Medical institutions such as the doctor’s offices and hospitals frequently get free samples of diapers from manufacturers to distribute to patients. Since those samples are usually samples of new products, there is no guarantee of what types or sizes are available, but if you call local doctors and hospitals in your area, you can find out what’s currently available.
If you’re spending that much, and you’re in the market for something with a few more bells and whistles, I also like the Hatch Baby Grow ($129), an integrated baby scale and changing pad in one. The scale allows you to track weight gain, milk intake and other such things that are typically only ascertained by a visit to a pediatrician’s office. I would especially recommend this for parents who are the “need to know” type (those who like to have lots of data) or if you have any reason to expect a preemie (you are pregnant with multiples, high risk, etc.).
There are variations in the care of cloth diapers that can account for different measures of environmental impact. For example, using a cloth diaper laundering service involves additional pollution from the vehicle that picks up and drops off deliveries. Yet such a service uses less water per diaper in the laundering process. Some people who launder cloth diapers at home wash each load twice, considering the first wash a "prewash", and thus doubling the energy and water usage from laundering. Cloth diapers are most commonly made of cotton, which is generally considered an environmentally wasteful crop to grow. "Conventional cotton is one of the most chemically-dependent crops, sucking up 10% of all agricultural chemicals and 25% of insecticides on 3% of our arable land; that's more than any other crop per unit." This effect can be mitigated by using other materials, such as bamboo and hemp.
San Francisco, San Mateo, San Jose, and Bay area California - The goal of the Bay Area Diaper Bank and other local groups is to distribute free diapers to agencies throughout northern California that serve mothers and children in need. Thousands of families take advantage of the assistance program every month. Find resources in San Francisco and San Mateo County.
A nationwide network of clothing closets can be used. While some of them sell low cost goods, others will provide the essentials that a new, low income parent needs at no cost to them. Some struggling families may be given help for a newborn, or free diapers may be offered in an emergency. They also provide referrals. Find sources of free clothes and household items.