Are Biodegradable Diapers Really Better For The Environment?


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While I was doing a little web surfing this morning, I stumbled across a website that claimed that regular plastic diapers take an estimated 550 years to break down in a landfill. This shocked me so much that I had to do a double take to see if I was reading it right and sure enough, I was!

Then I began to wonder how much space these diapers must be taking up in our landfills so I started to do some digging (no pun intended). What I found was that there is quite a bit of conjecture when it comes to this subject. Depending on which website I was looking at, I found claims that these diapers decompose in as little as 75 years to as long as 700 years.

Personally, I think the real answer is that it probably takes several hundred years for them to break down and here’s why. As I discussed in my article on composting toilets, for composting to take place, there generally needs to be the right mixture of heat, moisture, and oxygen. In a landfill, there are tons upon tons of garbage packed tightly together which wouldn’t tend to produce the ideal conditions of a plastic diaper to decompose.

Let’s Look At Some Interesting Statistics

According to one article I read on the Internet, a single child will go through around 5,000 diapers in their lifetime. Around 2% of the trash in landfills in the United States is made up of disposable diapers. Each year, around 82,000 tons of plastic is used during the manufacturing of disposable plastic diapers.

I have to admit that I’ve never really looked at diapers in this way but now that I have, it’s got me wondering a few things. One of the things I’m wondering is whether it’s better for the environment for people to use the new so called “biodegradable diapers” or go old school and start using reusable diapers that are made from cloth.

I remember the day when washing out dirty cloth diapers was one of my daily chores and to tell you the truth, I wasn’t that crazy about doing it. When disposable diapers came around, my workload as a mother went way down which, at the time, I saw as a very good thing.

What’s The Verdict On The Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Debate?

When I take into consideration just how long disposable diapers that are made from plastic take to decompose, cloth baby diapers seem to win hands down. Sure, there’s more work involved in using them but if only one child will go through 5,000 diapers during their young years it seems to me that making the switch to cloth would be very good for the environment.

I just read on another website that there are an estimated four million babies born each year just in the United States alone. If we break out our trusty calculators, we can figure that each year, the birth of those babies means that an extra 20,000,000,000 (that’s 20 billion!) diapers will eventually end up in our landfills. Keep in mind that we’re only talking about the United States here. The idea of calculating how many diapers this would be world wide is hurting my brain so I won’t even try.

Are Biodegradable Diapers Really The Answer To This Problem?

It seems like the logical solution to this problem would be for everyone to switch to the new “organic diapers” that are supposed to be biodegradable. If they actually decompose like their name implies, this is a perfectly rational way of thinking but it appears that it’s not that simple.

I spent a bit of time rummaging around the Internet and there’s a fair amount of confusion over just how “biodegradable” these diapers really are. It appears that the reason these diapers are able to carry the label “biodegradable” is because they are made with natural materials like corn starch. The use of this raw material supposedly results in eco-friendly diapers that break down in a very short period of time.

The source of the controversy is that landfills aren’t generally considered to be “normal composting conditions” because they are compacted very tightly in order to make the best use out of the available space. Some claim that these organic disposable diapers don’t break down any faster than those of the common plastic variety.

I happen to believe that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. I would expect that they would break down faster than plastic diapers but maybe not as fast as the manufacturers would have us believe.

What Product Should Eco-Friendly Moms Be Using?

Well, that’s a tough one to answer. If biodegradable disposable diapers really do break down within a relatively short period of time under real life conditions which would be those found in a landfill, then using these new environmentally friendly diapers would seem to be a good thing. If they don’t break down at all when they are subjected to landfill conditions then I don’t see any benefits to using them.

Here’s how I personally would rate the three products in terms of eco-freindliness:

  1. Washable diapers made from cloth
  2. Biodegradable diapers made from natural materials
  3. Regular disposable made from plastic

Keep in mind that this is only my opinion. While we’re talking about opinions, I’d love to hear what your thoughts on the matter are. Please take a minute and leave me a comment in the box found at the bottom of this page to tell me what you think of using disposable green diapers.

If you would like to read more on the subject of composting, I suggest that you take a minute and read my article called: How Does a Composting Toilet Work To Break Down Waste.

As always, I would like to thank you for taking the time to visit BooneyLiving.com and I hope to see you all around here again real soon!


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