The Environmental Impact of Diapers—Plus 4 Eco-Friendly Options to Try

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"Here's the scoop on how diapers *really* impact the environment, plus eco-friendly alternatives to try."

When you’re taking care of a baby, you’ll be changing a lot of diapers. But, which route should you go when looking for the best planet-friendly option: disposable diapers, cloth diapers, or something completely different?

Though disposable diapers are convenient, they come with a greater environmental impact than their cloth counterparts. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the estimated generation of disposable diapers was 4.1 million tons in 2018. A small portion was used for combustion with energy recovery, resulting in 3.3 million tons ending up in landfills. That year, diapers accounted for 1.4 percent of all municipal solid waste.

Not only do disposable diapers contribute to a lot of waste, but single-use diapers take approximately 500 years to decompose. Cloth diapers, on the other hand, can be used over and over again. A study by Dufferin Research determined cloth diapers are often made from cotton and hemp, while single-use diapers are made from wood, petroleum, and chlorine. The materials in disposable diapers release more toxic gases, such as dioxin and TBT.

Though cloth diapers need to be washed in hot water after every use, resulting in higher water usage, the impact of disposables is much worse. From the time a baby is born to when they’re potty-trained, they may use 15 to 25 cloth diapers, whereas a baby using disposables may go through 5,000 to 7,500. Both types of diapers do eventually leave an impact on the environment, but cloth is the better choice if you’re wanting to decrease the amount of diapers that end up in landfills each year.

Taking care of a baby can already be time-consuming, so if you aren’t ready to make the switch to reusable diapers, don’t worry. There are still disposable options that are better for the environment than your average diaper, and we have some top picks in each category below.

4 Eco-Friendly Diapers to Try

1. Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers are one of the most popular sustainable options. Rather than ending up in a landfill like their disposable counterparts, cloth diapers can be washed and reused.

Many cloth diapers use organic materials like organic cotton, which reduce your baby’s chances of getting diaper rash, keeping them comfortable and happy. Once your baby outgrows them, you can keep them for future children, give them away, compost, or recycle them.

Our Pick: Esembly Inner Cloth Diaper

cloth diapers

The Esembly Inner diaper is a soft, organic cotton designed with a uniquely layered core to maximize absorbency. It comes in two sizes with adjustable waist snaps so they can grow along with your baby. Pair the absorbent inner with the waterproof outer for the ultimate reusable cloth diaper.

2. Compostable Diapers

If cloth diapers aren’t really your thing, give compostable diapers a try. Regular disposable diapers are typically made of different kinds of plastic, which make them hard to compost. But there are some diapers out there that are made with compostable materials that are much more planet-friendly.

One thing to note: Just because some diaper brands are labeled as compostable doesn’t mean you can throw them directly in your compost bin. Most brands require designated facilities to be composted, which is a little less convenient. Nevertheless, compostable diapers are a great disposable option that has a smaller impact on the planet.

Our Pick: DYPER Diapers

DYPER’s diapers are made from responsibly-sourced bamboo and are free of chlorine, latex, alcohol, lotions, TBT, and phthalate. But what really sets them apart is their REDYPER service. Just mail away the diapers and DYPER will process and compost them for you. That way, you can sleep easy knowing they won’t end up in a landfill.

3. Eco-Friendly Diapers

Though eco-friendly diapers may still end up in the landfill, they’re made of sustainably-sourced materials—such as lyocell and bamboo—that aren’t as harsh on the planet. Eco-friendly diapers offer convenience while still being a better option than well-known brands.

Our Pick: Thrive Market Diapers

Thrive Market’s diapers are made of sustainably-farmed materials, like chlorine-free wood pulp from sustainably-managed forests. Both the inner and outer layers of each diaper are also plant-based and use fewer petroleum-based materials than leading conventional brands.

4. Big-Box Store Diapers

Sometimes cloth diapers aren’t an option and you need something quick from your nearest big-box store. Though most popular brands aren’t going to be the most eco-friendly picks of the bunch, some are definitely better than others. Keep your eye out for big diaper brands that are trying to be more eco-conscious than others.

Our Pick: Seventh Generation Sensitive Protection Diapers

eco-friendly cloth diapers

Seventh Generation’s diapers are a USDA Certified Biobased Product made with sustainably-harvested, plant-based pulp. They prevent harmful toxins from entering waterways by ensuring the diapers aren’t bleached or processed with any chemicals, such as chlorine. The company is also planning on being zero-waste by 2025.

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Here's the scoop on how diapers *really* impact the environment, plus eco-friendly alternatives to try.

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