It's High Time For A Sin Tax On Single Use Disposable Items
By Terri Chu
Having a kid is expensive, anybody can tell you that. What nobody told me, though, was how expensive raising a child can be when you try to stay low on environmental impact.
Cloth diapers are a huge capital outlay and I’m not convinced they are used long enough to break even against disposables. Using a diapering service costs around $25/week, while disposables at 30 cents each, even using 10 per day, come in at $21.
My mother often talks about my own childhood when she had to wash our cloth diapers, back before fancy Velcro diaper covers, when safety pins reigned supreme. “Disposable diapers were invented already but they were just too expensive. We were too poor for that,” she tells me.
How is it that in a single generation, cloth diapers went from the burdens of the poor to the luxury of the hipster rich parents? Choosing products that have a low(er) environmental impact should not be an economically punitive decision. In the span of a single generation, manufacturing has become so automated, labour so cheap, and resources so disrespected that using things once and throwing them out has become cheaper than buying something that can be reused.
A diaper is nothing short of an engineering marvel. Petrochemicals brilliantly absorb pee, synthetic materials whisk moisture away from the skin (key to preventing diaper rashes) and a wetness indicator tells us when it’s time for a change. Using and throwing out one of these marvels of engineering is cheaper than buying and washing pieces of cloth.
But if we are to get serious about meeting our environmental goals, we have to stop making low impact purchasing decisions so economically punitive.
My apologies to the men reading this, but let’s take a look at some more numbers. Everyone is familiar with a tampon. Though the cost varies depending on where you buy them and in what quantities, a good average estimated unit cost is about 20 cents each. You use these little cylinders of cotton once, the plastic inserter gets discarded and so does its wrapper. On the market is a slightly more environmentally friendly product called the “Diva Cup." It retails for $40. Assuming the Diva Cup replaces one heavy flow tampon per day, and an average four-day cycle, the Diva Cup pays for itself after 4.2 years. This is all fine and dandy if not for the fact that the manufacturer recommends replacing the Diva Cup after a year.
Back to diapers. For anyone wanting to wash his or her own diapers, an all-in-one diaper costs about $30. Compared to a 30-cent diaper, you would have to use the cloth 100 times to break even (to say nothing of the labour and energy to wash it). Owning enough diapers to do laundry once every 3 days means breaking even after 300 days. For anyone new to the world of infants, babies grow out of things after about 3 months, or 90 days - well before the diaper will break even on cost.
Is it really a wonder that cash-strapped parents and women choose single use disposable products?
It is high time for a sin tax on single use disposable items, whether these are diapers, tampons or paper plates. If people want the luxury of being able to throw things out without washing it, it should be treated as that: a luxury.
While people are tightening belts, it’s impossible to blame them for making decisions based on their wallets. If we are to transition to a society that’s sustainable, we need good public policy that creates economic incentives for low impact decisions.