Each day you change your baby’s diaper three or four times (or more!). Each day you throw that diaper in the trash and it makes its journey to the landfill. If you’re an eco-conscious parent you may have thought about whether those diapers are biodegradable or not.
So, are diapers biodegradable? Conventional disposable diapers are not biodegradable and can take 500 years or longer to fully decompose. Choosing certified biodegradable diapers, reusable cloth diapers, or hybrid diapers are much better options.
As we all become more eco-friendly in our everyday habits, learning how to dispose of anything is vitally important. What we waste is just as important as what we buy and consume.
Are Diapers Biodegradable?
Unfortunately, the answer for most of you will be, no. The most popular disposable diapers that most parents use are not biodegradable. In fact, a disposable diaper can take almost 500 years to decompose!
Now, if you consider that the average baby uses around 7,000 diapers before they’re potty trained then that is a lot of diapers sitting in landfills for a very long time all across the globe.
When something is biodegradable it is usually made from natural materials that over a short period of time break down and return back to the earth (soil). Disposable diapers are not made from natural materials but rather a number of plastic-based ingredients that are far from biodegradable.
This is why they take 500 years or more to decompose, or so we think, as disposable diapers have only been around since 1948 we actually don’t know how long they will take to fully decompose.
The most common ingredients used in your everyday disposable diaper include:
- Polyacrylate polymer
- Fluff pulp (wood)
- Thermoplastic polymers
- Stearyl alcohol
- Aloe barbadensis leaf extract
Not only are these ingredients unnatural and made mostly from petroleum, but some are also linked to serious health concerns and not something you want near your baby. Leakproof polymers, super absorbent polymers, and some scented chemicals used in disposable diapers have been linked to serious health issues such as chronic diaper rash, respiratory problems like asthma, male infertility even to testicular cancer.
Are Disposable Diapers Recyclable?
Unfortunately, no. Disposable diapers can only be thrown into the regular trash and dumped in landfills. There is currently no way to recycle the types of plastic found in a disposable diaper. You should always check to see if the cardboard box or plastic wrapping that the diapers are sold in can be recycled before throwing away.
What’s the Alternative to Disposable Diapers?
As the world continues to focus on how they can be more eco-friendly, diapers have evolved over the last few years to catch up to the “green demand” from consumers. There are now lots of alternatives to environmentally and unhealthy disposable diapers. Here are the best alternatives.
Biodegradable Disposable Diapers
The straight alternative to harmful disposable diapers is biodegradable disposable diapers. They’re made to function just the same as conventional disposable diapers but they decompose naturally back into the soil. Some can even be thrown into your own composter at home.
Diapers labeled as “biodegradable” or “compostable” are much friendlier to the earth than plastic-based disposable diapers. However, biodegradable diapers must be thrown out responsibly to either a composting facility or your own composter at home.
Failing to throw away your biodegradable diapers properly makes them only slightly more eco-friendly than the disposable diapers. They have to be able to decompose into the soil to be effective.
Throwing biodegradable diapers into general waste and sending them off to landfills will not allow them to decompose properly.
When looking to buy biodegradable diapers you must be very savvy in your decision. Unfortunately, many companies are deceiving with their “green marketing”, selling products that appear to be good for the environment but are not much different from the ones you’re trying to avoid.
There are a small number of companies selling fully decomposable diapers. Make sure you do your research and select carefully. It’s worth noting that none of these diapers are 100% biodegradable. Most are 90-95% biodegradable as the tabs and elastic leg gussets are still made from plastics.
Reusable Cloth Diapers
These diapers are a fantastic way to save money and avoid the health issues and environmental issues associated with disposable diapers. There are a few options to choose from including pre-fold, pocket, fitted, and all-in-one (AIO). It’s worth buying a few of each to test out which you feel is best for you and your baby.
Once decided on the best pair you need to make sure you own enough to handle the number of changes required per day. This will take some working out and maybe a few slip-ups but the effort is worth it.
The beauty of reusable diapers is that they’re a zero-waste product. You can keep washing them time and time again with no need to throw them out. They’re also made using chemical-free ingredients that won’t harm your baby. The materials vary including cotton, hemp, and bamboo.
Hemp and bamboo can both help you further minimize your impact on the environment and they generally take much fewer washes than cotton for optimum absorbance and are a more sustainable material than cotton.
GroVia (link to Amazon storefront) is a reputable reusable diaper company that offers a mix of reusable and hybrid diapers that are natural and eco-friendly.
Hybrid diapers aim to combine the convenience of disposable diapers with some of the benefits of reusable diapers. The fact is, reusable diapers are not always convenient depending on your personal circumstances. They require a lot of washing which needs to be kept on top of and many parents these days are busy working parents. This means you may not have time to keep up with a reusable diaper system.
Hybrid diapers require diaper inserts to be changed after each use but are 100% biodegradable. Therefore, you get the flexibility of a disposable diaper with the advantage of a diaper that is made from natural materials and is washable. The only thing that needs disposing of is the biodegradable inserts.
gDiapers (link to Amazon storefront) is a popular company that makes hybrid diapers that are plastic-free, elemental chlorine free, latex and perfume free. A great choice for any parents in need of the convenience of disposable diapers but want some of the health and eco-friendly benefits of a reusable diaper too.
What Are the Most Eco-Friendly Diapers to Use?
Reusable cloth diapers are by far the most eco-friendly diapers you can use. They’re a zero-waste option which means you will never have to send another diaper to landfill ever again.
Cloth diapers are more expensive at first but they’re a long-term solution. Both biodegradable diapers and even hybrid diapers require you to keep buying them. Over time, reusable cloth diapers will save you a lot of money.
Keep in mind that reusable cloth diapers require a lot of washing that you must keep up with to avoid not being caught out. For example, if you have a young baby they may poo ten times or more a day which means you will need 10-20 pairs of cloth diapers which will need washing every day.
You may think that all this extra washing is unfriendly to the environment and you would be correct. However, the energy and water you use to clean your cloth diapers daily is nothing compared to that of disposable diaper companies and their use of resources to create their diaper products.
Even when compared to biodegradable and hybrid diapers, reusable cloth diapers still come out on top.
Disposable diapers are detrimental to not only our planet but our baby’s health. Those that have the choice and access to reusable, biodegradable or hybrid diapers should switch immediately.
If you’re looking for the most eco-friendly option you should choose the reusable cloth diapers. Those in need of convenience but who still want to mitigate their impact on the planet should opt for biodegradable diapers or hybrid diapers from a reputable company.