Inspiration often comes in unexpected ways. In Mark Siminoff’s case, gazing at his curbside garbage one morning caused him to suddenly feel the guilt of fatherhood—not for bringing two children into the world, but for the amount of waste they created in the form of dirty disposable diapers. “I wasn’t living a sustainable lifestyle,” he says. “As a daddy, I wasn’t being responsible.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average child goes through 8,000 disposable diapers during early childhood. Determined to avoid landfill-bound disposables, Siminoff and his wife tried other options, including reusable diapers with flushable inserts. (Let’s just say that didn’t agree with the plumbing).
Failing to find a satisfactory alternative, Siminoff joined forces with Stephen Wahl, a design-savvy dad also looking for suitable diapering methods. Together they formed Earth Baby Compostable Diaper Service, a San Francisco Bay–based business that collects the used diapers of nearly 1,250 families. Parents pay $30 a month plus the cost of the diapers, which are made of wood pulp (a paper-manufacturing by-product that has been certified as sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council) and non-genetically-modified corn.
EarthBaby delivers the diapers and wipes, and then picks up the soiled diapers once a week and transfers them to a professional biosolid composting facility. There, bacteria break down the diapers and baby waste into compost. Pathogens are wiped out as the temperature of the compost pile rises and remains hot for several days. After about 16 weeks, the finished compost is ready to be used as fertilizer on golf courses or sod farms. It is not used to grow food, Siminoff says.
“Composting these materials is a great way to recycle carbon and nutrients for soils,” says Sally Brown, Ph.D., a research associate professor at the University of Washington. “There is likely no downside to compostable diapers.”
Illustration: A. Richard Allen