Let’s get this out of the way off the top: Ecobou has the poop on the best eco friendly diapers. Time to get serious now. Diapers are a massive source of waste and pollution, and we know where that leads: to garbage dumps and then to climate change.
Gone are the days where cloth diapers are the norm; still used, and again gaining popularity very slightly, they don’t rank much better (more about that later) than disposable ones. Research suggests that once women started working outside the home in droves and stopped being “homemakers”, the concept of washing a slew of dirty diapers became virtually obsolete; women just didn’t have the time. Diaper services existed back then, too, but are uncommon these days. Disposable diapers are just more convenient for moms. And more expensive.
We only recommend products we would use ourself and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post contains affiliate links, so if you use these links to buy something, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. This helps us to fund our efforts to create more valuable content for you day in and day out.
But diapers are a dirty business. Think about what you flush down a toilet on any given day. That sewage gets treated. Diapers tackle the same levels of human waste, only it’s packed up and tossed out, and ends up in landfill. On top of that, they are loaded with chemicals such as Tributyltin (TBT) that is used to prevent bacterial growth, adhesives, dioxins (known to be carcinogenic) created by the bleaching process, phthalates, synthetic dyes and scents, and even petroleum. They are not biodegradable.
We are referring to the big names that have become synonymous with disposable diapers (Huggies, Luvs, Pampers); you don’t have to add “diapers” on to the brand name to know what they are. All diaper manufacturers have been under pressure, given the thrust to repair climate damage and environmental pollution, to up their game and get with the eco tour. Numerous eco friendly companies, established and new, have made biodegradable, less harmful diapers their core business.
From newborn diapers to toddler training diapers, manufacturers of disposable diapers are being forced in some cases (by environmental protection laws) to change their methods of making diapers. There has to be a better way; diapers are a massive environmental problem.
What are the viable options? Because diapers represent so much waste, numerous avenues of alternatives have been investigated and tested, and the multiple negatives of typical disposable diapers are being addressed. It’s taking time for the diaper-buying public to embrace eco friendly approaches. But we have to be straightforward; we haven’t yet found a 100% perfect solution.
In this article, we will examine 21 eco friendly diapers and compare them by the features they boast, and then suggest the three best eco friendly diapers.
Shocking Diaper Environmental Facts
(warning: not for the those hoping to get pregnant!):
Between 30 and 40 billion diapers make their way to North American landfills every year, creating roughly 3.5 million tons of waste, second only to shoes and clothing.
A regular disposable diaper that ends up in a landfill site takes between 300 and 500 years to decompose completely (thanks largely to plastic content) and they leak pathogens from the fecal matter they contain.
Babies aren’t only to blame; about one-third of older adults use diapers as protection against incontinence.
Diapers are not bad for the environment, they’re terrible! They are largely non-recyclable or biodegradable, and resplendent with dangerous chemicals that can cause all manner of negative impact, from illness to climate change; they cause ozone depletion as a result of the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that are released as they slowly decompose. For the wearers, diapers can spread disease and infections, and cause dermatitis.
Even the manufacturing process for disposable diapers is bad for the environment. It takes approximately 9 gallons of water to make one disposable diaper. They contain plastic (to protect from leakage), synthetic stuffing for absorbency, adhesives and latex rubber in the elastic parts.
Disposable Versus Cloth/Reusable
It’s a battleground, but unfortunately, it’s pretty much a wash (pun intended). While regular disposable diapers involve toxic materials and a wasteful manufacturing process, cloth, too, particularly cotton, the fabric most used for diapers, consumes excessive water and applies dyes in its production. Once the cloth diaper is put into use, hot water, detergents and chemical softeners are used. Sometimes bleach, too. Nasty.
Essentially, the only way in which cloth diapers win over regular disposable diapers is they are less expensive to purchase (but cost more to maintain), and if several babies are planned and the cloth diapers can be passed down to other siblings, the economies of scale apply. The diaper services are also quite pricey, if you can find one.
Can Diapers Be Recycled?
Mostly, no, but there are a few start-ups doing just that. In a nutshell, they work with municipalities to have soiled disposable diapers placed in the organics (green bin) for curbside collection. From there, the plastic elements are separated from the non-plastic (who wants that job?) and the stuffing is washed to the level that it can be composted. We’re not so sure we want that in our gardens.
Even if diapers can be recycled, they’re not being recycled. Busy parents buy them for one reason (and it’s not “budget pricing”): convenience. So they throw them in the garbage.
Diaper Sizing: How to Figure it Out
The new generation of eco friendly diapers is sized pretty much the same as the old. By weight and/or age. The N or NB size is for newborns up to 10 pounds in weight, and then sizes go up from there to 7; a few are labelled NB, S, M, L and XL. And there is a training size for children roughly 2-1/2 years old who are learning to use the toilet.
How do you know what size to buy for your baby? If you have a newborn, it’s pretty obvious, and that N or NB size can work for up to 10 pounds of bouncing little one. But there is overlap once your baby starts growing and sizes merge. Size 1 is slated for 8 to 14 pounds, size 2 for 12 to 18, size 3 for 16 to 28, size 4 22 to 37, size 5 27 plus, size 6 for 35 plus and size 7 for 42 plus, by which time you’ll be packing him or her off to high school!
If your baby is suffering frequent leaks, it is suggested you go up a size. Red marks on the baby’s thighs or waist can indicate the diaper is too tight. Remember, there needs to be enough room for a bottom and the stuff that comes out of it.
In adult diapers, they are generally designed and sized for men’s or women’s bodies. The key difference is that babies defecate and urinate at a similar pace per day; older adults have varying degrees of incontinence.
What Factors Make Diapers Outstanding?
First and foremost, the old style of regular disposable diapers is not outstanding except in their complete array of negativity. The only thing they do effectively is collect pee and poop. Therefore, off the bat, eco friendly status diapers are outstanding in and of themselves. The makers of eco friendly diapers are doing what they can to lessen the awful impact of diapers made from toxic materials, simultaneously ensuring that their products are not hurting the babies’ tender skin.
Recyclable is preferential. Low in harmful chemicals, essential. They must also do the job they are designed to do: absorb human waste and not leak. Softness and a good fit are ideal. The things they should be free of is longer than what they should have: animal cruelty, latex, scent, chlorine, TBT, dioxins, synthetic dyes, plastics, gluten and phthalates, to name a few. The perfect eco friendly diaper would answer to this wish list. Does such perfection exist?
21 Eco Friendly Diapers
Before we delve into this collection and examine the variables, it is safe to say a few things about all of these products, as they have more in common than not.
We did not find one eco friendly diaper, disposable or reusable, that contained scent of any sort. All of them with one exception (that is a one size can be adjustable for all babies concept) come in standard diaper sizes. Many of them also sell wipes, training diapers and overnight diapers; only one offered swimming diapers.
Key for you as a consumer is to read between the lines when checking the websites for eco friendly diapers; it’s often what the makers and sellers don’t say than what they do that confides the facts. If they don’t say, “100% sustainably sourced bamboo,” then it’s not. If they do say, “all natural”, then it’s your guess as to what “natural” means.
A quick detour... We’re going to steer you to another article in our Ecobou blog, specifically about toilet paper. Please take a moment to read the opening paragraphs. Disposable items that take down millions of trees per annum do not somehow magically become eco friendly by planting a tree to make up for it. Many of the organizations in our list of 21 subscribe to tree-planting initiatives, even ones that do not use tree materials (such as wood pulp) in their ingredients. This is good, this is great, but they are still using wood pulp and that comes from trees; there are better alternatives. Diversion done.
Where they were included, we checked consumer reviews on the list members’ websites, keeping in mind that reviews and star-ratings are often included by company owners, friends and family, so they can be hugely biased. By reading the individual remarks, it’s fairly easy to ascertain who is reviewing honestly and who is “influenced”.
In terms of pricing, they vary due to size. A newborn package contains way more diapers than a size 7; they are priced accordingly and we have included prices where they are known. Those makers that offer subscriptions tend to have better deal, and there is no middleman as purchases are made directly.
The other fact that you need to remain aware of is the cuteness factor. Bright, happy colours and funky little animal prints on diapers mean inks have been used. Water-based inks are better; zero inks at all are best. And guess what? Those cute patterns are for your entertainment, not the baby.
This one offers all of the basic things you’re looking for, plus a few perquisites like a wetness indicator and size label (some people use different sizes for different purposes).
None of the bad stuff, like fragrance and chlorine, and not tested on animals. Thick, soft and absorbent, they’re made from bamboo, which is the best solution available to date and is naturally hypoallergenic and antibacterial. Subscribers save 20% off the normal package price, approximately $12-15 USD. Even the package is biodegradable and shipping is carbon-neutral.
Earth’s Best Disposable Baby Diapers
Like most eco-friendly diapers, these TenderCare diapers have no chlorine, latex, dye or scent, and they are still absorbent. Their ingredients are unique among the eco friendly diapers collection: renewable corn and wheat starch. Interesting, but growing corn is very hard on the soil. They have seven sizes, so the full range for pre-toilet-trained children.
Nature Baby Care Naty Diapers
Read the information with care; it says, “no plastic is on the skin”, which suggests plastic is a component of the exterior (hey, something has to stop liquid). As such, only plant-based materials touch the skin; the rest is evidently made from renewable materials. This is a tad ambiguous. The core is in fact made from wood pulp. In the mix are also polymers, which doesn’t ring as overly eco friendly. Naty also makes nursing pads and sanitary pads.
Andy Pandy Bamboo Diapers
Another bamboo product which is a winner, they are 87% biodegradable, hypoallergenic and antibacterial. The company offers some extras along with the regular benefits, including jumbo sized, in case you’re a mother elephant, and training pads. No chlorine, alcohol (we thought that was in gripe water...), preservatives, phthalates, latex, PVCs, TBTs, or antioxidants; some of these we never imagined would be present anyway. They run about $18 a package; you save 5% if you subscribe.
GroVia Reusable Hybrid Diaper Shell
We need to be clear here: they also sell cloth diapers to go in said shell. These malleable shells replace the old plastic pants that your grandmothers used on your parents. They contain no dioxins, are not bulky, and work for babies from 8 to 30 pounds, plus they offer trainers and swimmers. The organic cotton liners get changed; the leak-proof shell stays in use until it needs washing. The shells come in several colours and cost $17 USD; the liners are easy to snap in place and come as pads or pre-folded cloth. If you have the time to do laundry, this is going to save you a bundle.
Mama Koala One Size
This is a one-size-fits-all deal, whereby the tabs are used loosely or tightly to fit the size of the baby. This means you don’t have to change sizes as the baby grows. These are “pocket” diapers that come with a one-year warranty, but need to be washed three or four times prior to use. The inserts are made from two layers of bamboo, with two of microfibre, which doesn’t seem like the most eco friendly fabric. These diapers are low rise, and fit smaller babies very well. Expect to pay 12 Euros each of a pack of five for 54 Euros.
BumGenius Freetime All-in-One Cloth Diaper
These cloth diapers are not cheap ($22, cheaper if you buy 6, 12 or 24), and are one size. They boast a microfibre shell, which is fairly waterproof, but the so-called “stay-dry” interior that claims to be soft and able to wick away moisture is comprised of “domestic and imported materials”. Hmmm... They’re adjustable to fit babies from eight to 35 pounds, so the high price tag may be evened out over years of use.
Pampers Pure Disposable Diapers
One of the lead names in standard disposable diapers, they pretty much had to jump on the eco friendly diapers bandwagon or lose a huge part of market share, Not surprisingly then, from a behemoth manufacturer, these diapers (based on reviewers’ comments) are the highest price we found, and with the most fluent marketing-speak among the makers.
The “thoughtful ingredients” term just doesn’t cut it in real life, but it appears they have followed the must-haves and have-nots to be in the eco race: no chlorine, parabens, latex, or fragrance. Available in retail and on-line stores.
DYPER Bamboo Baby Diapers
As with all the other bamboo-based brands, they are soft, absorbent and boast no evil ingredients. They are plain, not printed, unscented and are easy to put on and take off. Buy one-offs through Amazon (do we really want to support big companies like that?) or subscribe and get free delivery; this program makes the diapers affordable. Even though these are made from bamboo, the company buys carbon offsets to help in reforestation, so thumbs up to that!
The Honest Company
Isn’t it kind of dangerous to call yourself honest? People will find out. From what we can tell this company serves USA customers only. A package costs $11 USD, less with a subscription, and they come in sizes from NB to 6.
Steps have been taken towards eco friendliness, such as no “added” latex, parabens, dioxins, fragrance, or animal testing, and the shipping boxes are recycled cardboard, but... The materials list is part honest and part opaque: the core is “multi-layer technology”, mostly plant-based, and then later defined as wood pulp. They also offer wipes, training pants and overnight diapers. An effort, but not quite there yet.
We’re not sure how great their diapers may be, but their website is, well, poop. Hard to negotiate, and therefore hard to research and purchase.
From the milieu we were able to figure that Hello Bello diapers, wipes and training pants come in a wide range of cute prints, include a wetness indicator, and are sold in Canada and the USA in “bundles”, which can be all diapers, or a mixture of diapers, wipes and training pants, so that’s a real perquisite for busy parents and those on a budget with varied needs. Containing none of the classic bad stuff, they are hypoallergenic and made from sustainably harvested fluff pulp (we have to assume wood pulp as fluff doesn’t grow, except under your couch), with a “plant-derived liner”.