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Ethical and Eco Nappies

Finding eco friendly nappies: ratings for 20 nappy brands, with recommended buys and what to avoid.

Is there such thing as a biodegradable nappy? What's the most sustainable option? We rate major nappy brands as well as small eco brands. We look at disposable, biodegradable and reusable nappies, composting, plastics, toxic chemicals, and timber and bamboo sourcing. 

About Ethical Consumer

This is a shopping guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying nappies:

  • Are they reusable? From a waste perspective, reusables beat single-use options every time. If you’re not able to go fully reusable, then a mixture is a reasonable compromise.

     

  • If not reusable, are they made from renewable materials? Single-use nappies made from renewable and sustainably sourced materials will reduce your impact on the environment. Look for companies that are transparent about what goes into their nappies.

Best Buys

We have only given reusables a Best Buy.

Vimse has clear and detailed discussions of its environmental impacts, alongside thorough and transparent policies to protect workers in its supply chains.

Recommended

We recommend any reusable nappy company.

Ones in this guide are marked [R] on the table. For reusable brands not in this guide look for ones that discuss their environmental and supply chain impacts in detail. If you are new to reusables, nappy hire kits and libraries are a great place to start.

Disposable nappies

For disposables, Mama Bamboo’s reporting and policy is best in class, and all of the bamboo that it uses is FSC certified.

ECO by Naty and Kit & Kin are widely available brands at the leading edge of developing renewable materials for making nappies. The Cheeky Panda uses surplus bamboo fibre, all from FSC-certified forests.

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying nappies:

  • Do they contain oil-based plastics? Standard single-use nappies contain a lot of plastic, from the inner sheet and super-absorbent gel to the waterproof outer shell and sticky fasteners. Avoid those that are mainly made from oil-based plastic or that aren’t transparent about the materials they use.

     

  • Are they fragranced? Synthetic fragrances can contain irritant chemicals, which may also pose environmental hazards after disposal. Avoid perfumed nappies – parenthood was never supposed to smell nice!

Companies to avoid

We recommend avoiding Pampers and supermarket own-brand nappies.

These companies represent the bulk of the nappy market but are doing little to reduce the mounting issue of single-use plastic waste.

Boots, owned by Walgreens-Boots Alliance, scores very poorly. It loses marks for inadequate sourcing policies, and for paying its highest-paid director a staggering $17.2 million in total remuneration in 2022.

  • Pampers
  • Supermarket own brands
  • Boots

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Totsbots nappies [R]

Company Profile: TotsBots Ltd
14.5

Mama Bamboo nappies

Company Profile: Mama Bamboo Ltd
14

Vimse nappies [R]

Company Profile: Bare Collective AB (previously ImseVimse AB)
13.5

Kit & Kin nappies [R]

Company Profile: Kit & Kin Ltd
13

The Cheeky Panda nappies

Company Profile: The Cheeky Panda Ltd
13

Bambino Mio nappies [R]

Company Profile: Bambino Mio Ltd
12.5

Little Lamb nappies [R]

Company Profile: Nap Ease Ltd
12.5

Kit & Kin nappies

Company Profile: Kit & Kin Ltd
12

Mother-ease nappies [R]

Company Profile: Motherease Inc
12

Beaming Baby nappies [R]

Company Profile: Beaming Baby Ltd
11.5

Pura nappies

Company Profile: Mypura.com Limited
11.5

Beaming Baby nappies

Company Profile: Beaming Baby Ltd
10.5

ECO by Naty nappies

Company Profile: Naty AB
10

Moltex nature no.1 nappies

Company Profile: Moltex Baby-Hygiene GmbH
8.5

Rascal and Friends nappies

Company Profile: Rascals International
6

Bambo Nature nappies

Company Profile: Abena Holding A/S
5.5

Huggies nappies

Company Profile: Kimberly-Clark Corp
3

Boots nappies [R]

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd
1.5

Pampers nappies

Company Profile: Procter & Gamble Company
1

Boots nappies

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd
0.5

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

Finding ethical and eco friendly nappies

With some of the biggest brands barely scoring any points at the bottom of the guide, and a massive 14 points between the lowest and highest scoring brands (out of 20 points), the choice of nappy can have a significant impact on people and planet.

About 300,000 nappies a minute end up either in landfill, incinerated, or in the environment. They will likely languish there for centuries. Since their invention in the 1940s, single-use nappies have grown to become one of the primary contributors to global plastic waste worldwide. We are paying a heavy price for their hyper-convenience, with nappies amongst the top 25 most common plastic items found on the ocean floor.

We look at whether there are any truly biodegradable disposable nappies, and whether reusable nappies are a realistic alternative. 

 

Single-use disposable and eco-disposable nappies 

Globally, the disposables market is dominated by two brands – Procter & Gamble’s Pampers and Kimberly Clark’s Huggies – which, between them, hold an 80% market share. Pampers dominates in the UK with a 54% market share of an almost billion pound industry, despite intense and increasing competition from supermarkets’ own-brand products.

Standard disposables are seen as something of a bargain option in the UK, increasingly the preserve of supermarket own brands and Pampers’ cheaper product lines. Reusables meanwhile have become something of an ‘aspirational’ alternative – but with time, rather than money, as the primary luxury.

Look to developing markets, especially across South East Asia, and you’ll find that dynamic is reversed. Population growth and an expanding middle class have made fertile ground for aggressive expansion by Huggies and Pampers, who pitch their products as liberation from domestic labour.


Plastics and toxics in disposable nappies

Standard disposable nappies are made from a combination of oil-based materials including polypropylene, polyethylene, polyester and super-absorbent polymers, alongside fluffed wood pulp and elastic. Once used, these nappies take centuries to decompose.

The plastics can break down into microplastics whilst other chemicals leach into surrounding air, soil, and water systems. Realistically, these ingredients ought to be anything but ‘disposable’.

Eco-disposable nappy brands

Growing consumer awareness and concerns led to the emergence of eco-disposable nappy brands from the 1990s.

These brands use renewable and sustainably sourced materials such as bamboo, cotton, cornstarch, and plant-based plastics, and avoid adding fragrances or perfumes (i.e. irritant chemicals). Far from an eco-niche, you’ll often see Eco by Naty, Kit & Kin, and Moltex nappies on the shelves of major supermarkets.


Biodegradable nappies - fact or fiction?

The most 'biodegradable' eco-nappy still contains at least 20% non-biodegradable plastic material, which will likely outlive your baby’s great-great-great-great-great-grandchild.

Even material that is labelled as biodegradable will often not degrade in UK landfills, whilst ‘compostable’ materials often only do so under industrial composting conditions.

Man holding sign standing in litter dump
Used disposable diapers are thrown into rivers and their embankments across Java. Prigi Arisandi leads a movement to reduce disposable diaper pollution in rivers across Indonesia’s densely populated Java Island. His sign reads 'Free My River From Diapers'. (c) Tommy Apriando/Mongabay-Indonesia

Arguments about eco-disposables

In an April 2023 blog article titled ‘Eco Disposable Nappies are an Oxymoron’, TotsBots argued that eco disposables have a similar environmental footprint to conventional disposable nappies: “Brands that are claiming to be better for the environment are often greenwashing, and parents are being misled into thinking that they are choosing an eco-friendly option when they are not”.

We put that claim to the eco-disposables companies in the guide.

Mama Bamboo defended itself as well as Kit & Kin, and Eco by Naty. It stated that the three brands “all use 100% plant-based top and back sheets, chlorine-free sustainably certified pulp, and recyclable or compostable packaging. Using renewable sources and practising greener manufacture and operations, these brands have a lower carbon and chemical input than normal oil-based plastic versions.”

They continued, “More than four in five new parents choose to use exclusively disposable nappies and wipes, and of those who do use reusables, more than half admit to using a combination of reusable and disposables.

It is vitally important to support new parents rather than bullying or shaming them with eco-guilt, and to offer them a more sustainable disposable option which supports their choice.”

We agree with this last point. It’s unwise to overstate how sustainable these eco-nappies are, but it would be a mistake to call out this limited but genuine progress as greenwashing.

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Nappy composting is possible

Many of the issues highlighted by TotsBots are actually rooted in the UK’s waste infrastructure and issues of regulation, rather than the failings of eco-disposable companies themselves.

Biodegradable nappies could ‘do what they say on the tin’ if the UK had better systems in place to compost them and recycle the non-biodegradable elements.

Laura Crawford from Mama Bamboo told us, “Across the globe there are several working examples of large-scale nappy composting in operation including Soiled Diaper in Canada, Earth Baby in US, Dycle in Germany, Alchemists in France, and The Nappy Loop in Australia. Each of the three main eco-nappy brands (Mama Bamboo, Kit & Kin, and Eco by Naty) are actively working with Defra to make this a reality here in the UK.”

Eco-disposables are no silver bullet, and we should apply a healthy scepticism to any biodegradability claims.

How ethical are supermarket own-brand nappies?

You’ll notice that we haven’t included major supermarkets’ own-brand nappies in this nappy guide.

There are numerous Which?-type rankings available on the internet about performance and value for money, but no supermarket options are doing anything particularly pioneering in terms of ethics.

ASDA and M&S’s own-brand nappies do at least have FSC certification for their paper, but there is little else to distinguish them in terms of their supply chains or environmental impact.

When we rated the supermarkets in 2021 they all received Ethiscores 5 or below (out of a possible 20).

Reusable nappies

Reusable nappies are enjoying a boom as the movement grows against single-use products.

Reusable nappies can be made from various fabrics, including microfibre, polyurethane laminate, cotton, and bamboo. Many parents prefer to avoid microfibre as it is plastic based, and has been associated with skin irritation. We have focused this guide on brands using natural fibres.

As a general rule, look for companies that source certified-organic cotton or bamboo and have at least some discussion of their supply chain and environmental impacts. 

From a waste perspective, reusable nappies are far superior to disposables. Yet, while reusable nappies become cost-efficient over time, they are time-consuming to manage and have an upfront cost.

For many this makes reusable not an option, so we simply advise that parents find the best compromise that they can.


Carbon footprints of Reusable versus Disposable nappies

Just 30 to 50 reusable nappies will cover birth to potty training for multiple children, compared to 4000-6000 disposables for one child. They do also have a lower carbon footprint, but this is less dramatic than one might have assumed.

According to a 2023 life cycle analysis by Defra, the carbon footprint of disposable nappies for the first 2.5 years of a child’s life is 457 kgCO2eq, compared to 345 kgCO2eq for reusables. That is equivalent to driving from London to Nottingham and back 6.4 times, compared with 4.8 return journeys for reusables.


Costs for Reusable versus Disposable nappies

From a cost perspective, using reusables will turn out cheaper in the long term. Ethical Shopping For Babies has produced a useful cost breakdown including the cost of washing. They reckon reusables save around £700 per child compared to eco-disposables and £550 compated to cheaper disposables.

Those savings increase if and when you have more babies. Laundry and drying costs also depend slightly on the type of reusable nappy - fitted, terry or all-in-one. 

In the UK you can find out if your local council offers vouchers for reusables at Nappy Gurus website.

Stack of cloth reusable nappies

Reader's experience of reusables

One of our readers, Sophie, shares the highs and lows of her experiences with cloth nappies.

“I first tried a cloth nappy hire kit when my first was six months old. But after the month’s trial my husband and I decided to hand the kit back and keep using the disposables. At that point in our lives the convenience and reliability of disposable nappies was hard to turn our backs on. Fast forward to the birth of my second son and, whilst on maternity leave, I read the book ‘Is it really green?’ by Georgina Wilson-Powell. It inspired me to try cloth nappies again!

My sister-in-law, whose children had recently been potty trained, gifted me her cache of all-in-ones. At this stage both my boys were still in nappies, but I decided to start using them with the youngest first, who was about seven months old. I was excited to try them on him, but that excitement quickly turned to frustration when I found they were consistently leaking within a couple of hours – what was I doing wrong?

I sent out an SOS to a knowledgeable friend who was able to come over the next day. She showed me how to fit them correctly (they fit quite differently to disposables), lent me some extra boosters to stuff into the pockets for extra absorbency, and gave me some tips on cloth-friendly clothes. These tips definitely improved things, and I felt confident enough at this point to use them on my eldest son too.

However, I decided that I wanted to try out other brands of cloth nappies and once again put my name down on the waiting list for the nappy hire kit! It’s a great way to try out other brands and systems before investing, as what you think you like might not be what you actually get on with best. My husband prefers using TotsBots Easyfit nappies as he likes the ease of the Velcro all-in-ones – and I like to use bamboo fitted nappies or cotton terries with a wrap as they are so reliable. I never in a million years would have thought I would have learnt how to fold terry cloths and use a nappy nippa!

Cloth nappies are now the norm for us. Whilst washing them is a lot of extra work, I wouldn’t go back. Don’t be afraid to explore the world of preloved nappies – the majority of ours are second hand and they have come to me in great condition.

I recommend trying a cloth nappy library, and make sure to ask for help if you experience challenges – there are some great Facebook groups out there for support. And, if it doesn't work out the first time, you can always try again later, things change!”

Sophie, mum of two boys aged 4 and 1.

How do nappy brands rate for ethical and environmental issues?

We looked at a wide range of issues when rating nappy brands. Here we highlight how they scored for pollution and toxics, carbon management and paper sourcing.

Pollution & Toxics

Unsurprisingly, reusable brands came out top of our rankings for Pollution and Toxics, with most companies receiving our best rating (some lost marks here in relation to other products in their range). Cloth nappies are a tried and tested formula, so companies have understandably felt little need to pump them with experimental chemicals.

There is surprisingly little data available about the exact chemical composition of disposable nappies. Major brands cite trade secrets, whilst small eco-brands seem content just to label products as ‘sustainable’, ‘free of harsh chemicals’ or ‘all natural’, without explaining what these terms mean (formaldehyde and uranium are both ‘all natural’...).

This is problematic, given that disposable nappies have had a historically mixed record on toxic chemicals. Some pretty grave accusations surfaced in 2019 when a French agency called ANSES tested best-selling brands of disposable nappies and found 38 “very severely hazardous” chemicals in those sold throughout Europe.

Similar stories seem to emerge every couple of years, but are routinely denounced as alarmism by nappy producers. Worryingly, one study in India claimed to find endocrine-disrupting phthalates in the country’s nappies – including Pampers products. Disposables in Western countries may be largely free of chemicals with serious known health impacts, but India still lacks regulation on phthalates in nappies. There is a disturbing possibility that nappy producers may have cleaned up their act in the West only to be racing to the bottom in more profitable emerging markets.

We recommend going for companies that are transparent about their ingredients. For disposables, Eco by Naty and Kit & Kin both provide detailed ingredient lists and discuss the chemicals they omit – both received our best rating for Pollution & Toxics.

Nappy cores: paper and bamboo pulp

If using disposable nappies, it’s important that the pulp in their cores is sustainably sourced. We found no companies that were using recycled paper in their cores, so the best bet is to go with paper that is FSC certified. We discuss FSC certification in more detail in our toilet paper guide. Eco by Naty, Cheeky Panda, and Mama Bamboo used only FSC-certified paper or bamboo across their whole product range and received our best rating for Paper and Pulp Sourcing.

Bamboo nappies are something of a tricky one. As we discuss in more detail in the toilet paper guide, there are numerous advantages to bamboo when compared with paper sourced from virgin forests. We required companies to source 100% FSC-certified bamboo in order to get a best rating.

For bamboo to be used in nappy cores, it must be converted into viscose or rayon, which is a chemically and energy intensive process. We were therefore looking for bamboo companies to address or at least acknowledge these issues, but found such discussion to be lacking. Beaming Baby, Cheeky Panda, and Mama Bamboo lost half a mark under Environmental Reporting because they did not discuss their bamboo processing in any detail.

Carbon Management and Reporting

Only five companies – Beaming Baby, Mama Bamboo, Kimberly Clark (Huggies), Ontex Group (Moltex), and Bare Collective (Vimse) – were found to be discussing their carbon impacts in enough detail to receive our best rating.

We found that many sustainably branded companies are providing only scant details about their production processes. Eco by Naty and Bambo Nature may be eco-brands, but they are also part of large groups enjoying net sales of £128 million and £720 million respectively in the last year. We were therefore expecting thorough carbon reporting and commitments to science-based targets, yet both companies received our worst rating for Carbon Management and Reporting.

Of the smaller eco-brands, Cheeky Panda and Bambino Mio stated that they were in the process of improving their reporting, whilst Kit & Kin and Pura said their production processes were carbon neutral.

Carbon neutrality is, however, a complex term. A carbon offsetting scheme is not in itself a bad thing, but these are not substitutes for cutting emissions. We generally advise consumers to take such claims with a ready-meal’s worth of salt.

Carbon management and reporting rating Brands
Best Beaming Baby, Huggies, Mama Bamboo, Moltex, Vimse (Bare Collective)
Middle Little Lamb, Pampers, TotsBots
Worst Bambino Mio, Bambo Nature, Boots, Cheeky Panda, Eco by Naty, Kit & Kin, Motherease, Pura, Rascal & Friends

Incontinence products for adults

A reader pointed out to us that our nappies and toilet paper guides did not cover incontinence products for adults.

Whilst it wasn’t right to put them in either of these guides we have checked out the brand leaders, Tena, Always and Boots, and some alternative brands from our nappies and menstrual products guide.

  •     Natracare was a Recommended buy for menstrual products and scores 15.
  •     Eco by Naty was a Recommended buy in the nappies guides and scored 10.
  •     Ontex, the owner of Moltex nappies, make Lille Suprem and iD. The company scored 8.5
  •     Tena is owned by Essity which appeared in our toilet paper guide as the owner of the Cushelle and Velvet brands. It scored 5.5.
  •     Always is owned by Procter & Gamble which appears in this nappies guide as the owner of Pampers. It scored 2.5.
  •     Boots is in our nappies guide, and it scored 0.5.

There may also be disposable pads in our menstrual products guide that might be suitable.

Reusable and washable incontinence briefs and pads

Just like for nappies and menstrual products, products that are reusable are better both environmentally and financially than disposables.

Tena do reusable incontinence briefs.

The reusable products listed in our menstrual products guide might be suitable such as Imse and Aisle (previously known as Lunapads), Nora, Modibodi, Hey Girls which all scored highly.

We also found a number of other reusable brands specifically marketed as incontinence products that you might want to try. But we haven’t rated these companies.

Here’s a few of them:

  • Age UK briefs and pants
  • Cheeky Wipes pads and pants
  • Lady Days pads
  • Jude’s pants

Elimination communication: an option for the brave

There are options beyond disposables, and even cloth nappies – although only a fraction of modern parents go down this route. For hundreds of thousands of years human babies lived nappy-free and elimination communication remains dominant in some non-industrialised societies.

As suggested by its name, it is a matter of learned communication – learning how to sense a baby’s way of saying that they need to go. With a little bit of practice and a lot of attunement it really is possible to hold your baby over a potty or the toilet at exactly the right time. Although the goal is more about attachment forming than toilet training, elimination communication often brings a toddler out of nappies sooner than their nappy-clad peers.

If you’re interested in trying this method, summer is always an easier time to start. Just be aware that accidents happen!

Take action

The Nappy Alliance is a coalition of independent manufacturers and retailers of reusable nappies and associated products.

They spoke to us about their ongoing work on reducing the impact of single-use nappies. “We advocate for the widespread adoption of reusable nappies for babies in the UK, through the provision of information and support to policymakers, healthcare professionals, caregivers, and others, for the benefit of the environment, children, and future generations.

"‘Biodegradable’ has no standard definition, and ‘compostable’ nappies need to be torn apart (as they are never 100% compostable) and require industrial composting facilities not available to most local authorities. Additionally, only wet nappies (not soiled) are a safe option for composting. In the UK, all of these ‘eco’ nappies are destined for incineration or landfill and, even if they could be composted, as a single-use product they would still have a much larger environmental impact than reusable nappies. We're urging the government to prevent manufacturers from making misleading green claims like these using the Competition and Markets Authority and Advertising Standards Agency.

“Following the publication of the Defra’s latest Life Cycle Analysis on nappies, which found that, for a family with two children, the carbon footprint of single-use nappies is nearly twice that of reusable nappies, we are asking the government to produce a strategy to reduce use of all single-use nappies (including ‘eco’ disposables) in line with their target to cut waste by 50% by 2042."

If you’d like to support this campaign and sign their petition find out more on the Nappy Alliance website.

Company behind the brand

Procter & Gamble operates many of the planet’s most recognisable personal hygiene brands, including Pampers, Tampax, Pantene, Gillette, and Vicks, as well as Ariel and Fairy.

Over its 186-year history it has accumulated a list of controversies that rivals even its list of famous brands in length. Amnesty found serious failings in its palm oil supply chain back in 2016, with accusations of child labour, forced labour and exposure to deadly toxic chemicals.

In 2021, the Natural Resources Defense Council accused Procter & Gamble of failing to act upon a 2020 shareholder rebellion calling upon it to end deforestation in its supply chain. NRDC claimed that P&G was exploiting a semantic nuance in Canadian law that allows it to clearcut areas of boreal forest without defining that practice as deforestation.

"Because the forest is replanted rather than converted to agricultural use or a built environment, Canada still classifies barren clearcut areas as forests – meaning there technically was no “deforestation” ... just like any greenwashing attempt, the company’s new announcement is filled with lofty language that distracts from its inaction." We recommend avoiding P&G where possible.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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This guide appears in magazine EC203. The [R] in the score table after a brand name means the product has been awarded a sustainability point for being reusable.