You’ve seen them out there and may have even used them. Disposable diapers that claim to be all natural or biodegradable that have less potentially harmful ingredients than their conventional counterparts. It’s a fantastic marketing strategy.
I used these for the first six months of K’s life. I was cloth curious at that time but hadn’t made the plunge yet and I felt better about using these than Pampers or Huggies. These diapers are fragrance-free and don’t use chlorine to bleach their wood pulp which makes them dioxin free. This is good news, but I still have a couple of questions.
First, let’s discuss the all natural or free and clear diapers.
Some of these would include The Honest Company, Target’s Up & Up brand (yes, really), Seventh Generation, Earth’s Best, Bambo Nature, etc. These diapers claim to be made from natural ingredients extracted from plants, minimally processed, and are free of dyes, perfumes, and chlorine.
However, these diapers still contain sodium polyacrylate, otherwise known as SAP. This is the gel that soaks up hours worth of urine and gives wet disposable diapers their puffy look. But is SAP safe?
- Most SAP is derived from petroleum. Petroleum, as in gasoline. It has been said lately that petroleum-based products could contain carcinogens.
- Sodium polyacrylate can also be a contributing factor of staph infections.
- It is also a skin irritant since it can absorb the natural oils and moisture, causing dry skin.
- SAP gel has been removed from tampons because it was thought that it may contribute to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) Note that there are sources now that say that isn’t the case. That leaving tampons in too long contributed to the growth of bacteria which may be the real culprit of TSS. It is up to you whether you want to trust that at face value or still wonder if SAP could have been a contributing factor even if it may not have been the cause.
One of my favorite claims from Seventh Generation is that they don’t use chlorine to whiten their diapers. But did you know that they dye their diapers to be that light brown color to appeal to your subconscious? You see the light brown color and think, “Oh! They look so natural. How great!” Here is what they say about their dyed diapers:
While most designs on the market use pigments that result in a white color, we use a small amount of blended color pigments to impart a tan color to our diapers. The blend is proprietary to the supplier of the pigment. To the best of our knowledge, there are no known toxicity issues associated with the use of these pigments in our diapers. Without the addition of color pigments, these materials would be colorless, much like a plastic milk jug. We use brown pigments to help distinguish Seventh Generation Chlorine Free Diapers from others in the marketplace that are bleached with chlorine-containing substances.
Well isn’t that lovely? “To the best of our knowledge, there are no known toxicity issues associated with the use of these pigments”. But they really don’t know, do they? And neither do you.
Speaking of dyes and colors, The Honest Company didn’t exist yet when K was in disposable diapers but I do have to say, their diapers are really pretty cute. Of course I prefer my cloth prints, but if I found myself needing a disposable diaper I would probably choose these. I’m a sucker for a cute print, what can I say? But again, dyes and pigments.
What about Huggies Pure & Natural diapers?
Look at that packaging. It looks so fresh and green, doesn’t it?
Don’t buy into it. It’s a deceptive marketing ploy and nothing more. The outer is made of organic cotton (maybe, they won’t disclose whether its certified organic or not) but it ends there. The inside that touches your baby is still made of bleached materials (ie: dioxin) and SAP.
Diapers that claim to be biodegradable.
These would include Nature Babycare, gDiapers, GroVia, etc. These diapers are also fragrance and chlorine free. While they still contain SAP, they claim to use lower levels of it than conventional diapers.
Nature Babycare (my favorite diaper when I was using disposables) contains corn starch instead of wood pulp in their diapers. This is a fully compostable material, but please be aware that these diapers are only 60% biodegradable. I believe you would need to pull them apart and compost the compostable materials and throw away the rest. Better than the alternative of mainstream diapers, yes, but do not assume that you can throw this diaper in your compost bin as-is.
This brings me to the most important point about “biodegradable” diapers. In order for these diapers to biodegrade, you really need to compost them. If you ball them up, throw them in a Diaper Genie device then throw them in the trash they will go to the landfill just like any other diaper. There they will sit…and sit…and sit for hundreds of years. You see, you put them in a NON-biodegradable plastic trash bag and put them in an airtight landfill.
What Happens to Trash in a Landfill?
Trash put in a landfill will stay there for a very long time. Inside a landfill, there is little oxygen and little moisture. Under these conditions, trash does not break down very rapidly. In fact, when old landfills have been excavated or sampled, 40-year-old newspapers have been found with easily readable print. Landfills are not designed to break down trash, merely to bury it. When a landfill closes, the site, especially the groundwater, must be monitored and maintained for up to 30 years!
So, the bottom line is, in order for biodegradable diapers to be biodegradable you would need to compost them or flush them (the poopy ones cannot be composted). Note, when flushing an insert like a gDiaper, please don’t make the same mistake as I did. You need to pull them apart and dump out the inside material first, let it dissolve a bit, then flush the paper components of the diaper. If not, clogging may happen and it won’t be pretty!
So in conclusion, I don’t think that free & clear and biodegradable disposable diapers are as great as their marketing campaigns make them sound. However, while cloth is the far superior choice in my humble opinion, they are definitely a better alternative than the big name conventional diapers if you are unwilling or unable to use cloth diapers.