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Inventory of land management inputs for producing absorbent fiber for diapers: a comparison of cotton and softwood land management

Forest Products Journal 44(6): 39-45
Inventory of land management inputs for producing absorbent fiber for diapers: a comparison of cotton and softwood land management
A previous life cycle analysis (LCA) compared the reusable cloth diaper and disposable paper diaper with respect to energetic and environmental effects during manufacture, consumer use, and disposal. However, data are lacking on the first phase of the LCA--the chemical and natural resource inputs required to plant, maintain, and harvest cotton lands for the cloth diaper and softwood forests for the paper diaper. In this inventory study, data for cotton and southern softwood production in the United States were compiled in terms of the following inputs: irrigation water, fuel, fertilizers, biocides, soil amendments, and harvest aids. Inputs required for cotton fiber generally exceeded those for paper fiber. Depending on the specific growing region, production of 1 kg of cotton fiber requires up to four orders of magnitude more irrigation water than 1 kg of diaper pulp. Chemical and natural resource inputs were expressed on the basis of 1,000 equivalent diaperings for commercially laundered cloth, home-laundered cloth, and paper diapers using assumptions for the fiber content of diapers, the life span of the cloth diaper, and a market share estimate for home- and commercially laundered cloth diapers. On this basis, cloth diapering consumes about four times more fertilizer, 27 times more biocide, and 450 times more irrigation water than the paper diaper system. Production of softwood pulpwood for the paper diaper consumed about three times more fuel than for cotton. Biocide requirements for 1 kg of cotton fiber were up to 500 times higher, with several applications required per year, compared to 2 to 3 applications required over a 24-year period for softwood. Fertilizer inputs for cotton were up to 150 times greater than for softwood. Lime and harvest aids were generally not used on softwood forests, but were required in amounts of 84 and 2 g, respectively, for the production of 1 kg of cotton. The dataset suggests an environmental trade-off exists among the diapering systems: no one diapering system is superior in terms of required chemical and natural resource inputs.

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Accession: 002416630

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