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You’ve seen them out there and may have even used them. Disposable diapers that claim to be all-natural or biodegradable that have fewer potentially harmful ingredients than their conventional counterparts. It’s a fantastic marketing strategy, but are biodegradable diapers better for the environment than conventional diapers?
As a new parent, we only want what’s best for our baby and we hope that the companies selling products are being honest in their claims. When it comes to all-natural and biodegradable diapers, there is a lot to unpack. It isn’t as cut and dry as the commercials and labels make it seem, but it isn’t all bad either.
If you aren’t interested in using cloth diapers, either of these choices might be better for you than traditional diapers, but you should also know that each type does come with their own drawbacks.
Let’s see what those are.
What about all natural or free and clear diapers?
There are a lot of all-natural and free and clear diapers on the market these days. Some of these diapers 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, are 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 and it has been said that petroleum-based products could contain carcinogens.
- Sodium polyacrylate can also be a contributing factor to staph infections.
- SAP is also a skin irritant since it can absorb the natural oils and moisture, causing dry skin.
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.Seventh Generation
If you are concerned about dyes, maybe Seventh Generation isn’t the diaper for you after all.
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.
These would include Naty by Nature Babycare, 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.
To compost them you will 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. 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!How Stuff Works
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.