Work in progress: making compostable diapers a sustainable choice for Seattle parents
by Melanie Carr, MS, Ecoengineer Consultant for Diaper Stork
Many eco-minded families choose cloth diapers because they help reduce household waste and carbon footprint. But could compostable diapers be a convenient alternative that offers the same environmental benefit? For Seattle-area families, the answer is still not yet. We recently shared an introduction to the status of diaper composting, and we’re back with an update on what Diaper Stork has learned in the past year of working on this issue.
Can Seattle families compost their disposable diapers?
Washington State still lacks a facility to safely collect and compost diaper waste—an issue that Diaper Stork is diligently working toward solving. In the meantime, families should be wary of the sustainability claims that companies use to market the available options. Most products are not totally compostable and include a plastic layer that would have to be removed for the product to be composted at a large facility. See our experience preparing Nest diapers for composting—a labor-intensive process that would not be feasible for a scalable business operation.
More to the point, even the portions of these diapers made of theoretically compostable materials cannot biodegrade properly unless they are in controlled conditions. When well-intentioned Seattle-area parents put these products in the garbage bin, the diapers do not break down in the anaerobic environment of the landfill but remain intact for many years. (Some products, such as Nest Baby Diapers, do have enzymes that speed the biodegradation process in the landfill.) One diaper composting program, REDYPER, trucks or ships diapers from Seattle homes across the country to a composting facility. This option may divert diapers from the landfill, but parents must ask themselves if transporting their diaper waste across the country is a sustainable practice.
Our vision: a local, sustainable, and equitable composting program
Because local solutions are best, Diaper Stork is working hard to develop a local composting program for diaper waste. We’re interested in learning about the environmental benefits of diverting diapers from landfills to compost, how a diaper composting program could be feasible on a large scale, and how to ensure that any new diaper composting programs are accessible to all families, regardless of potential barriers related to socioeconomic status, geography, race, language, or other factors. Our vision is a local, sustainable, and equitable option that keeps disposable diapers out of landfills and transforms them into usable and marketable compost products.
A Diaper Stork team is doing small-scale tests on various diapers to determine which products have the most promise for a scalable composting program. (We thank Nest Baby Diapers for their partnership and donation of diapers for the project.) We have reached out to composters, wastewater treatment agencies, and compost engineers in the area with hopes of running a larger pilot study using an existing facility. We are also seeking contributors in the academic and technical sectors to ensure our methods are robust. Most recently, we began an application for a Re+ Circular Economy grant from King County Solid Waste Division. Because infrastructure, testing, and permitting costs are steep, additional funding will give this project capacity and momentum.
Share your thoughts and ideas!
Do you have ideas for how a diaper composting program could best serve all Seattle-area families or thoughts on how we can incorporate equity and social justice principles into our vision and plans for future programs? Please send us your ideas!
We will keep you updated on our progress and any changes in the status of diaper composting in the Seattle area. In the meantime, if your goal is to reduce your household’s waste, carbon footprint, resource consumption, and overall environmental impact, reusable cloth continues to be the best choice for diapering your baby.