Friday, December 14, 2012

The Cost of Hybrid Diapering

I hadn't thought much about diapers for Baby O until last night. In one of my crunchy parenting Facebook groups someone was asking for opinions on disposable diaper brands since she couldn't do cloth diapering. I read the comments with interest.

I really wanted to do cloth diapering with 2Flowers, but we don't have a washer (or dryer) and our apartment complex does not have hookups. I couldn't figure out how to manage a week's worth of soiled diapers between launderings in our small 965 sq. foot apartment. And an extra load to carry down (and up) the stairs each week just adds to the enormity of doing laundry. (Yes, I have considered that another baby will add AT LEAST one more load and I've already freaked out about it a few times.)

I just assumed that alternative (more sustainable) diapers would not be an option for Baby O, either.

But in the diapering thread I was reading, someone mentioned hybrid diapers, "like Flip diapers or gDiapers." Someone else mentioned bum genius and described them as "kinda in between cloth and disposable." I've been wondering if there was such a thing as disposable inserts that would let me be a little more sustainable, save a little money, and still not have to tackle the laundry problem (current solutions include: buying a portable washer that drains through the sink, this type of washer handles very small loads and is not in our budget; or moving). I was excited to discover that disposable inserts do indeed exist!

But, since Lost Boy and I lean toward the academic, I needed to compare the cost of using disposables to the cost of switching to a hybrid system. So I created a spreadsheet and estimated how much we've spent on diapers over 2Flower's lifetime. Compiling the data was more complicated than it might seem at first. I haven't kept receipts from every time I ever bought diapers, but I have been using's Subscribe & Save option to buy Huggies for the past year. So I entered all of my orders for the past year, which includes different diaper sizes, a different number of diapers per box depending on the size, and a different price per box depending on the size and number. I had to estimate our diaper expenditures for 2Flower's first year based on current prices listed online and an estimated 5-10 diaper changes per day (depending on her age).

Here is what I got:

Total number of diapers in 2 years:5624
Cost over 2 years:$1127.00
Cost per diaper:$0.14 - $0.27

So then I calculated how much it would cost to use gDiapers. That was even more complicated than calculating how much two years of Huggies cost! There is an up-front investment to buy the diaper covers, pouches, and a few cloth inserts for extra absorption, and every time your baby grows out of a size you have to invest in the next size up. Fortunately, gDiapers has only three sizes and they are adjustable as your baby grows. I skipped the newborn size and just figured on buying their small and medium sizes (which, if Baby O grows like 2Flowers, should be fine ... if he grows like some of his cousins - well ....).

The start-up cost for two sizes of gDiapers could cost about $350. But I figured that disposable inserts should be less expensive than disposable diapers and would make up for the start-up cost over the course of the two years. But it was REALLY hard to figure out how many inserts came in each case and how much each case cost. When I finally figured it out this is what I found:

Total number of diapers in 2 years:5600
Cost over 2 years:$2080.00*
Cost per diaper:$0.33 - $0.41
*inserts only, not including start-up cost

 ... wait a minute ...


Here it is again:

Total number of diapers in 2 years:56245600
Cost over 2 years:$1127.00$2080.00*
Cost per diaper:$0.14 - $0.27$0.33 - $0.41
*inserts only, not including start-up cost

Two years of disposable inserts will cost almost twice as much as two years of disposable diapers?! What? Why?

I had to ask why. Lost Boy put it very simply, "Economy of scale." Disposable diapers are made in larger quantities than disposable inserts and therefore the companies that make disposable diapers can take advantage of economies of scale (making things in bulk and minimizing cost). As I thought about it, I realized that companies that make disposable inserts offer them as a convenient, but rarely used product. Most people who use the diaper companies selling disposable inserts are mainly using cloth diapers.

What this boils down to is the fact that I can't opt for the sustainable option (cloth), and I can't opt for the middle ground (disposable inserts). I'm really frustrated by this.

But don't look at my word choice of "can't" and think that I've given up. I'm still hoping for that portable washer (I saw one on Craigslist for $300). And I looked at the wholesale options for Flip diapers (another brand that sells disposable inserts). Maybe, if there was enough interest in the 'middle ground,' I could organize a diaper collective based on disposable inserts? Or sell the inserts online? But right now Cottonbabies, the company that makes Flip Diapers, bumGenious, and others is only accepting new wholesale accounts from businesses that either have a physical location or are established online retailers already selling other baby items. And I'm not. So ... maybe a window will open somewhere?

Meanwhile, we'll be adding another $1127.00+  to the landfills.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Wild Christmas Tree Hunt - 2012

A few years back, Lost Boy and I had a discussion about what Christmas traditions we wanted to have in our family. Lost Boy's family usually goes to a tree farm and cuts down a very tall tree, but I had never done that. The first Christmas we had 2Flowers we went to a tree farm, and it was fun, but Lost Boy has an adventurous spirit that really enjoys the backwoods and he wanted to take the tradition a step further.

So we started The Wild Christmas Tree Hunt. Last year we cut down a tree in the Plumas National Forest. We had to make two trips because the first day we went we got stuck in a little valley because of icy roads and the priority became getting out instead of finding a tree. We learned a lot last year (take a truck with 4-wheel drive, or double check that the right size chains are in the car/truck you are borrowing, and remember that even 4-wheel drive should avoid certain conditions!) and were all geared up to go again this year.

There are a few national forests within our driving range, so this year we picked a different forest. We went to Tahoe National Forest. You can mail order a Christmas Tree Cutting Permit for the Plumas Nat'l Forest, but not for the Tahoe Nat'l Forest - you have to go to the ranger's station in person to get a Tahoe Permit. So we drove down to South Lake Tahoe and found the ranger's station. It was the biggest and nicest ranger's station I have ever seen! (It is Lake Tahoe though...)

Unfortunately, things were a little iffy about whether we could buy a Christmas Tree Cutting Permit. They were almost out of permits! We debated whether we should drive up to Plumas, but we were running out of daylight because we left the house late. We decided that if they didn't have any more permits we would stop at a tree farm on the way home, but they DID have a permit! So we bought it and looked at the map that shows where you can and can't cut Christmas Trees. (Lesson: Call the ranger station to find out if they are sold out of permits BEFORE you start driving, especially for popular areas like Tahoe!)

When we went to the Plumas Nat'l Forest there were miles and miles of forest and not very many people. We were about five miles from a tiny town that closed down by six pm when we got stuck last year. And there was no residential areas, it was all sparsely distributed cabins. This year, we drove for maybe 20 minutes and pulled off onto a little side road marked on the map. There were cars parked near the side road, and we saw several other cars and people. We went down one switchback, went over some ice, saw more ice, and turned back. "We learned our lesson last year," said Lost Boy. So we parked by the highway and walked down the side road a little ways.

... Actually, it was a long ways (for me). At one point Lost Boy had me sit down on a rock while he and 2Flowers went down the hill to look for trees. There wasn't a lot of selection (especially compared to the Plumas Nat'l Forest). They came back a little while later and Lost Boy said, "I want to look on the other side of the highway... I don't want to, but I think I should scout ahead." I assured him that was fine with me. There was no way I could get back up the hill very fast. If we wanted to find a tree before dark, he needed to go at his normal long-legged speed, not his pregnant wife's speed.

Going down the hill to look for trees.
Me sitting on a rock at the top of the hill.
2Flowers and I meandered back up the hill. It was twice as far as I'd remembered. 2Flowers found a stick and poked at things with it. Lost Boy and I had been expecting lots of snow on the ground, but there was hardly any. When I found a patch of snow I encouraged 2Flowers to come and look at it. She told me she didn't like it, but she did like the ice and spent a lot of time stepping on and poking the brittle edges of it. She shoveled some pine needles and was generally happy to be exploring the forest (except we were still on a paved road, so it wasn't the backwoods by any means).


Lost Boy came and got us. We hadn't even made it back to the highway! He had found two trees that he liked and he took us to see them. He preferred the second tree, and I thought it was very nice, too. I discovered that it is difficult to be picky when there isn't a lot of selection and you can't move around the forest fast enough to find the trees that are actually the right size. But the trees that Lost Boy found were very  much our style  and quite lovely.

Last year, Lost Boy handed me the saw and I got to help cut down the tree. Not that I made much difference, I don't think I made it through a centimeter of the trunk! This year I sat on a rock while Lost Boy started to cut down our tree. Eventually he had me lean on it so that the cut would stay open and allow him to make better progress. At first I was a little worried that I, with my weight and balance off-center, would go down with the tree when it fell. But I didn't, and it was kind of neat to feel the tree leaning more and more, and then to feel it leave my hand and tumble the rest of the way down. There was no shout of "Timber!" or huge crash, just a gentle tumble.

Helping Daddy.
Cutting at ground level to prevent trip hazards.
Loading the tree into the truck.

The tree started out about twelve feet tall, but Lost Boy took several inches off the bottom before he put it in the truck. He took off several more inches when he brought it into the house. Now the tree is just tall enough to brush the ceiling. The lovely thing about cutting down your own tree is that a five foot tree costs just the same as an eight or twelve foot tree. The permit is $10 and you can cut down any tree that has a trunk circumference of less than six inches. So instead of paying $30 or $40 at a lot or farm, we payed $10 and had money for some hot chocolate and chicken soup on our way back through town. Lost Boy pointed out that the gas money for the round trip was about $40, so there is no savings there. But I think that the memories, the stories, and the time to be together and actually have a conversation is worth it.