When Linda Naerheim gave birth to her first daughter, she wanted a high-performance diaper that was convenient to use and made from sustainable materials, but finding that combination was a challenge.
"Not everybody can do cloth," said Naerheim, who, like more than 90% of U.S. parents, preferred disposable diapers because they are so easy to use, even though she cringed at the environmental implications.
Now, five years later, the 38-year-old mother of two is hoping she can help other new parents who want to do right for their children as well as the environment. This week, Naerheim's company, Elements Naturals, is introducing a 100% compostable diaper at Expo West, the annual natural products extravaganza in Anaheim.
The plant-based diaper is hypoallergenic and chlorine- and fragrance-free, Naerheim said. Its absorbent core is made from wood pulp encased in a waterproof outer layer made from a plant-derived starch known as Ingeo. The stretchy leg cuffs are also made from Ingeo. The repositionable tabs that secure the diaper in place are paper.
Naerheim said the diaper can break down completely in 90 days. Composting is recommended only for diapers with urine.
Recognizing that many parents won't compost the diapers but put them in the trash, the diapers' packaging -- also made from compostable, plant-based starch -- recommends flushing solid waste down the toilet to reduce the amount going to landfills. But even if the diapers are tossed, rather than composted, Naerheim said they "won't take forever to break down."
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a disposable diaper will take more than 500 years to disintegrate in a landfill. Estimates vary, but as many as 27 billion disposable diapers are used in the United States each year.
Elements Naturals' compostable diapers are the second sustainable, disposable hygiene product from the Bend, Ore., company. In 2009, Elements Naturals introduced compostable, plant-based baby wipes.
The compostable diapers will launch in two sizes -- Midi (for newborns up to 18 pounds) and Maxi (for infants and toddlers 6 months to 2 years old). Midi packs hold 28 diapers, Maxis 26. They will retail for $16.99 to $17.99 depending on the location.
The diapers aren't yet available, but they can be pre-ordered online beginning in May through the Elements Naturals website and will be available in many natural supermarket chains, including Whole Foods, in late June.
Elements Naturals compostable diapers are manufactured in Italy and are already available in Europe. Naerheim said she wants to set up a manufacturing facility in the U.S. within two years.
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-- Susan Carpenter
Photos: Scene from "The Human Footprint," a 2008 National Geographic Channel special about American consumption. Credit: National Geographic Channel