Baby Diaper
PHOTOGRAPH BY CAROL YEPES/GETTY

The One Thing Parents Can Do To Keep Millions Of Pounds Of Waste Out Of The Landfill

Two dads decided to build a better disposable by making it compostable. What they made is something that's as close to organic diapers as many of us are going to get.

Leah Zerbe July 6, 2015

Inspiration comes in unexpected ways. In Mark Siminoff’s case, gazing at his curbside garbage one morning caused him to suddenly feel the guilt of fatherhood—not for bringing two children into the world, but for the amount of waste they created—specifically in the form of disposable diapers. “I wasn’t living a sustainable lifestyle,” he says. “As a daddy, I wasn’t being responsible.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average child goes through 8,000 disposable diapers during early childhood. Determined to avoid landfill-bound disposables, Siminoff and his wife tried other options including reusable diapers with flushable inserts. (Let’s just say that didn’t agree with the plumbing).

Failing to find a satisfactory alternative, Siminoff joined forces with Stephen Wahl, a design-savvy dad also looking for suitable diapering methods. Together they formed Earth Baby Compostable Diaper Service, a San Francisco Bay–based business that collects the used diapers of nearly 1,250 families. Parents pay $30 a month plus the cost of the diapers, which are made from non-genetically-modified corn and wood pulp, a paper-manufacturing by-product that has been certified as sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council.

EarthBaby delivers the diapers and wipes, and then picks up the soiled remains once a week and transfers them to a professional biosolid composting facility. There, bacteria break everything down. Pathogens are wiped out as the temperature of the compost pile rises and remains hot for several days. After about 16 weeks, the finished compost is ready to be used as fertilizer on golf courses or sod farms. It is not used to grow food, Siminoff says.

As of this writing, EarthBaby has kept more than 3.7 million pounds of diapers out of landfills. While similar diaper-composting services are peppered around the United States, they are few and far between. But smile, baby, you have options! 

Cloth Diapers
There’s been extensive diaper debate over what is better for the environment—cloth or disposable. It takes a lot of energy to manufacture disposable diapers, and the soiled end-products sit in landfills for hundreds of years, potentially leaching chemicals. On the flip side, the repeated washing of cloth diapers uses both water and energy. If cloth is your choice, wash in cold water in an energy-efficient washing machine, using a plant-based, fragrance-free detergent or nontoxic homemade soap, and then line-dry.

Less-toxic Disposables
Organic disposable diapers are becoming more common. Although they wind up in landfills, these diapers protect your baby from pesticides and bleaching chemicals while promoting sustainable farming methods.

Hybrids
Some companies, such as gDiapers, offer plastic-free, reusable cloth diapers with compostable, flushable, or throwaway inserts to lessen the impact.

Elimination Communication
Variations on this method have been used by different cultures for centuries. The goal is to tune in to your baby so you know when the baby is about to go to the bathroom. For more information on this method, visit diaperfreebaby.org.

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