Disposable Diapers and Its Impact on the Canadian Environment

by Bailey Bouwman

As parents, we want what's best for our children and the planet. However, disposable diapers, one of the most common baby items on your checklist, have a significant environmental impact that can last for centuries. 

At least that's what we can parse together using the very limited amount of information available - big companies do that, they have millions of dollars to spend to ensure that we don't really understand want's going on. 

In Canada, an estimated 1.5 billion disposable diapers are thrown away each year, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and habitat loss.  It's our opportunity to make small changes to reduce the long lasting impact of diapering - so that our children's children don't live in a landfill. 

I know that's extreme, but seriously - we can't keep producing this much waste. It's not sustainable and while cloth diapers are not perfect, they are one way we can start shifting our culture of waste. 

Bailey Bouwman is a parent of two, author, and owner of Nest & Sprou


Bailey Bouwman is a parent of two, author, and owner of Nest & Sprout, a Canadian baby store. With a focus on cloth diapering and waste reduction, Bailey is dedicated to promoting sustainable and practical solutions for parents. Her book on cloth diapers is a testament to her expertise and passion for eco-friendly parenting practices.

In this blog post, Bailey highlights the environmental impact of disposable diapers in Canada and encourages parents to consider the use of cloth diapers as a sustainable alternative.

The Burden of Disposable Diapers on Canadian Landfills and the Environment

Disposable diapers have a significant impact on the environment in Canada.

According to Statistics Canada, an estimated 1.5 billion disposable diapers are thrown away each year in Canada, which is equivalent to about 4 million diapers a day or about 1,400 diapers per second!


Number of Disposable Diapers per Year

1.5 billion

Space per Disposable Diaper in Landfills

0.01 cubic feet

Space Occupied by 1.5 Billion Diapers

15 million cubic feet

Equivalent to Olympic-Sized Swimming Pools

250 pools

Equivalent to Average-Sized Family Homes

6,000 homes

Disposable diapers can take up to 500 years to decompose in Canadian landfills, provided they are given the opportunity to do so.

Assuming a generation is approximately 25 years, it would take 20 generations for the disposable diapers that were thrown away in the last century to decompose in Canadian landfills. 

it would take 20 generations for the disposable diapers

Canada employs a variety of waste management practices, including recycling, composting, and incineration, to minimize the amount of waste sent to landfills. While some waste, including disposable diapers, may still end up in landfills, it's important to consider how your local region manages waste, and what the impact of your waste is. 

Waste Management Practice

Percentage of Canadian Households









It's worth noting that these statistics are based on a survey conducted by Statistics Canada in 2017, and may vary by region. Nonetheless, they give a good idea of the current state of household waste management in Canada.

I think about how in Prince George, we don’t separate compost in our home garbage and wonder how much landfill space we are filling up with compostable products alongside waste that can’t be managed. When we look to a future of babies and having to diaper babies, we need to advocate for minimizing waste in lots of different ways. 

Because, while I do want you to consider cloth diapering - it’s unrealistic that everyone will purchase and use cloth diapers. Not right now at least, not in the way our community and society is built. 

If you use one cloth diaper per day instead of disposable diapers, you would be diverting approximately 3.65 cubic feet of waste from the landfill each year. Although this might not sound like much, it adds up over time and could have a big impact if more people made the switch to cloth diapers.

one cloth diaper per day instead of disposable diapers

The Manufacturing Process of Disposable Diapers and Its Impact on the Environment

The impact of disposable diapers on the Canadian environment extends beyond their disposal in landfills. The manufacturing process of disposable diapers also has significant environmental impacts. 

One major concern is the use of non-renewable resources in the production of disposable diapers. Now, when we think about this it's largely hypothetical and the exact numbers are hard articulate. More than ever, our supply chains are so complex. 

According to a report by Environmental Defence Canada, the average disposable diaper is made up of approximately 70% petroleum-based plastic and 30% wood pulp.

The plastic part is typically polypropylene, which is used to create the absorbent core. The production of plastics is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, with estimates suggesting that it accounts for approximately 8% of global oil consumption and around 3.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

I don't need to pull the data for you to know that plastic is an environmental challenge for our communities - especially single use plastic, that isn't repurposed, reused, and loved for years to come. 

Materials found in your average disposable diaper

The other major component of a disposable diaper is wood pulp, which is obtained from trees.... and while Canada is a leading pulp producer, we import more diapers. So we export pulp only to bring it back as finished products. This is seen in almost everything - and cloth diapers are included in that complex conversation of import and export of materials until it's finished. 

We cut down the trees leading to deforestation and habitat loss.

We process the trees with large amounts of water and energy.

We use chlorine to bleach and whiten the pulp. 

We’ve seen the environmental impact of pulp and paper industry first hand in Prince George, BC. For years, the industry went poorly regulated and was a  major source of air pollution, releasing sulfur dioxide and other pollutants into the air. This has contributed to poor air quality in the region and has been linked to health issues for residents. 

Some manufacturers are making efforts to use more sustainable sources of wood pulp, such as from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or by using recycled materials. However, the environmental impact of producing disposable diapers remains a concern.

According to Natural Resources Canada, the pulp and paper sector is one of the largest industrial emitters of greenhouse gases in Canada, accounting for approximately 6% of Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. The sector also requires significant amounts of energy, with the production of pulp and paper consuming roughly 8% of Canada's industrial energy use in 2018.

Canada is a major supplier of pulp and paper products, but we import most of our disposable diapers resulting in transportation emissions.

There are a few manufacturers in Central Canada, but we’re mostly importing from around the world. there are a few major players in the disposable diaper market in Canada, including Procter & Gamble (which produces Pampers) and Kimberly-Clark (which produces Huggies). Both companies have manufacturing facilities in the United States and other countries, and it's likely that their products are imported into Canada.

On that note, Canada used to have at thriving Canadian made cloth diaper industry, but it's really faded in the last couple years and importing cloth and disposables has dominated our consumer habits. 

Cloth diapers are one of the more environmentally friendly options to diaper your children.

However, we do recognize that they may not be feasible for all families. And that's okay. When we can recognize where and how the things we use impact the environment, we can ask for better. 

So whether it's advocating for municipal compost, encouraging local manufacturing of essentials, or just voting with your environmental values - we can start to improve the environmental impact of disposable and cloth diapers. 

 It's important to research and choose the option that works best for your family, taking into account factors such as cost, convenience, and environmental impact.


Looking for sustainable and practical solutions for your family? Nest & Sprout is a Canadian maternity and baby boutique in Prince George, BC.  

Nest & Sprout offers a range of eco-friendly diapering options, as well as expert advice and resources for sustainable parenting practices. Whether you're a new parent or a seasoned pro, Nest & Sprout can help you make an informed choice that works best for your family and the planet.

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