Speaking in relative terms, disposable diapers haven’t been around for very long. For the majority of human history, we’ve used cloth diapers – or nothing at all! Disposable diapers came into being during the 40s, but even then was a luxury that wasn’t afforded to most parents. It was during the 60s and 70s that they began to spread throughout households and become the must-have product that they are today.
However, with over 50 years of constant and global use – the landfills began to swell. It has become very apparent that they are a harm to the environment and that we need to, as a society, find responsible alternatives to disposable diapers.
Some parents get a little concerned with the chemical components inside of typical disposable diapers – mainly chlorine and the Super Absorbent Polymers (SAPs – or, the gel that is used to soak up moisture). While they are considered to be non-toxic, the main concern is about their environmental friendliness. SAPs are made from petroleum, which means it is made from non-renewable resources and does not break down easily in landfills. Thus, it is not particularly eco-friendly – ABC News reports that disposable diapers made up 3.4 million tons of waste, or 2.1 percent of all U.S. garbage in landfills.
With the environmental effects becoming increasingly more transparent to the average consumer, the diaper industry has been trending away from the use of SAPs – although a full omission will likely take some time.
Most parents today think that cloth diapering was something that their mother’s and grandmother’s did, and only because there was no other option. They might have passed along horror stories about wringing out waste into the toilet and endless amounts of laundry that needed to be done. This isn’t quite the case anymore – there are a growing number of options in the world of cloth diapering. WhatToExpect.com estimates that you would spend $300 on cloth diapers, during your child’s diaper-wearing years, versus the $2,000 you would spend on disposable diapers for the same duration of time.
Flushable diapers are quickly growing in popularity among eco-aware parents. Many brands claim to have biodegradable materials, but still do not break down very well inside of a landfill. Typically, the benefit of this variety of diaper is when they are flushed down the toilet (the chemicals are designed to mix with human waste for an effective breakdown). However, if you live in an area with non-standard plumbing or a septic tank, you might want to stick to alternative diapering methods.
The technology behind compostable or biodegradable diapers works, although it is not widely available. Biodegradable diapers will only break down if they are actively composted – if you toss them in the trash bin, they will end up in a landfill with all the other disposable diapers, and won’t easily break down.
Many cities and locales will collect waste that is specifically to be composted, diapers are not traditionally accepted. Be sure to check with your local recycling service before tossing those diapers. It is also recommended that you do not compost them at home; it takes about a year for one diaper to actively biodegrade – and one baby will go through much, much more than that during the time it takes.
Final Thoughts on Eco-Friendly Ways to Diaper Your Baby
If you are concerned about the impact you and your family make on the environment – feel free to try and of the above methods, as they are all much more eco-friendly than disposable diapers.
Did you take the eco-friendly route when diapering your baby?