Biodegradable Nappies: Are They Any Good?

Smiling baby lying on its back looking up at parent while wearing a white biodegradable nappy.
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As parents, we want to make sure our kids grow up with the planet in the best state we can possibly leave it in.

Biodegradable nappies sound like a great way to be a more eco-friendly parent, but do they actually do what they're meant to?

We've debunked the myths around eco-friendly nappies, so you'll have all the facts before making the switch, so our planet and your baby can have the best nappy experience around.

What Does 'Biodegradable' Actually Mean?

Biodegradable means something can be decomposed by organic matter. This means that it will break down into natural particles, and be able to integrate back into the Earth when you've finished using it.

Why Are Non-Biodegradable Nappies Bad For The Planet?

It's been estimated that three billion or more disposable nappies are thrown away every single year in the UK alone. This actually makes up around 3% of all household waste, according to the charity Wrap.

Any disposable nappy that isn't biodegradable are either thrown in a landfill or burnt, which both release toxic greenhouse gases into the Earth's atmosphere. These nappies contain plastic, which can't be broken down or recycled.

What Are Eco Nappies Made From?

Different brands use different materials, but they are usually always made from some natural fibres and fabrics. Although lots do contain these environmentally friendly materials, they often are made up of some of the same materials as you might find in a normal disposable nappy too that aren't so good for the planet.

Most include one of the following materials:

Bamboo

Wood Pulp

Cellulose

Natural Cotton or Unbleached Cotton

Cornstarch Paper

Are They 100% Biodegradable?

No brand has created 100% biodegradable nappies yet. If you buy any eco nappies they are usually only between 60% and 80% biodegradable.

Happy baby lying on its back looking up at parent wearing a blue biodegradable nappy.

Do They Biodegrade In A Landfill?

You might feel like you're doing a great thing for the planet by buying an eco-friendly disposable nappy brand, but you might be surprised to know that even the nappies that biodegrade actually don't biodegrade in a landfill! That means if you put them in your bin after using them, they won't be able to break down, and they will have nearly the same environmental impact as using bog-standard disposable nappies.

This is because the nappies need to be composted in a very particular way to decompose. If they try to break down but are trapped by lots of other rubbish, there is nowhere for their natural waste to go to, so they end up not composting at all or only a little bit.

How Long Do They Take To Biodegrade?

The materials that biodegrade in the nappies could take hundreds of years to decompose if they are synthetic. Even natural materials in your nappies are likely to take 50+ years to break down completely.

Beaming Baby claims that their nappies take four years to completely biodegrade in a composting environment, and Mama Bamboo nappies supposedly take 3 months for 60% of them to biodegrade in the same environment.

If you wanted to compost your nappies at home in your garden, you would only be able to do so with wet nappies, not any that have poo waste in. You'd have to split your nappies apart to take off the non-degradable part, and you might accidentally release harmful gases into your garden.

At the time of writing in the UK, there are no facilities to compost your nappies away from home, and the government do not allow them in your brown bins for compost waste.

Baby lying on its front on a fleece blanket wearing a pink biodegradable nappy.

Benefits Of Biodegradable

Even though they might be too good to be true in some senses, there are some great benefits to choosing this option over the standard disposable ones.

Brands that create these products are usually eco-friendly in lots of other ways, and most create them with the least impact possible on the environment. They are far more likely to be made ethically, have recyclable packaging and less nasty chemicals for your baby.

They are usually free of chlorine, which is helpful for nappy rash and a baby with sensitive skin. Many boast being super absorbent compared to the normal disposable ones too.

Lots of parents choose these over normal nappy brands because they want to limit non-natural chemicals and products touching their baby where possible.

Which Are The Best Brands?

Our favourite brands for the planet and baby bottoms are these three - they use the most natural products and have the least impact environmentally than most other brands on the market. Most supermarket brands of nappy are not biodegradable, like the Aldi Mamia nappies. These brands are less common but much kinder to the planet!

Beaming Baby

The Beaming Baby nappy is made from cotton and cornstarch and contains 30% fewer chemicals than the regular disposable nappy. Each nappy is 40% more biodegradable than a standard nappy.

Eco by Naty

Free from chlorine, latex, TBT and fragrances, and oil-based plastics are kept away from baby skin. This nappy brand is made from corn starch and biodegradable polyester and is 60% biodegradable.

Mama Bamboo

Mama Bamboo use natural bamboo to create each nappy which is ultra-absorbent and great for avoiding nappy rash.

What Are The Other Options?

Don't despair, there is another option for you if you want to limit your carbon footprint when it comes to your baby's bottom. Reusable nappies made from cloth are a great alternative because you don't have to dispose of them, and can keep using them again and again without sending anything to landfill.

However, there are pros and cons to the reusable cloth nappies option too, as constantly washing them on high heat will create lots of carbon emissions that are also bad for the planet. If you limit washes of them by keeping them in a bucket until you have a few for a large wash, and air drying them, these might be the best eco option.

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Disclaimer

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