Disposable diapers are a mom's best friend and one of the Earth's worst enemies. According to the Clean Air Council, Americans throw away 49 million diapers per day, accounting for two percent of all garbage generated in the U.S. "Diapers are one of the largest contributors to landfills," explains Sara Snow, natural and green living expert and author of Fresh Living: The Essential Room-by-Room Guide to a Greener, Healthier Family and Home. "And we don't really know how long it takes for them to decompose."
In addition, The Real Diaper Association says that disposable diapers contain ingredients that could harm animals, humans, and the environment, including polyethylene, petroleum, wood pulp, gelling material, perfume, and polypropylene, as well as non-renewable, petroleum-based ingredients. And the simple of act of making a disposable diaper releases dioxin into the environment, a toxin that has been linked to cancer and found to pose a threat to developing fetuses.
Along with the environmental impact, disposable diapers are believed to pose a danger to baby's health. Many brands contain chlorine, a harsh chemical that can cause skin irritations and rash. Research also shows that if a person is exposed to it over long periods of time, chlorine can lead to cancer. Disposable diapers also contain latex, perfumes, and dyes that can trigger allergic reactions.
A study by the University of Kiel indicated that the reduced breathability of disposables may create a raised temperature inside the diaper that is unhealthy for male babies. And many experts believe the stay-dry comfort of disposables makes it harder to potty train toddlers.
And let's not forget the cost: Disposable diapers cost an average of $4,000 per child over a two-year period. But while cloth diapers are cheaper and more eco-friendly, they simply aren't a viable option for everyone. "Cloth is more work," says Snow. "Luckily, there are a number of 'green' products on the market that are healthier for the environment and for your baby."
When eco-friendly diapers first hit the market, many parents complained about leakage. But they've come a long way, and today's options are not only chlorine-, latex- and dye-free, but they also keep baby dry. Some of the more popular brands include:
Earth's Best Organic: Made from non-chlorine bleached materials such as corn and wheat, these diapers contain fewer petro-chemicals, and have breathable sides, a moisture barrier cuff, and refastenable tabs. (Earth's Best Chlorine-Free Diapers 100ct, $35; amazon.com)
Whole Food's 365 Everyday Diapers: With absorbency gel made from a non-toxic, super-absorbent polymer, these diapers are sure to protect against leaks. (365 Everyday Chlorine-Free Diapers 30ct, $10; amazon.com)
Naty by Nature BabyCare: The surface of each diaper is covered with a film made from natural maize composed of 60 percent natural materials. (Naty by Nature Babycare Diapers 108ct, $62; amazon.com)
Seventh Generation: Made from chlorine-free wood pulp and nontoxic absorbent gel, they're also latex- and perfume-free, as well as hypoallergenic. (Seventh Generation Baby Diapers 27ct, $18; amazon.com)
Andy Pandy: The first diaper made from bamboo grown without the use of chemicals, fertilizers, or pesticides. (Andy Pandy Biodegradable Bamboo Disposable Diapers 50ct, $24.50, amazon.com)
The Honest Company: Made from “naturally derived, plant-based materials” like wood pulp from sustainably operated forests, they're also chlorine-, latex-, and fragrance-free. (The Honest Company Honest Disposable Baby Diapers, 29 ct, $25, amazon.com)
Finding the right diaper is important, but you'll also want to choose wipes, ointments, and powders that don't contain harmful chemicals. Here are a few options:
Bum Boosa Baby Wipes: These gentle wipes are 100% biodegradable and made from bamboo and natural essential oils. Bum Boosa also plants a tree for every package of its 80-count wipes sold. (Bum Boosa Baby Wipes 80ct, $9; amazon.com)
Seventh Generation Baby Wipes: These chlorine- and alcohol-free baby wipes contain a cleansing agent that is gentle on baby's tender skin. (Seventh Generation Thick n' Strong Free & Clear Baby Wipes 64ct, $9; amazon.com)
California Baby Calming Diaper Rash Cream: This all-natural, food-grade diaper rash cream includes ingredients such as ultra-purified lanolin, organic tea tree, aloe vera and French lavender, which is known for its soothing and healing properties. (Calming Diaper Rash Ointment, 0.32oz, $17; amazon.com)
Baby Bee Diaper Ointment: This diaper ointment nourishes baby's skin with vitamins A and E, and also moisturizes and soothes with chamomile. It's phthalate- and paraben-free. (Burt's Bees Baby 100% Natural Diaper Rash Ointment 3oz, $7, amazon.com)
Angel Baby Bottom Balm: This vegan ointment helps treat and prevent diaper rash with all-natural ingredients. (Earth Mama Angel Baby Oil and Bottom Balm Set, $26, amazon.com)
Farmstead Apothecary Baby Powder: This all-natural powder (no talc, of course) contains organic tapioca starch, plus organic chamomile and calendula flowers for healing and calming skin. (Farmstead Apothecary 100% Natural Baby Powder 4oz, $12; amazon.com)
When it comes to getting rid of a dirty diaper, opt for a pail that is environmentally sound and functional at the same time. The Mother-Ease Diaper Pail is made of recycled plastic. It has a natural odor control system that uses a carbon filter and basic air flow, which also helps make sure that diapers don't mold or create unwanted moisture in the pail ($46; motherease.com).
Snow points out you can also use any recycled trash can and simply buy a reusable liner for it. Planet Wise Reusable Pail Liner is made from a high-quality polyurethane laminate fabric with a special anti-microbial effect. It can used without the pail (as a large wet bag), and best of all, when it needs to be cleaned you simply throw it in the washer/dryer ($18; amazon.com).
When you're out and about, BB Well Wet Bag easily stores dirty diapers, clothes, and more. It can take the place of plastic bags—ultimately being more eco-friendly—and features an outside pocket to hold clean diapers, a wipe case, or clean baby clothes ($12; amazon.com). Planet Wise also offers a hanging wet/dry bag with a main pocket lined in waterproof material that is sewn and sealed for no wicking or leaking. A zippered dry pocket on the front holds your clean and dry diapers or clothes ($22; amazon.com).
If you'd like a bag you can dispose of right away, Nature BabyCare offers diaper disposal bags that are 100% compostable and biodegradable (50 for $10; amazon.com)
The Colgate EcoPad is made with eco-foam that uses plant oils instead of petroleum and has a waterproof damask cloth cover ($50; amazon.com). The Oeuf Eco-Friendly Changing Pad is also made of Earth-friendly foam ($59; amazon.com).
When you're traveling, the Patemm Easy-Fold Portable Changing Pad is made of eco-friendly laminated polyester ($70; amazon.com).
Complete your eco-friendly diapering experience by hauling your loot in a "green" diaper bag. The Honest Company prides itself on using only safe, environmentally friendly materials—no PVC, BPA, or AZO dyes—and its bags are made without latex, brominated flame retardants, polyurethane foams, or phthalates. Its CIty Diaper Backpack offers lots of storage, a "wipe clean" lining, and foldable changing mat ($150; target.com).
Lassig Green Label Neckline Diaper Bag also offers a changing mat, plus a water-repellent wet pouch and space for stroller hooks ($220; amazon.com). It's made of 100% polyester from recycled plastic bottles and comes in black, olive, burgundy, denim, and taupe.