With all the eco-friendly disposable diaper choices available, which ones are the best? Many parents want to know which diaper brands are biodegradable or compostable, or which contain the fewest potentially harmful ingredients. While some use the term "biodegradable" interchangeably with "eco-friendly" or "green", there is a very specific meaning to "biodegradable".
Biodegradable basically means that an item (in this case a diaper) will decompose or break down and return to soil naturally. This sounds like a great thing, as we’ve all heard that it takes hundreds of years for diapers to decompose in landfills. It would be awesome to find a diaper that would just disappear back into dirt.
This sounds like composting. Are they similar? Yes! Compostable diapers are designed to decompose back into organic matter in a commercial facility using specific conditions (temperature, moisture, organic matter, etc). Composting goes much faster than just tossing a diaper in the dirt and waiting for it to decompose naturally. Unfortunately, commercial compost sites are few and far between, and backyard composters can rarely handle diapers.
Of all the eco-friendly disposable diaper brands available on the market today, are any of them biodegradable? Truthfully, none are 100% biodegradable. Many of the more sustainable disposable diapers available have some biodegradable components, or less toxic alternatives, but none that I’m aware of are 100% biodegradable. There are a few diaper brands that are close (think 60-70% biodegradable in ideal conditions) but they are some of the most expensive.
All diaper brands use at least some plastic components (at a minimum the elastic leg gussets and sticky fasteners). So, if you tossed a used diaper out into the back yard and just left it there to decompose on its own, even in the best-case scenario there would be some parts of the diaper that would be left behind and not decompose.
Keep in mind that if you roll up your diapers into a tight ball and shove them into a plastic garbage bag which mixes in with truckloads of other garbage bags and gets all dumped together and buried in a landfill…no matter how “green” your diaper is, it won’t decompose.
Many eco-friendly or “green” diapers use some ingredients (or components) that are biodegradable. Yeah!
Look for diapers containing:
Plant-based fluff (wood pulp and corn or wheat-based absorbent are examples)
Plant-based components (instead of petroleum-based)
Try a variety of eco-friendly diaper brands with the Mother Earth Diaper Sampler Package.
"So excited to have stumbled upon this resource! I wish I had discovered it sooner! I was trying to find a truly eco-conscious diaper and was overwhelmed after my research, so I bought a few kinds from the store. The Mother Earth Variety pack from Diaper Dabbler let me try all of the ones I was looking at online! It was so helpful and allowed me to easily decide which ones I didn’t like and which one I wanted to go with long term. I highly recommend it!" -Mandy
Most diaper brands have varying degrees of biodegradability (how much of their diaper will decompose in ideal conditions), but few can give you specifics about it. In addition, there are many who throw around words like “biodegradable” without actually understanding what it means. That means to do your own research on the components that make up your diaper. Find out what they use, and you’ll be able to know if they can decompose.
A quick cheat is to consider the more eco-friendly diapers should be some of the most biodegradable. Not every one works out that way, but more often than not.
Find more on diaper research: Diaper Brand Research and Information Page
While some use the term biodegradable interchangeably with “green” or “eco-friendly”, they are decidedly different. There are no 100% biodegradable disposable diapers, but many with some biodegradable materials. When choosing diapers, look to the materials a diaper is made from and how it meets your priorities and your baby’s needs.