White background with woman holding two disposable nappies in one hand and two reusable nappies in the other hand.

Navigating the Eco-Friendly Nappy Dilemma: The Truth About "Eco Disposable Nappies"

Choosing the right type of nappy for your baby can be a daunting task for parents, especially when considering the environmental impact of disposable nappies. In a recent conversation with sustainability expert Emma Avery, it became clear that the term "eco disposable nappies" is a bit misleading. In this article, we explore the reality behind these seemingly eco-friendly options and shed light on the challenges surrounding their disposal.

Understanding Eco Disposable Nappies:

The term "eco disposable nappies" often implies a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional disposable nappies. However, it's crucial to recognise that these nappies are still, at their core, disposable. The real environmental impact lies not only in the production but also in the disposal of these nappies.

Compostability Claims:

Many brands boast about the compostability of their eco nappies, most are found to be between 50-90% compostable with only one known brand that is 100% compostable. While these claims sound promising, it's essential to understand that compostability doesn't mean effective disposal. 

A standard disposable nappy will contain around a third of ‘fluff’ made from wood pulp, a third is super absorbent polymers which absorb liquid and a third of non-biodegradable plastics which make up the many layers, elastics and closure tags. While Eco disposables claim to contain 50-70% biodegradable or plant based material within a nappy. There is still non-biodegradable plastic for the closure tags and elastics.

 The Landfill Conundrum:

Regardless of the percentage of compostability of eco disposable nappies, a harsh reality remains – these nappies end up in landfills.

No local councils in South Australia accept any type of nappies, whether compostable or not, in their green bins. This means that even the most eco-conscious parents are inadvertently contributing to landfill waste when using disposable nappies. 

For a material to biodegrade, it requires oxygen and heat. When an item goes through the process of breaking down in landfill where there is no oxygen present, it will produce methane (21 times more potent than CO2) and leachate (contaminated water runoff). In the depths of a landfill, there is no oxygen to help with any breakdown process so the product essentially rot, especially products which have a higher organic or compostable content.

A Glimmer of Hope:

Despite the challenges, we’re optimistic about the future of nappy waste. As awareness surrounding environmental issues grows, businesses, councils and waste management systems are evolving to accommodate the growing issue of disposable nappies.

Taking Action:

For parents concerned about the environmental impact of their nappy choices, there are a few steps that can be taken:

1. Get the facts on “eco” disposable nappies: Done!

2. Consider Cloth Nappies: Cloth nappies are today’s best environmental option. Using a reusable nappy means that you save tonnes from going to landfill (approximately 2.1 tonnes per baby until they’re toilet trained) and a significantly lower greenhouse gas and energy impact.

3. Advocate for Change: Get involved in local initiatives advocating for better waste management systems that accommodate compostable nappies. Get in touch with your local council Waste Officer to reconsider their policies regarding compostable nappy disposal.

4. Add to the Conversation: While the term "eco disposable nappies" may sound appealing, it's crucial for parents to be aware of the limitations associated with their disposal. The next time your conversation turns to nappies, let them in on this dirty secret: Eco Nappies = Landfill.

This article has been adapted by Jacqui Storey from Emma Avery’s original article “Are Eco nappies really eco friendly?” https://www.easustainability.com.au/post/are-eco-nappies-really-eco-friendly

1 Sustainable Packaging Guidelines 2019, APCO https://www.packagingcovenant.org.au/documents/item/1091

2 Industrial compostable verification program, Australasian Bioplastics Association https://www.bioplastics.org.au/certification/the-seedling-logo/

3 Bioplastics Explained, Australasian Bioplastics Associationhttps://www.bioplastics.org.au/bioplastics/bioplastics-explained/

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