 and 5.81 gallons of water, and between 1 and 2 kWh of electricity.Advantage, technology. But if you read the German study carefully, you’ll see that the best hand-washers came close to matching the machine’s performance.
The feed is here.