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Changing the diaper industry: Little Rock company offers parents an alternative to disposable diapers.

Cloth diapers.

The mere mention of those words conjures up unpleasant images in most parents' minds.

Before disposables took the diaper world by storm in the early 1970s, this was a common scenario:

A baby crying from the discomfort of wearing a wet diaper barely held up by bulky diaper pins.

The messy changes.

The fiery diaper rash.

The smelly laundry.

Two decades later, 90 percent of American parents use disposable diapers.

Clearly, today's parents expect comfort for their babies and convenience for themselves, two criteria traditional cloth diapers could not meet.

But the cloth diaper industry is improving its image.

The environmental movement of the 1990s raised consumer awareness. It also prompted the diaper industry to create an improved twist on the old cloth diaper concept, one that promises to meet parents' demands and protect the environment.

Disposable diapers make up about 3 percent of the nation's solid waste.

With that in mind, Lou Ellen Eberle and Lydia Loveless of Little Rock decided to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Their 2-year-old business, The Diaper Company, is part of a re-emerging facet of the industry -- cloth diaper services.

With 16 to 18 billion disposable diapers used each year, Eberle and Loveless believe parents deserve an alternative to environmentally harmful disposables and inconvenient, home-washed cloth diapers.

Client Services

Their 170 clients enjoy home delivery and pickup of improved cloth diapers.

For an initial fee of $15, a client is provided a large hamper, deodorant disks, hamper bags and an informational packet. Also included are two diaper covers. The reusable cotton covers use Velcro and protect against leakage.

The improved version of cotton diapers are thicker in the middle and sell for $12 to $13 for 80 diapers.

Eberle says disposable diaper companies have attempted to maintain the negative image of cloth through advertising.

A report by the Environmental Action Foundation of Washington states, "Parents have been deluged by confusing studies and advertising from the disposable diaper industry."

"It's hard for us to compete with such a huge industry," Eberle says.

But she thinks some manufacturers are getting nervous, in part because recent experiments in composting diapers and developing biodegradable products have not been successful.

"They know it's just a matter of time," Eberle says.

Colleen Burman, a spokeswoman for Kimberly-Clark Corp., a manufacturer of disposable diapers, says, "Composting studies are under way. We know that 10 pounds of organic garbage can be turned into 3 pounds of humus fertilizer ... I think that's progress."

Eberle disagrees.

The mountain of materials in her small office on Rushing Circle represent countless studies and statistics on the cloth vs. disposable diaper war. She says the numbers favor cloth diapers.

According to Eberle, one of the most serious problems posed by disposable diapers is that they contain untreated human waste that can contain infectious organisms.

Human waste from cloth diapers is treated by sewage treatment facilities and septic systems, reducing the number of disease-carrying organisms.

Much of the information used by The Diaper Company comes from the National Association of Diaper Services. The Pennsylvania-based organization says its members' business has increased more than 40 percent during the past two years.

Still, disposables are winning the diaper wars.
Diaper Options: Comparing The Costs
Average Cost Average Cost Total
Option Per Diaper Per Week (*) Cost (**)
Home Washing $.04 $2.45 $318
Diaper Service $.17 $10.20 $1,326
Disposable Diapers $.22 $13.20 $1,716
* Based on 60 diapers per week.
** Based on average diaper usage period for a child, 2.5 years.
Source: "Update on Diapers: Revised," Center For Policy
Alternatives, September 1990.

Attracting Customers

How do services such as The Diaper Company attract customers?

"We tell |parents~ what is in a disposable diaper," Eberle says. "That usually does the trick."

Disposables consist of a waterproof polypropylene outer layer, an inner layer made of wood pulp treated with absorbent chemical gels and a chemical-treated, water-repellent liner.

Some brands also add perfumes and dyes, which can be harmful to a baby's sensitive skin.

"We got a call from one mother who wanted to switch to cloth," Eberle says. "The dye caused her child to develop a serious skin problem."

The Diaper Company and other members of NADS use 100 percent cotton diapers. To ensure the safety and comfort of cloth diapers, NADS requires members to have diapers tested regularly for bacteria, absorbency and pH balance.

Studies indicate disposable diapers cause up to 10 times as many serious diaper rashes as cloth diapers.

Kimberly-Clark's Burman has her own studies, which she claims prove the new superabsorbant disposables are better for babies.

"|Disposable manufacturers~ have created the illusion that disposables don't require as many changes and keep wetness away from the baby," Eberle says. "Get real. The way to avoid wetness and diaper rash is to change a baby's diaper regularly, no matter what type of diaper is used."

Studies on diaper rash and harmful chemicals don't seem to be enough. Loveless, the mother of a 5-month-old daughter, says parents want convenience and economy as well.

Parents who use cloth say they enjoy the home delivery. The diaper service picks up diapers once a week. Rinsing is not required before tossing diapers in deodorized hampers.

Parents who use day care, however, usually prefer disposable diapers.

"Cloth diapers are impractical, especially since I use day care," one mother says. "Even if I had chosen cloth, I would have kept a few disposables on hand."

Many child-care centers will not accept a child who does not wear disposable diapers.

Eberle says The Diaper Company is compiling a list of centers that accept cloth diapers. She hopes to educate centers on the health advantages and environmental benefits of using cloth.

Cloth Saves Money

Cloth diapers are less expensive. Studies indicate parents can save from 25 to 35 percent by using cloth. The average cost for disposables is $16 to $17 per week. The average cost for cloth is $12 to $13.

Washing cloth diapers at home is the least expensive alternative, but it is not as sterile. Diaper service machines reach higher temperatures to ensure sanitation. A solution is used in the wash to guard against bacteria.

Most hospitals use disposable diapers.

A spokesman for Arkansas Children's Hospital at Little Rock says, "The doctors I asked would rather not comment."

The state Department of Pollution Control and Ecology will not choose sides, either.

For environmentally conscious consumers, Eberle thinks the choice should be easy.

A cloth diaper decomposes in up to six months.

A disposable diaper can take 500 years to decompose.

The Diaper Company has recruited clients since 1989 through environmental education.

The business was expanded in September 1990 when it moved to its current location. The company serves all of Little Rock and hopes to include Conway by January.

The company has five partners. Eberle and Loveless see to the day-to-day details.

Eberle's husband, Gene, a real estate broker with Chenal Properties Inc., and Loveless' husband, Mike, a financial planner with Paine Webber, aid in the financial aspects of the business.

Barbara James, Eberle's sister-in-law and publisher of a diaper service newsletter, is credited with sparking the idea for The Diaper Company.

She came to Arkansas from Boulder, Colo., for a visit, claiming she couldn't believe the state was doing so little to preserve its environment.

"When we discovered 3.6 million tons of dirty disposable diapers were being buried in U.S. landfills each year, we had to do something," Eberle says. "We realize diapers aren't the only disposable product on the market. It all needs to be cleaned up."

She realizes her company's efforts are small.

"Compared with many places, Arkansas is just becoming educated about environmental issues," Eberle says. "As long as we're making enough money to stay in business, we'll continue to educate people on the hazards of disposables and offer them an alternative."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Harper, Kim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Nov 18, 1991
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