Can You Compost Adult Diapers?

In part 1 of this series on the disposal of adult diapers, I discussed what materials—and how much of those materials—are ending up in the landfill via used adult disposable diapers. In this post, I want to examine the disposal and potential compostability of these used diapers, pads, underpads, liners and other incontinence products.

For most incontinence product users, the process of disposing of adult diapers is the same as it is for those disposing of children’s diapers; most national waste management companies allow consumers to simply put used diapers into the waste stream along with other garbage (check with your local waste management company to be sure they do not have some special requirements). Given the numbers I mentioned in my last post, that’s a lot of dirty diapers. However, if there is one bit of good news here, it is this: viruses contained in human feces have not yet shown any danger to waste collection workers based on current collection methods.

These diapers are thrown away for one major reason: it is “the norm.†To date, there are no truly compostable diapers available on the market, although the technology to make such diapers does exist. In my opinion, the technology can—and will—only work if government regulation requires diaper manufacturers to produce such products. Why? Simply put, even if all of the non-compostable products (e.g., petrochemical plastics, glue, tapes, etc.) in adult diapers were replaced by compostable materials, waste management companies would have to be assured that each and every diaper entering the waste stream was completely compostable, and free of non-biodegradable materials. Moreover, the process for full compostablility will only work if there is 100% compliance by all manufacturers to produce a diaper that is 100% compostable. Otherwise it will be nearly impossible for waste management companies to process this stream of dirty diapers.

As consumers, all that we can do for now is to encourage our federal, state and local governments to recognize the amount of non-compostable trash being generated by the users of adult disposable diapers and to propose proactive solutions. The industry knows of the technology to completely eliminate this issue. However, as I’ve stated before, I am no expert on this matter and welcome all comments from readers, informed individuals and bona fide experts.

Next time I’ll tackle how incontinent product users can help the environment, reduce the carbon footprint left by disposable diapers, and save money at the same time.

Your Partner in Comfort,




Gary is an adviser to online incontinence care products provider

over 3 years, said...

I liked your insights. These days, my uncle fully relies on adult diapers. The disposal is not much of a problem. We find it way better than the DIY cloth ones, especially when we're travelling with him.

almost 4 years, said...

Hi, Gary. Like you, I am concerned about the numbers of both adult and baby diapers entering our waste stream. My son's mother and I used cloth diapers on him 30+ years ago and now my 85 year-old father uses pull-up disposables. I would like to be a merchant of truly compostable diapers not only because I care about the earth but because it seems to be a reasonable niche market that is not currently being satisfied at least in the U.S. A few facts that you may already know: the average infant in the U.S. uses 3800 diapers before being potty-trained and a study by the University of Vermont says that "compostable" diapers bagged in a garden variety black trash bag, like many other biodegradables, requires light for degradation and will not compost in a landfill, at least in a handful of years. A question: do you know on average, how long an adult uses diapers before death? My father has been using them for 3 years already, so I expect the burgeoning geriatric population will surpass the infant market, if it hasn't already, in tonnage of diapers dumped into landfills. Second question: are there any U.S. corporations manufacturing compostable adult diapers domestically? Obviously, if a "green' product is shipped to the U.S. from China, Europe, Turkey or even Canada, its carbon footprint is already huge and perhaps not offset by any green waste disposal options.

about 4 years, said...

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over 6 years, said...

Thanks for the great post. It would be fantastic if they could make adult disposable diapers so that they could be used in compost. There are so many diapers that it seems like such a waste and they really fill up the landfills. Thanks for the post. Here's to hoping for improvement and innovation.