How to Choose Sustainable Disposable Diapers

We recommend choosing diapers that are free of phthalates, chlorine bleach, and synthetic fragrances. Our favorite diapers are certified by SFI and/or FSC, which both indicate that the brand is taking extra steps to protect forests when sourcing pulp for diapers.

What to Know


Sodium Polyacrylate

Sodium Polyacrylate is a super-absorbent polymer, often used in the inner lining of diapers, increasing their capacity to retain liquid. The waterproof outer layer or “backsheet” of the diaper is made of polyethylene. Creating that layer for just one disposable diaper uses 1 cup of crude oil. All the diapers just one baby uses before being toilet trained require almost 405,239 gallons of crude oil. Yikes. Crude oil (i.e. fossil fuel) processing is associated with waste and emissions, which can negatively impact water and air quality.

Wood Pulp

Disposable diapers often contain a small amount of wood pulp to help absorb liquids. Wood pulp – often referred to as “fluff” – can retain up to 10 times its weight in fluids. That’s a whole lot of something being absorbed in these diapers! The not-so-good? The amount of fluff required to keep one baby in disposables for one year is between 400-800 lbs. This has significant land use and biodiversity implications. While pulp products are considered renewable, we also have to remember that our forests are fragile and are typically depleted faster than they are replenished. That’s why it’s super important to look for certifications that indicate sustainably sourced pulp.


Synthetic phthalates are sometimes added to soften the plastics used to create diapers.  Phthalates are absorbed by the skin and since they belong to the family of endocrine disruptors –  i.e. things that mess with our hormones – they can cause developmental hurdles over time. Studies have found that prenatal exposure to phthalates can decrease mental and motor development in children, too, which is not what we’re looking for in our nappies.

Chlorine Bleach

Remember that wood pulp we mentioned? Well, that pulp is bleached and fluffed to give it that soft white look. Using chlorine bleach creates dioxins (a highly toxic pollutant that also screws with our hormones and immune systems) and other byproducts that are incredibly dangerous for human health. During manufacturing, chlorine can make its way to waterways, impacting the health of local ecosystems and aquatic life, which often means dioxins can show up and remain in the animal and human food chains for years.



The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) has a robust set of forest certification standards that enable forest managers in the United States and Canada to demonstrate that they are measuring quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, species at risk, forest conservation value, forest fiber content, and forest product traceability. Companies that purchase wood to use in the manufacture of products (like diaper companies!), can have their sourcing operations certified to the SFI standard.


The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification ensures products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits. If a brand uses the FSC certification, it means that measures are in place to ensure sustainable harvesting of pulp.


Q: Are biodegradable diapers really biodegradable?

A: Unfortunately, “biodegradable” doesn’t necessarily mean the diaper is biodegrading. Biodegradable diapers are dumped in the same landfill as regular diapers and topped with lots of other trash. Without adequate sunlight and air, there’s no difference in the way these products break down. In perfect conditions, different sources say biodegradable diapers can take anywhere from a few months to 50 years, instead of 500 years for regular diapers. But because perfect conditions don’t exist in a landfill, that’s an easy way to say no one really knows!

Q: How do I dispose of disposable diapers?

A: If throwing out diapers at home, never dump them in the recycling bin - no matter how passionately we love to recycle! Always place diapers in a separate bin or liner to avoid contaminating your other household waste and to save waste management handlers time! If you’re a composter, check out local laws and services in your area, though this isn’t super common. Your best bet for compost is to evaluate your resources at home for inclusion in compost for flowers and shrubs - never for food! Wet diapers only, for obvious reasons. Just remember to rip the diaper open and only use the sodium polyacrylate and wood pulp insides. Discard the plastic lining in the trash.