Sure, cloth diapering holds some hefty eco-cred in the green world, but let’s get real here: not everyone is able or willing to cloth diaper. And chances are that even those of us who do use fluff will, at some point or another, don a disposable or two. So, what then? Do we hang our heads in shame, make excuses, and apologize to other crunchies for picking the “wasteful” option? NUH-UH.
We are going to do what we always do as parents: get informed and then make the best choice we can given our family’s own needs and circumstances. There is no head-hanging or shame in that. Just because we don’t always make the “greenest” choice doesn’t mean we can’t still be earth/health conscious!
WHY SHOULD WE AVOID “NORMAL” DISPOSABLES?
They contain substances that could irritate or harm your baby like chlorine & dioxins (the same byproduct of bleaching also found in coffee filters), perfumes and fragrances, dyes, latex, petroleum-based SAP (Super Absorbent Polymer – the gel beads that expand and absorb moisture), and a myriad of other harsh chemicals.
They are detrimental to the environment by releasing chemicals into the eco-system during manufacturing and disposal, and also by the amount of waste they create. A “normal” diaper is estimated to take 450 years to degrade, and the average kid is said to blow through 6000 diapers before fully potty trained!
WHAT MAKES “NATURAL” DISPOSABLES DIFFERENT?
Most “eco-friendly” diapers are free of chlorine, latex, dyes, and perfumes. They tend to use less synthetic & petroleum-based materials by mixing in other natural fibers and fillers. Many natural diaper companies also claim to use more sustainable sourcing options, and because of using more plant-based materials can claim a significant portion of their diaper to be biodegradable.
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT DECEPTIVE DIAPER PACKAGING:
Being “Chlorine-free” doesn’t mean the diaper is green.
Many conventional diaper brands have started marketing the lack of chlorine or bleaching in their products and for very good reason: it sells! YES, we want chlorine-free diapers and should look for this qualification, but get ready to dig deeper with me.
Being “Biodegradable” or “Compostable” does not necessarily mean less waste.
The more biodegradable that a ‘sposie is, the more plant-based and natural its materials are. This is a good sign & means there will be less chance of it has of releasing toxic chemicals onto your baby or back into the eco-system. Two thumbs up. HOWEVER, since diapers are often (a) filled with human feces, which is considered a biohazard and not usually allowed at public composting sites, and (b) sent to a landfill before they will have a chance to biodegrade, chances are they won’t actually reduce waste unless you have your own composting site.
Big, bad SAP is currently in all disposable diapers, green or not.
Super Absorbent Polymers are the gel crystals found inside the absorbent core of a diaper. They are said to absorb & hold up to 300 times their weight in water! Sounds like a dream come true for keeping a baby’s bum nice and dry. The problem? SAP is a plastic and generally derived for petroleum. (Queue the there-are-scary-chemicals-in-my-pants music here.) But wait – pause the music, because there just isn’t enough evidence to say for sure that SAP chemicals are or aren’t scary. But one thing we do know for sure is that they are not biodegradable.
Enter: Plant based SAP. According to research by Baby Gear Lab in 2014, “To our knowledge plant-based SAP remains in the research and development stages and is not currently being used.” It appears that this has since changed as Broody Chick and Poof now boast being fully biodegradable and plant-based.
Everyone else though, and I do mean everyone else from the research and packaging I have read, is still using good ‘ol petroleum based SAP. Green diapers help to offset this by lessening the amount of SAP they use and mixing in natural and renewable resources instead.
NOW, LET’S GIVE 12 DISPOSABLE DIAPERS A GREEN RATING!
THE RATINGS EXPLAINED:
“GREENEST” was reserved for the only two diaper companies in the world that I am aware of who claim to use all plant-based materials and be 100% biodegradable.
YES (as mentioned in the section about SAP above), both of these companies do still have absorbent gel, but instead of being petroleum-based they are said to be derived from plants. Bravo, may other companies soon follow suit! I had no choice but to give them top green marks for that, but I would like to point out a couple concerns that I have about the particular companies:
BROODY CHICK (where to buy in infant and toddler sizes) is VERY expensive. No really, the most expensive of all 12. And from the reviews I have read online, they seem to have an “average” absorbency at best. I cannot attest to that claim as I haven’t yet tried them, but for that price I’d want them to seriously stand up to a hurricane, let alone heavy wetting.
POOF (where to buy) is a new company, just introduced in 2015. Their products are manufactured in China, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a con, but I was unable to confirm whether or not this is done fairly, or whether they conduct testing on animals or not. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt, but… yeah. I emailed the company and never heard back, which rubbed me wrong, and they are sold out of most of the diapers and sizes on their website, which also bugged me. Hopefully these are kinks that will get worked out as the company becomes more established.
“VERY GREEN” went to companies with high percentages of biodegradability and above-and-beyond eco factors.
BAMBO NATURE (where to buy) is 80% compostable, won the Nordic Swan Eco Label, harvests wood from sustainably-managed forests, and is a partner of Healthy Child, Healthy World. To top it off, Baby Gear Lab also gave Bambo the highest overall score for diaper performance (even compared to unnatural ‘sposies), and they are also dermatologically tested.
NATY (where to buy) uses non-GMO maize starch – which, c’mon, definitely sounds better than just “corn” – and also harvests wood from sustainably-managed forests. They have been labeled a good environmental choice by the Swedish society for nature conservation.
ANDY PANDY (where to buy) is a new company that, unlike most of the other green brands, pride themselves in being free of corn, wheat, and starch. Instead, the bulk of their diaper is made of bamboo, which they say is nature’s most sustainable resource, naturally regenerative, and grows without use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Cool. The downside? These suckers sell for 61 cents a piece, second only to Broody Chick.
ATTITUDE (where to buy) list their inner shell & padding as biodegradable, and they mention being “carbon neutral, which make ATTITUDE baby diapers the greenest disposable diapers in the world!” I’m not even totally sure what that means, but to be honest it was hard for me to find much else interesting to write about them so I am just going to move on…
THE HONEST COMPANY (where to buy) wins the cutest disposable diaper award – hands down. They have tons of cute prints and designs printed with lead-free ink. These diapers used to be pretty hard to find in a brick and mortar shop and were known to cost a pretty penny, but recently they have become more readily available and seem to be getting easier on the wallet too. Their inner and outer layers are biodegradable and the wood pulp used is harvested from sustainably-managed forests.
“FAIRLY GREEN” basically picked up the stragglers! These are more natural than Pampers, let’s say, but they are not biodegradable and their green points just don’t compete with the rest of the eco-friendly crowd.
BABYGANICS (where to buy) does not boast of any biodegradability powers, but they do use some “natural and renewable resources.” They also add in a 100% natural NeoNourish Seed Oil blend to soothe baby’s skin which sounds like a pro, but might need further investigation. I personally have tried these and found their absorbency to be superior to any others I have tried, even at night time.
EARTH’S BEST (where to buy) lays claim to being “made with renewable resources and fewer petro chemicals,” which basically just means they used less SAP and added something plant-based into the mix. We like to hear that, but truly this is not a unique or outstanding claim as almost everyone else on the list can say the same thing. They are not biodegradable.
NURTURED BY NATURE (where to buy) actually does list part of their diaper as being biodegradable. The reason this company was thrown into the “fairly green” category instead of the one above it is that there were so many important points that I couldn’t find out about them. Perfumes? Latex? Dyes? Animal testing? C’mon people, I need more details to give you better eco-cred! Their site says that they use “20-30% less petroleum-based materials” & “30-40% more sustainable materials than the leading brands,” but basically all diapers on this list should do that.
SEVENTH GENERATION (where to buy) totally took me by surprise by bottoming out! I had purchased these once in the past, clearly falling prey to their good marketing. Here’s the skinny: not biodegradable, they are dyed brown to look more natural (talk about pulling a fast one), and worst of all, I quote this statement from their website speaking about their diapers, “rely on man-made materials to deliver the high-level performance that parents expect. These materials are mostly petroleum-derived and are not renewable, which adversely affects the environmental footprint associated with these products. At Seventh Generation, we are pleased to offer an alternative that is not bleached with chlorine, and are working hard to improve further the sustainability.” Guys, remember, don’t fall for the chlorine-free marketing unless they give you more green vibes than that to back it up.
HUGGIES PURE & NATURAL are anything but, so I won’t even link you to them on Amazon! Their incredibly smart ploy was to offer an “organic cotton” outer layer, which sounds perfect. Unfortunately they use chlorine, test on animals, use a cluster of synthetic materials and chemicals, and everything inside is basically equivalent to any other conventional Huggies diaper you’d find at Rite Aid. Just don’t.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If we decided to make a more regular switch to ‘sposies, I would not be able to stomach the price (or mixed performance reviews) for Broody, and would instead opt for Poof or Bambo. If money was tighter I’d opt for Honest Company, and if times were even tighter than that I’d suck it up and cloth diaper!
Is the type of diaper your family uses important to you? Which would you choose and why?
This post was shared on Simply Natural Saturdays.