Waste Prevention Information Exchange: Health Care Waste
There are three types of diapers: reusable, biodegradable or otherwise recyclable, and disposable. This page provides references to reusable and biodegradable or otherwise recyclable diapers.
Reusable items, in general, are environmentally preferable to nonreusable items. This applies to diapers. Although biodegradable or recyclable diapers may have some environmental appeal, reusable diapers have less environmental impact, and they are generally cheaper in the long run.
Is it environmentally preferable to purchase biodegradable diapers if the diapers end up in a landfill after they are used? A landfill is not a composting facility. Nothing degrades well in a landfill. With regards to disposal, there would be little if any measurable environmental advantage to placing a biodegradable diaper in your trash over placing a nonbiodegradable diaper in your trash. With regards to diapers that will eventually be landfilled, any significant environmental advantage hinges on the types and amounts of resources, water, and energy used to manufacture the diapers. Recycled content would be preferred--postconsumer recycled content would be better.
One of the distributors listed below promotes vermicomposting its diapers. Vermicomposting is the process of using red worms to compost or convert waste into beneficial soil enhancers. Vermicomposting has proven to be a viable option for recycling food scraps in both commercial and residential settings. CalRecycle has no knowledge of commercial vermicomposting of diapers being attempted in California. However, this might be a viable option for health care facilities that generate a large number of diapers. CalRecycle will, upon request, explore the feasibility of this approach with interested institutions or corporations.
The online literature of the distributor that promotes vermicomposting its diapers appears to only address commercial vermicomposting, not in-home vermicomposting. For reasons of health and sanitation, CalRecycle does not recommend vermicomposting diapers at home, and suggests extreme caution if you attempt to do so.
The following is intended to provide you with information to help you make your choices. You may also wish to review the federal Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims.
- Solving the Diaper Dilemma--This article from Green America(formerly Co-Op America) looks at problems and solutions from an environmental perspective.
- Biodegradable Diapers
- Reusable Diapers--Some reusable diapers use single-use disposable components.
- Make Your Own Diapers:
- Real Diaper Association--Working to put more U.S. babies in cloth diapers, and to create a cultural shift in understanding cloth diapers--their environmental impact, ease of use, accessibility, and acceptability.
- Diaper Junction--An advocate for the cloth diapering community; helping families make greener choices for babies and toddlers.
- Diaper Safari--Cloth diapers and accessories.
- Enviro-Baby--Baby diapers and information regarding a cotton diaper delivery service in the Orange County area.
- Hankettes--Organic cotton diapers, diaper liners, and wool diaper covers.
- Jardine Diapers--Cloth diapers and accessories.
- Life Styles Emporium--A health and wellness resource center specializing in cloth and disposable adult and baby diapers.
- Monkey Bunz--Cloth Diapers and Accessories.
- Sweet Baby Bottoms--Reusable cloth baby diapers, cloth diaper covers, cloth diapering accessories, and other reusable and sustainable products for home and family.