re: Cloth Versus Disposable

From: Bruce Nordman (
Date: Thu Sep 28 2000 - 16:51:41 EDT

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    >It would probably help Jon if anyone on the GRRN list knows how to locate a
    >hard copy of the two principal references on this topic (I can't find them
    >Arthur D. Little, consultants. Disposable Versus Reusable Diapers: Health,
    >Environmental and Economic Comparisons. Cambridge, MA: Arthur D. Little,
    >Lehrburger, Carl. Diapers in the Waste Stream: A Review of Waste Management
    >and Public Policy Issues. 1989

    I have those two references and lots more. However, I don't think
    that they are that useful, even though widely cited.

    A number of years ago I carefully reviewed the assumptions and calculations
    in these and other reports with respect to energy and found serious
    methodological and factual errors. As energy use dominates the
    overall LCA results, these problems render the conclusions of both
    reports of limited use.

    I could mail a summary of my conclusions to anyone really interested
    (it is just 2 pages). Unfortunately, I don't have it on the web
    since it was done back in 1992 (I think).

    I haven't checked any of the web references that Roger provided
    so can't comment on those.

    Besides exposing flaws with many _applications_ of LCA, my basic
    finding was that if you wanted to minimize energy use you would
    home wash cloth diapers efficiently, and if you wanted to maximize
    energy use you would home wash inefficently. For both home washing
    and diaper services, the real world range in how it is done in
    different places far exceeds what difference there might be between
    the averages of home-wash, service-wash, or disposables.
    So, comparing the averages alone is of little use.


    Bruce Nordman
    Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
    510-486-7089; fax: 510-486-4673

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