Are Eco-Friendly Diapers Actually Better?
Are Eco-Friendly Diapers Actually Better?
May 13, 2021

Are Eco-Friendly Diapers Actually Better?

Are Eco-Friendly Diapers Actually Better?.
Are Eco-Friendly Diapers Actually Better?

Lots of baby gear has a pretty short lifespan. A swaddle can be clutch for calming your newborn and getting a few extra hours of sleep, but you’ll only need one for a few months, max. A swing is the perfect place for your baby to relax while you get other things done, but you’ll need to ditch it as soon as your little one starts sitting up.

But then, there’s diapers.

Diapers are going to be your constant companion for, dare we say it, years to come. So it’s no wonder that many parents put a lot of thought into which type of diapers to choose.

Eco-friendly options are taking the disposable diaper market by storm. With claims like “biodegradable and better for the earth,” “organic” and “more natural on baby’s sensitive skin” scattered across the packaging, these diapers seem like the obvious choice for any eco-conscious parent who’s looking to lessen their impact on our rapidly changing environment yet still wants the convenience of a disposable diaper in lieu of cloth.

But are eco-friendly diapers actually better—for you, for your baby and for the planet? We’re breaking it down.

Are Disposable Diapers Bad for the Earth?

Before diving into eco-friendly diapers specifically, let’s start with disposable diapers as a whole. And you don’t need to be a scientist to figure out that this popular diaper choice poses some pretty big environmental issues.

Most babies will go through about 5,000 to 6,000 disposable diapers before they are potty trained. So what does that impact look like, exactly?

According to a 2014 report from the Environmental Protection Agency, disposable diapers make up about seven percent of nondurable household waste in landfills. That amounted to about 3.3 million tons of disposable diapers in landfills in 2018.

Yikes.

Eco-friendly diapers aim to be friendlier to the environment by having less of an impact on waste and landfills. But not all eco-friendly diapers are created equal, and the term “eco-friendly” is often thrown around alongside other buzzwords like organic, biodegradable, and non-toxic, making it pretty confusing to know what you’re actually getting when you purchase these types of diapers.

What Types of Eco-Friendly Diapers Are There?

A search for eco-friendly diapers yields hundreds of different results. So what does it all mean? Breaking down this umbrella term can help you better understand the different types of eco-friendly diapers.

  • Biodegradable diapers, also often called compostable diapers, generally refer to disposable diapers that are able to be composted. (Meaning they’ll break down in the right environment.) However, there are a few important things to note here. 1. There’s a difference between the terms biodegradable and compostable. As we’re not the EPA, let’s try to keep it simple: while all compostable items are biodegradable, not all biodegradable items are compostable. Biodegradable products break down into smaller elements but don’t truly “vanish,” while compostable products, under the right conditions, turn into organic material. The terms are often used interchangeably by many diaper companies, but it’s important to note the difference if you really want to do your homework. 2. Biodegradable diapers are only truly compostable if they’re sent to a commercial composting facility. While some brands (like Dyper, for example) offer this service as part of their subscription model, most do not, and diaper composting plants are presently few and far between in North America. So while a compostable diaper may take less time to break down than a traditional disposable, don’t be fooled into thinking these types of diapers will magically disappear when they hit the landfill; many can still take hundreds of years to break down as landfill conditions are not optimal for composting.

  • Sustainable diapers are free of some of the more common chemicals found in traditional diapers and generally have less of a harmful impact on the environment. Don’t be fooled, though: sustainable does not equal compostable. Sustainable diapers are generally made from some plant-based materials—the percentage of which can vary wildly brand-by-brand—and many brands that make these types of diapers often give back in some way, such as by donating to offset their carbon footprint.

  • Terms like organic, chemical-free or natural diapers mean a lot of pretty broad, non-specific and sometimes very non-scientific things. Tread carefully here and do your own research. Sometimes brands who boast these terms use plant-based materials, while others make diapers free of things like fragrance, chlorine, parabens or dyes.

Does this make organic diapers “better” than traditional disposables? The jury’s still out. Phthalates, for example, are known to affect the reproductive systems in animals—but more research is needed to assess their true effects on humans. And while it is possible that your little one will be allergic to certain fragrances or other diaper components, it’s very unlikely that traditional disposable diapers are harming your baby. Dig into the research and the science and decide for yourself instead of relying solely on the manufacturer’s claims.

Are Cloth Diapers Better Than Disposable Diapers?

You’re an eco-conscious parent looking to make the least impact on the environment when diapering your baby. So maybe you should ditch disposables altogether and choose cloth diapers, right?

Well, not exactly.

The debate over the environmental impact of cloth versus disposable diapers and which choice is greener is certainly a hot one. Proponents of cloth diapering point to the astronomical impact that disposable diapers have on landfills, which is undeniable. They also advocate for cloth due to lower long-term costs and more natural materials.

Yet disposable diaper users cite things like steep energy usage and high water costs as well as the environmental impact of cotton production in their claims that cloth diapering is a lot less environmentally-friendly than one might think. Growing and harvesting cotton (along with washing and caring for cloth diapers) carries with it some huge demands on water, and cotton in general has a pretty high carbon footprint.

Figuring Out What’s Right for You

There’s a lot to consider around eco-friendly diapers—some of it good, and some of it not so good. And just like many decisions you’ll make as a parent, it’s less about finding a “right” answer and more about figuring out what’s right for you and for your family.

There are some clear benefits to eco-friendly diapers, especially when compared to traditional disposables. When composted correctly, biodegradable diapers means less diapers ending up in landfills. Those that don’t still contain some components that break down faster than a traditional disposable might. And while they’re far from perfect, many eco-friendly diaper companies are taking steps toward sustainability, improving their production processes and designing diapers that leave less of an overall carbon footprint than old-school disposables.

But, there’s still a long way to go. The vast majority of eco-friendly diapers aren’t compostable. While the buzzwords many manufacturers use to describe their diapers may make you feel better about using them, there isn’t always a lot of science behind them. Traditional disposable diapers won’t do any harm to your baby. And eco-friendly diapers will cost you a lot more than more generic disposables.

Read, do your research and talk to other parents about what has worked for them as you try to make the best decision for your baby and your family.

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