Are biodegradable nappies really better for the environment?

baby having biodegradable nappy changed

by motherandbaby |
Updated on

The conversation around biodegradable nappies has spanned over two decades now, but it seems in recent years more parents are making the switch to biodegradable and reusable nappies.

In a bid to be environmentally friendly parents, as well as switching what nappies they use, they're also using eco-friendly nappies, wipes, and even toys.

The Environment Agency, in 2008, estimated that over the first two and a half years of a baby's life, all of the disposable nappies that they wore would create 550kg (1,200lb) of carbon emissions. While reusable nappies would create 570kg of carbon emissions.

But what about biodegradables? The problem is, while there are nappies available labelled as environmentally friendly, are they really biodegradable?

What does biodegradable mean?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, biodegradable means products or substance which are ‘able to decay naturally and in a way that is not harmful.’

What are biodegradable nappies made of?

Exactly what biodegradable nappies are made of actually differs from brand-to-brand. Typically, most contain more eco-friendly materials with fewer or no chemicals than you would find in a traditional disposable nappy.

When deciding which brand to go with, check the product information as no two brands of eco-nappies are the same.

Here are a few examples:

Mama Bamboo- Each nappy is made from mostly naturally derived fabrics: 100 per cent organic non-woven bamboo fibre, 100 per cent compostable blown film liners, and 100 per cent chlorine-free sustainably sourced compostable fluff pulp core.

Mum & You - made using chlorine-free wood pulp from certified sustainable forestry and free from dyes, lotions, and latex.

Eco by Naty - The core of the nappy is made from 100 per cent FSC certified wood pulp while the other layers are made of natural biodegradable materials.

Kit & Kin – The core contains chlorine-free fluff pulp harvested from sustainably managed forests and the front panels, tapes, anti-leak barriers, and packaging are all made from an oxo-biodegradable material.

What eco nappies are available?


These nappies won Bronze for the Best Performance Disposable Nappy or Nappy Range at the

Mum u0026amp; You Nappychat Eco-Nappies
Price: £10.99


These nappies were shortlisted for Best Performance Disposable Nappy or Nappy Range in the 2019

Eco by Naty Nappies

Rrp: £18.00

Price: £18.00


These nappies were also shortlisted for Best Performance Disposable Nappy in the 2019

Kit u0026amp; Kin Eco Nappies

Rrp: £34.00

Price: £34.00


These nappies have also been shortlisted in the 2019 and 2021 Motheru0026Baby Awards.


Mama Bamboo Eco-Friendly Natural Bamboo Nappies
Price: £35.95


These nappies were our Gold Award winners for Best Performance Disposable Nappy at the 2020

Are biodegradable nappies completely biodegradable?

Unfortunately, there are currently no nappies that are 100 per cent biodegradable. While the nappies included in this guide are made from environmentally friendly materials, they are not completely biodegradable.

Does ‘eco-friendly’ mean biodegradable?

Nappies dubbed eco-friendly simply refer to nappies that are environmentally friendly in some way, whether that’s by using fewer chemicals, plastic-free packaging, or consisting of some biodegradable materials. This is why it is important to do your homework rather than going by product packaging.

What happens to biodegradable nappies in a landfill?

Very little is the answer sadly.

Nappies with biodegradable elements need to be composted in a particular way and this isn’t going to happen at a landfill. Landfill sites are specifically designed to keep any decomposition as low as possible, because of the gases and liquids which are released when decomposition occurs.

"As landfills are ‘capped’, the environment within them is of an anaerobic nature (i.e. there is no oxygen)," says Adam Herriot, Resource Management Specialist from WRAP. "This means that biodegradable materials either do not breakdown or they take an extended period to do so. It is estimated that nappies would take approximately 300-500 years to breakdown in a landfill."

What should I do with soiled nappies that contain biodegradable materials?

Ironically, despite having biodegradable elements, this just isn't enough to be able to dispose of eco-friendly nappies in a way that is beneficial to the environment, so there'll be no popping them in your compost bin.

"We always recommend following the advice of your local authority to ensure that these go through to the most appropriate disposal route available to you," says Adam. "This unfortunately often means placing into the residual waste bin."

Should I use cloth nappies?

Another eco-friendly option you’ve probably heard about are cloth nappies. WRAP says that a baby could have used 4,000 to 6,000 disposable nappies by the time they are potty trained compared to 20 to 30 reusable nappies. "Cloth nappies, or ‘real nappies’, can be used over and over again, saving tonnes of waste from going to landfill," says Adam. " is a great source of information on additional benefits, including cost savings."

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