If you have a baby in diapers right now, the last thing you’re probably worrying about is your environmental impact — you’ve got a real-life baby to look after and milestones to keep track of. But let’s be real — changing diapers is a huge part of having a baby. Diapers are a necessary evil, but they can be really costly over time. And, don't forget, they’re essentially single-use — since they’re going straight to the landfill, you may be wondering if compostable diapers exist.
A single baby can go through 2,500 to 3,000 disposable diapers from the time they are born to the time they turn 1, according to The Suburban Mom. In fact, disposable diapers make up about 2 percent of the U.S.’s landfill waste. At this rate, your baby’s first word will be “yikes” — after all, they are the one who will inherit planet Earth. So, with that in mind, it's no wonder you’re looking for a better, more sustainable option.
Are diapers compostable?
Sadly, traditional single-use diapers are not compostable. In order to be compostable, something needs to biodegrade on its own, which means it is made from natural materials, and therefore, be able to break down naturally. When added to the compost, it would naturally break down over time, unassisted. Because most conventional single-use diapers are made from various forms of plastic, it would be impossible for them to completely biodegrade and therefore, they could not be composted.
It would make sense that biodegradable diapers would be able to be composted, but sadly, this is not always the case either, as many diapers that are marketed as plant-based or biodegradable aren't fully compostable. Many of these diapers may also use synthetic components in their makeup, and anything synthetic inherently cannot break down in total.
Don’t worry — some biodegradable diapers are also compostable. However, most of these biodegradable diapers will not break down in your home or backyard compost bin. Many of these kinds of diapers will only break down in the right conditions, so in order to compost them, you would have to transport or ship them to a commercial or industrial compost facility. These kinds of composts have different settings and environments that are considered the right circumstances for these diapers to break down.
Although brands like Jessica Alba's Honest are marketed as a healthier alternative to traditional single-use diapers, they are still single-use and don't naturally break down. So, what makes them “healthier”? Similar to how Seventh Generation and Earth’s Best makes their diapers, Honest diapers are chlorine-free. They also use some plant-based materials in lieu of petroleum-based chemicals.
That said, here are a few compostable diaper brands — and diaper services that will compost them for you.
Certified B Corp DYPER makes plant-based diapers, training pants, and wipes from primarily plant-based materials, including bamboo, viscose, and eucalyptus. Beacuse these diapers do include some synthetic components, it's not recommended to compost them on your own, unless a local commercial composting program confirms with you that you may drop off used diapers. However, you can still compost them via the company's optional REDYPER program.
The REDYPER curbside pickup service is offered in 21 cities (with more planned) across the U.S. As part of this program, the company will send a driver to pick up your used DYPER diapers and wipes from your doorstep every other week. If you don't live in one of the currently-participating cities, you can mail your used diapers and wipes back to DYPER via the company's partnership with TerraCycle.
From there, the diapers will be transported to a DYPER sorting facility. There, they are sorted and then put through an industrial composting process, where they decompose in about 14 weeks.
Nest Diapers are nontoxic, free of known allergens, and made primarily with wood fluff, as well as some synthetic ingredients. Still, they are compostable after those components are removed. However, the brand warns that you should not compost Nest Diapers at home. They can only be successfully composted in a professional facility.
Nest Diapers recommends you compost its diapers with the compost provider Tiny Tots — more on them, below.
The company Tiny Tots offers a compost diaper service, which offers a weekly home delivery of compostable diapers and wipes, as well as weekly pickups of your used diapers. After the diapers return to Tiny Tots' facilities, they are professionally composted.
Tiny Tots sells a wide variety of compostable diapers, wipes, and training pants made by two brands: Nest and Bambo Nature.
As of publication, Tiny Tots only offers its services in California's Bay Area — hopefully that will expand in the near future.
This article, originally published on Dec. 5, 2019, has been updated.