The Not So Degradeable Biodegradeable Diaper

The Not So Degradeable Biodegradeable Diaper

While convenient, disposable diapers can take as long as 500 years to decompose and are the leading contributors of untreated human wastes in landfills. If this fact makes you turn up your nose and stirs your conscience, you might be seeking an environmentally friendly way to keep baby dry and clean. If you’re most familiar with disposables, you might think about finding a biodegradable disposable diaper before you think about reusable diapers. So let’s get to it, are biodegradable diapers truly that? Are they better for babies skin and the environment? And where really does crap go?

The Benefits of Biodegradable Diapers

While mom-tested and mother earth-approved cloth diapers are the truly eco-friendly option, those looking for a diaper that marries a positive environmental impact with disposable convenience will look seriously at biodegradable diapers. They consist of recycled pulp that is believed to decompose eventually and if this is the case, it could mean less eventual waste in our cities’ landfill. Win!

The majority of biodegradable diapers are free of most chemical additives that can irritate  your baby’s skin. Plus, several companies make flushable biodegradable diapers from sustainable materials and feature them in eco-friendly packages. Personally, having plunged many a toilet with three kids who are generous with their toilet paper wadding, I don’t think I could ever throw a flushable diaper – or diaper liner – into that little pipe. Still, no or less chemicals and environmentally friendly materials are a huge advantage over regular disposables.

And there is also the lighter diaper bag on the trip home. Though you leave the house with a stash of diaper’s you’re returning with fewer because they’ve been tossed. Used and forgotten, there is nothing to do when you get home that has to do with diapering.

All good things on the face of it, let’s look a little deeper as you consider how you want to diaper.

The Potential Drawbacks of Biodegradable Disposable

Less time to decompose than regular disposables can still mean hundreds of years. And that doesn’t address the impact of biological waste dumped unfiltered into landfill seeping into land and water.  Biodegradable disposables are a huge step forward in considering your baby’s skin and the planet they’re going to grow up in.

Higher Costs: Prepare to pay extra for the convenience these diapers. They cost more than regular disposables, and considerably more than cotton or cloth diapers which actually save you hundreds of dollars annually. In fact, diaper services cost even less when costs like hydro, electricity, cleansers, and your time are factored in.

Lack of Eco-Friendly Evidence: In theory, biodegradable diapers decompose faster than disposables. However, none of them have been in the ground long enough for anyone to know just how much faster nor how completely. In fact, for optimal decomposition, many companies recommend disposal processing requiring shredding the plastic film of the diapers and then composting or using a wormery. That’s certainly eco-friendly, but hardly convenient (or possible) for regular families.

Consider Baby’s Comfort: Keeping baby happy and cozy is most important, of course. While diapers that promise maximum absorption for longer leak-free wear, leaving your newborn or young child in a wet or soiled diaper long has two consequences.

  • Skin Health – Even minimal gels and chemicals can irritate baby’s skin. Even absorbed urine produces bacteria and a dry baby may sit in their spoil longer before alerting you.
  • A Lost Bonding Moment – Less frequent changes can mean lost opportunities for bonding rituals and behaviours that accompany diaper changes.

The ‘Bottom’ Line on Biodegradable Diapers

Definitely a go-to if there isn’t a cloth diaper laundry service in your area or you are away for longer than a week because they potentially reduce the impact on the environment compared to other use and toss diapers.  They’re more costly, though, and still not fully recyclable or decomposable.  Which means many families will forgo this option because it’s already so very costly to have kiddo’s.

That being said, it’s absolutely a step in a better direction than disposable diapers. If you’re someone who uses or sells biodegradable diapers, we’d love for you to tell us which ones you like and trust so that other green-minded families can take a look.  We’re happy to update this post with links to quality biodegradable diapers for families who need them.


If you happen to live in the Greater Toronto Area, have a read about Toronto’s Green Bin Policy and Disposable Diapers.



Diapers in Toronto Green Bins

Diapers in Toronto Green Bins

The city of Toronto allows diapers in the green bin. So does York region and Vaughan.

Great news, right?! Not exactly. The fact that these cities and regions accept diapers in green bins does not mean that disposable diapers are now magically biodegradable, sadly, they are not.

In fact, the large amounts of plastic, pulp, and chemicals that make up each disposable diaper do not compost. They remain in our landfills, leaching toxins and waste into the soil, well, pretty much forever (300-500 years is the estimate).

Toronto, Vaughan, York and other regions accept diapers in green bins out of convenience to parents because green bins are emptied weekly whereas garbage and regular recycling is picked up every other week.  Great news for our noses, but no change in the impact disposables have on our soil, water, and environment. Diaper liners made of biodegradable material may be separated out but the diaper itself is then sent to landfills. The trip to the green bin depot is simply an extra trip. Basically a waste of truck space, gas and human resources within the GTA.

We think cities need to make it clear to well-meaning parents who place disposable diapers in green bins that diapers, despite being collected in the green bins, do NOT end up being composted. They are simply transferred to landfills.  So what do you do when you want to make a true impact on reducing the environmental footprint of diapering?

There are three proven options:

  1. Use a diaper service to deliver, pickup and wash diapers so you have nothing to do except change your baby.
  2. Buy or make re-useable diapers and wash them at home (if you’re washing at home, this is a very helpful article on how to get a better clean at home).
  3. Use eco-friendly disposables (they may cost more and use some level of toxins or gels but far less so than regular disposable diapers).

Does your city allow disposables in the green bin? We’d love to know how cities help families who diaper be as ecological as they can and want to be.

Happy diapering!