As parents with a baby in diapers, you probably have a lot of things on your mind when it comes to choosing the most suitable types of diapers. The financial cost of diapers is one important thing to consider, but the environmental cost is another critical consideration.
Most babies will need between 2,500 and 3,000 diapers in their first year alone. Given this number, if you are using single-use diapers, it'll be pretty costly for you, while also making an enormous amount of trash piling up in landfills. For such reasons, let's find out how long it takes for a diaper to decompose and a few eco-friendly alternatives for your choice of diapers.
How Long Does It Take For A Diaper To Decompose?
Before getting to know how many years it takes for a diaper to decompose, you’ll need to understand what decomposition really means. Decomposition is a natural process that happens to every existing thing on earth. When a material or an item undergoes decomposition, its substance breaks down into simpler chemical building blocks and goes back to the soil.
This process takes different amounts of time, depending on the type of material. For biodegradable products, it takes only three to six months to entirely decompose, but the number is 500 years or maybe forever for plastics to disappear in the soil.
So, do diapers decompose? The answer is…yes, but it takes around 500 years for a disposable diaper to decompose. Considering that plastic has only been around since 1907 and we haven't been through enough time to verify, this is just a scientific guess. But the fact that diaper waste makes up about two percent of the total human waste makes this a concerning issue for our environment. That's why we will provide you with some suggestions for alternatives to disposable diapers if you keep reading.
What's In Baby Diapers?
Understanding the different components that make a diaper helps you be better informed on how certain types of diapers are treating your baby, and how long it takes for a diaper to decompose.
The diaper consists of four primary layers: top sheet, distribution layer, absorbent core, and the outer shell.
The top sheet is the part that comes in direct contact with your baby's skin. It's designed to quickly transfer fluids to the core while staying soft and dry. For this to happen, it sometimes involves some chemicals that most companies do not disclose in the product information.
The next layer is the distribution layer, which lies underneath the top sheet. It helps move liquid away from your baby's skin and distributes the liquid evenly to the entire core for better absorbency.
Then we have the absorbent core, inside which liquid is retained. It’s typically made of a blend of fluff pulp and polyacrylate granules. This composition ensures that the waste portion is quickly absorbed and the baby’s urine is completely trapped in the polyacrylate superabsorbent material.
And finally, the outer shell keeps everything trapped and intact. It’s usually made of petroleum-based plastic and is often treated with chemicals. Some green companies do make plant-based plastic outer shells, but in most cases, the outer shell is not made of recyclable materials.
So, what kind of chemicals go into disposable diapers?
Before going into the market, a diaper has gone through quite a few chemical treatments, and the diaper also contains several chemicals to effectively work. But most companies never share anything about these potentially harmful substances.
A few chemicals we know that exist in diapers include:
- Volatile Organic Compounds
While tributyltin helps with preventing bacteria growth, it is a harmful chemical that doesn't degrade and can go back into our food. Volatile organic compounds go into the air we breathe when they're exposed to heat. Petroleum is sometimes added to retain liquid and it poses serious risks to immune function and organ weight. And dioxins are long known to be highly toxic substances that cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems.
Other troublesome substances that can sometimes also be found are dyes, fragrances, and phthalates. Phthalate is a chemical that you should definitely keep your eyes on, as scientific research suggests it causes detrimental impact on the endocrine system.
Such chemicals and diaper components certainly help explain why it takes so long for a diaper to decompose, as most of the time, disposable diapers are not made of environment-friendly materials.
Environmental Impacts Of Diapers
Disposable diapers account for a considerable amount of waste in landfills: before becoming potty trained, a baby probably needs between 5,000 and 6,000 disposable diapers. One environmental report determined that disposable diapers make up 7 percent of nondurable household waste in landfills, not to mention that most often, these disposable diapers won't decompose or biodegrade.
Chemicals and untreated human waste in disposable diapers are harming the environment and human health. There are several toxic chemicals inside disposable diapers that are dangerous for the environment and even our living surroundings, like polymer and methane. As diapers are thrown away into landfills, they become the breeding ground for plenty of pathogens in human waste such as E. coli and Salmonella.
So the concern is no longer just the extremely long diaper decomposition time, but also the environmental impact and health risks of using disposable diapers.
Are Biodegradable Diapers A Better Option For The Environment?
Now you might ask if there is a way you can take better care of your child while helping the environment. One answer is biodegradable diapers. Although they may not be the absolute best option, they are the most eco-friendly, fully disposable option at the moment. Scientists are working hard to minimize the impact of diapers on the environment while delivering a safe and comfortable experience for babies in diapers.
Biodegradable (or compostable) diapers tend to use more sustainable materials, which involve more eco-friendly production methods. Some green diaper companies do invest more effort into making their diapers somewhat less harmful to the earth in different ways; for example, using nature-based materials, sustainably-harvested wood pulp, and keeping the diapers free of toxic chemicals and fragrance.
Despite appearing somewhat more friendly to the environment, if not handled correctly, these biodegradable diapers might just take the same amount of time to decompose as disposable diapers. Not all eco-friendly diapers will decompose entirely. What we know is that they tend to be safer and better for your child, in terms of the chemicals and materials used in the diaper-making process.
Eco-Friendly Diaper Alternatives
The most important thing to keep in mind when searching for alternatives to single-use diapers is the reusable nature of diaper alternatives. Reusable cloth diapers help us discard less waste into the environment and keep our babies safe from coming in direct contact with potentially harmful chemicals, in comparison with one-time use diapers.
Whether you're parents-to-be just starting to look for information on cloth diapers like the Apple cheecks cloth diapers, or parents who are searching for more eco-friendly options, the below suggestions will be of great help to you.
Natural Diapers Decompose Faster
The name of this diaper type explains itself. Natural diapers are made of natural materials, typically plant-based ones. These natural alternatives often involve fewer chemicals and toxic ingredients in the making process, and they are also more likely to decompose faster than disposable ones.
The most common plant-based material for natural diapers is bamboo. Newborn snap bamboo overnight fitted cloth diapers are often smooth to the baby's skin, comfortable, and cost-effective. They are chemical-free and helpful in preventing the growth of harmful and foul-smelling bacteria. Plus, bamboo diapers are biodegradable, and they will eventually disappear even if not in favorable conditions.
The next item we recommend is hybrid diapers. This type is a bit of both worlds: hybrid diapers include a reusable diaper cover with a disposable diaper insert. The diaper insert can be made from different materials, and you can totally go for natural materials that are safer for your child.
Each time you need to change your baby's diaper, all you need to do is replace the insert. This will create less waste for the environment than entire disposable diapers, while giving you the option to keep your baby away from toxic ingredients that may exist in other types of single-piece disposable diapers.
Cloth Diapers Produce Less Waste
Cloth diapers are a favorite option for many parents. They are a safer choice for both your baby and the environment. These diapers are better for your baby's skin while discharging no carbon waste to the surroundings on a day-to-day basis.
Cloth diapers do consume some environmental resources in their initial production and in their washing, but those impacts are factored across hundreds or even thousands of uses for each diaper. Cloth diapers are still a better choice compared to disposable ones, in the way that they help reduce the total number of diapers disposed of every year. These impacts are magnified if you use cloth diapers on multiple children, passing them along as each child potty trains.
Although many of these natural options are biodegradable, if not handled correctly, they are still a huge amount of baby waste. For such reasons, cloth diapers remain the most eco-friendly and economical choice for many parents. The fact that cloth diapers are reusable also means less waste to the environment and less money spent on diapers.
We hope that our information helps with your choice of diapers in protecting both your child and the environment—after all, what’s more important than saving our planet and those who live on it?