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Waste Reduction in Children's Day Care: Case Study Report of Gretchen's

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This case study documents solid waste reduction achieved by the conversion from disposable to reusable cloth diapers at Gretchen's House III day care center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Process, economic, and organizational/motivational analyses were conducted so that waste reduction resulting from cloth diaper use could be transferred to other day care centers, day care homes, nursery schools, households, pediatric hospital, and nursing homes for adult incontinents. The scope of this investigation was limited to solid waste reduction from the perspective of the day care center; life cycle environmental impacts and risks from raw materials extraction and manufacturing were not studied.

The conversion from disposable to cloth diapers resulted in a net reduction in solid waste of 53 lb per week, based on 12 infants/toddlers supervised eight hours each day, five days a week. Solid waste generated by the use of disposable diapers includes 46 lb of feces, 26 lb of disposable diapers, and 0.2 lb of refuse bags. Cloth diaper use generates only 0.2 lb of diaper waste and 0.3 lb of refuse bag waste each week. After the conversion, cloth diapers were used throughout the day, but infants/toddlers were sent home in disposable diapers which adds an additional 7 lb of disposable diaper waste to the cloth diaper case. Cloth diapers were used at the same rate as disposables; on average, a total of 210 diapers were used each week before and after conversion to a predominantly cloth diapering system.

Gretchen's House III purchased 36 nylon outer wraps for use with cloth diapers. Waterproof outer wraps are necessary for an effective cloth diapering system; they hold diapers firmly in place and prevent leakage. Cloth diapers were cleaned and delivered once a week by a diaper service in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and diaper wraps were washed at the day care center and dried inside on a clothesline once a day. Labor requirements increased from 15 min. per week for purchasing the disposable diapers to 69 min. for washing, drying, and folding the diaper wraps and purchasing some disposables. Diaper changing times were the same for both systems.

The total costs to the day care center were $0.25 per disposable diaper and $0.22 per cloth diaper. Converting to cloth diapers saved this day care center $226 per year, or 9.3% of total diapering costs. The major cost for the disposable system is the diaper, while the major costs for the reusable system are balanced between the diaper service and labor for washing diaper wraps. Disposal costs are not included in these figures, because waste collection fees in the city of Ann Arbor are assessed via property taxes, independent of disposal amounts. Cloth diaper use would be even more attractive, in terms of cost, for day care centers that are charged on a volume or weight basis for refuse disposal.

Other waste activities practiced by Gretchen's House III include the reuse of packaging material, food waste reduction, lawn waste reduction, leaf composting, and recycling.

Solid waste could be reduced by as much as 41,000 tons per year statewide if all care centers, institutions, and households used cloth diapers.

Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment
Food Systems and Consumer Products
Publication Type
Digital Object Identifier
Full Citation

Keoleian, G.A., J.W. Bulkley, R. DeYoung, A. Duncan, E. McLaughlin, D. Menerey, M. Monroe and T. Swenson. (1991) "Waste Reduction in Children's Day Care: Case Study Report of Gretchen's." Office of Waste Reduction Services, State of Michigan Departments of Natural Resources and Commerce: Lansing, MI: 27.