Do biodegradable nappies exist?

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More and more baby brands are producing disposable nappies that claim to be better for the planet.

While this could mean less plastic or cleaner manufacturing, you may have also seen nappies that are labelled as “biodegradable”. What does this mean exactly? Are any disposable nappies truly completely biodegradable? We ask Pura’s Sustainability Director Matt Moreland.

1. What does biodegradable mean?

Biodegradable means that a material will, through natural processes (bacteria, microbes and fungi), break down into organic matter, carbon dioxide and water. For example, this is what happens to an apple core, if you leave it outside.

2. Do completely biodegradable disposable nappies exist?

No, not a at the moment. All disposable nappies contain some plastic, which is not biodegradable. Some brands claim that their nappies are biodegradable, or that a percentage of their nappies are biodegradable, which may in part be true as all nappies contain wood pulp in the core – but the nappy as a whole is not biodegradable.

Some brands are also trying to create compostable nappies, these are nappies that can biodegrade to a larger extent (but not completely) but this biodegradation only happens in very specific human created and controlled conditions - not in nature.

3. Why do some companies call their nappies “biodegradable”?

A good question, I can’t speak for other brands but for me the only reason to call a disposable nappy “biodegradable” is to mislead consumers. I personally feel this is more dangerous for the environment as many consumers understand this to mean they can drop the nappy into nature, and it will break down – which is simply not the case.

4Do partially “biodegradable” nappies decompose more quickly in landfill?

The question about biodegradation in landfill is one that comes up a lot. Typically, landfills are designed to limit biodegradation of all materials, this helps to reduce emissions from the decomposing waste and means the site is more stable. With that in mind, biodegradable components may break down faster than non-biodegradable components and would not leave micro plastics when they do.

 5. Will 100% biodegradable nappies be available in the future?

As I mentioned above, there are some brands that are looking into compostable nappies, both disposables and hybrids. It is one solution to huge amount of waste created by nappies each year.

While this solution would be good, its not immediate and it would require significant investment in infrastructure and legislation to force all brands to offer products like this. Pura believes that nappy recycling is an immediate solution that can address all the nappy waste currently produced. In order for nappy recycling to become a mainstream service, we need support from local authorities and Government – something Pura is working on with our partner NappiCycle.

 6. Why is nappy recycling a good alternative to sending nappies to landfill?

The technology to recycle nappies already exists and can be applied to any and all nappies and other absorbent hygiene products (period products, adult incontinence etc.) currently available on the market, turning the valuable cellulose and plastic fibre into a new valuable product, such as asphalt, fibre board sheets and more.

7. Finally, if a nappy brand says it’s “eco-friendly”, does it always contain biodegradable materials?

Eco-friendly is a term that can mean lots of things! It does not necessarily mean that a product is biodegradable or contains a larger percentage of biodegradable materials.

In Pura’s case we think of ourselves as an eco-ethical brand because we are a certified B Corporation, and we are working towards net zero by understanding our carbon footprint and understanding how we can reduce and offset our carbon emissions.

In our nappies, we have replaced some of the oil-based plastic with plant-based materials, they are manufactured in a carbon neutral plant by a carbon neutral company. They are also accredited by EU Ecolabel and Nordic Swan Ecolabel – independently verifying that they have a smaller impact than other brands on the market.

The good news about terms like eco-friendly is that regulators such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) are better defining how the terms can be used and are actively monitoring and enforcing the rules.


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