So, I don’t have any kids. But, my friend just had her baby boy (eee!) and we were talking about cloth, biodegradable, compostable, and regular ol’ synthetic disposable diapers the other day, which got me thinking about how much information there is out there for expectant mothers. The natural thought process and most everyone’s consensus is that cloth diapers are the environmental way to go. But, me being me and questioning literally everything that is labeled ‘green’ I did a little bit of research on whether or not this is actually true. And, boy, did I find a lot of information. It’s insane! Expectant mothers don’t have time to dive into the never-ending world of the internet to see which is best for their baby (spoiler: it depends on your baby). So, I jumped in and did it for y’all. To put the information overload into perspective: I was going to post this a month ago.
So, here is the low-down on the diaper situation for your baby.
Biodegradable Diapers: Biodegradable diapers are just that, biodegradable. They’re not compostable (same same but different) and they come with a few pros and cons.
Compostable: the product is able to completely disintegrate, leaving not toxins in the soil and giving you that good good soil gardeners are always harping about.
Biodegradable: the product is able to distintegate BUT needs help from bacteria or living organisms. It also needs to get a little hotter than your average composting does.
If you want an interesting (seriously!) article on composting and biodegradable products and a little experiment you can do, click here.
The main reason parents would want to buy biodegradable diapers (besides the feel-good feeling of doing better for Earth) is the materials that they are made out of. Synthetic diapers can give your baby a rash and can upset sensitive skin (honestly, near anything can give a baby or an adult a rash. Remember that just because it says organic or natural or plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work for you or be 100% good for you. Easy-to-relate example: I absolutely love lavender essential oils and use it in my soaps and to relax. My husband cannot tolerate lavender and has a near-immediate allergic reaction).
Essentially, biodegradable diapers just can’t be made of synthetics aka plastics in order to be biodegradable. This means that most of the diapers are made out of wood pulp and the companies wouldn’t have used chlorine bleach to make them oh-so-white. Which, like, who cares if they’re white. They’re literally made for little poop machines.
The Honest Company breaks down where their ingredients come from and what they are. Plus, you can get diapers with avocadoes and lemons on them for the millennial parents out there. They’re cute as all get out. I won’t lie, I am basic enough that I would buy these.
So, biodegradable diapers seem like the easy way to go, right? They’re easy and just the same as disposable and they’re made with better ingredients that are better for the planet and your baby. Except…
If you’re simply throwing your diapers into the regular ol’ trash, then they’re not better than average diapers. They’re slightly better because of how they are made and what they are made of (remember to check WHERE they source the materials from because ‘green sourced’ materials aren’t necessarily that great for the planet), but you’re still throwing them into the trash.
Why is it the same? Because you need air and water and organisms nom noming away at anything you want to biodegrade. This isn’t possible in most landfills because they are essentially jam-packed together to make more room for even more trash. This means that biodegradable products wont actually biodegrade in regular landfills.
Good news: some landfills are getting better at managing their garbage and are letting trash decompose BEFORE jamming it all together. As weird as it sounds, look into your local landfill. There are some pretty cool things you may not be aware of happening there.
Compostable Diapers: Okay, so I just said that biodegradable diapers are pretty damn good for the environment except for the whole not being able to biodegrade part, so compostable diapers need to be the next best thing to cloth, right? Well…
Yes, compostable diapers will be made of good-for-you and good-for-Earth products and CAN compost and break down and turn into soil. But…in order to break down human waste, you need a little bit of heat. Your compost out in your yard isn’t going to do this. Composting companies will have something that does this for you, but you will need to look into whether or not they allow human waste.
I know, I know, it’s your precious bundle of joy’s waste. So, it’s not bad and it’s a baby so it has no bacteria or anything bad in it, right? Well, that’s not how science works. They may be small, but they still have bacteria in them. Besides, you don’t really want human waste just kicking around your backyard. The smell isn’t going to be pleasant.
Compostable diapers, if you can compost them properly, are a great option. Which means you would need a commercial option. Albertans, you guys are rocking it: you can get your diapers picked up from your door! Click here for more information. Check out your local town or city if you have your own pick-up, or start one up with fellow parents who are looking for a better diapering way and a little change!
Cloth Diapers: Okay, okay. So, I said biodegradable diapers are pretty good, but not necessarily the best. Then, I said that compostables are basically the same as biodegradable diapers because you run into the same problem with them not breaking down properly in average cities and towns. Cloth diapers HAVE to be the best option, right? Well…
If you’re chugging through water like a motherfucker, then you’re not doing Earth any favours, EVEN if you’re not sending any more diapers to the landfill. But, hear me out on why they can be the best option, depending on your location and your appliances and your mindset.
Cloth diapers are expensive right off the hop because you have to buy more than one to get through a day. And, you need to buy different sizes as your little one grows. But, you get to use them. Again and again and again and again. And, you can keep on using them. Again and again and again. You can hand the cloth diapers down to your second child, or to expecting moms in your friend group (if they’re still looking good. The diapers, not your friends), or you can sell them after you’re finished using them.
But, back to the water issue. Disposable diapers use a lot of water to be made, much like anything. They also use energy and they also pollute the world in the landfill. Cloth diapers also take water to be made, they also take energy to be made, and then they keep on using water and energy when you use them. If you’re in a drought-stricken town, the option of washing diapers again and again will not seem appealing and may not be a possibility for you. But, if you run your home on a rain water system, have clean electricity (like, legit clean. Not natural gas ‘green’, Alberta) and use a washing system that uses barely any water to get those dirty diapers clean, AND keep them going on more than one baby, then cloth diapers will win out.
But, if you’re running off of coal electricity (honestly, what YEAR is this that this is still a form of energy?), have a washing machine that still has an agitator in it, and end up throwing away the cloth diapers after your baby is done with them, then it doesn’t really matter which option you choose. Disposable, cloth, biodegradable, compostable, they’ll all end up leaving a very similar carbon footprint if you don’t use them properly. As in, how they were intended.
But, there are lots of things that will help when you put your baby in cloth diapers. Like, cutting down on diaper rash. I read on countless forums and blogs that mothers have had very little to no rash on their baby’s bottoms after using cloth diapers. Which means that you can cut down on all the kinds of creams and salves and what-have-yous, which cuts down on the production of those, and the bottles that they’re sold in, and any carbon footprint that THAT company may have.
Plus, you can cut down on the chemicals going into water systems and the like by using better soaps with your better washing machine. Which, makes them better than disposables. I haven’t used soap berries on any diapers, but I absolutely love them (coupled with vinegar for harder stains) in my own washing. Click here to learn how to use these beauties.
And, if you are worried about the annoyances of cleaning a cloth diaper EVERY SINGLE TIME, you can also purchase compostable liners that apparently can be flushed down the toilet. I say apparently because ALWAYS ALWAYS check before you just flush shit that isn’t literal shit down the toilet.
Guys, it’s a whole damn cycle. Like everything in life, it depends on where it’s sourced from and how it’s used. An electric car running in China off of coal-powered electricity isn’t better for the environment than diesel or gasoline. One running off of solar, wind, hydro or nuclear power, then yeah, your car is WAY better than gasoline or diesel.
While I made this post to help all you mothers and expectant mothers out there on making a decision between cloth, compostable, biodegradable, or synthetic, I may have made it a little more confusing. But, diapers are often different for every child. Some may not like certain brands, getting a rash or feeling uncomfortable, even if they’re natural. Some people may love cloth diapers and swear by nothing else. Some people may have a diaper pick-up service and love the convenience of compostable diapers. And, some may use disposables part-time, cloth the rest of the time.
Please be aware of green-washing and read and research everything in everything that you do in your new eco-friendly journey. It’s easy to think something is the best choice because a celebrity says so or it has a leaf on the package. But, it’s not necessarily the case, as you can see from the above.
More Eco-Friendly for the Everyday
How to Stop Using Paper Towels
Eco-Living for the Everyday: Re-thinking the Convenience of Eating
Eco-Living for the Everyday: The Kitchen
Eco-Living for the Everyday: Cleaning
Eco-Living for the Everyday: The Basics