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Natural vs. conventional diapers—what's the difference?

NFM's secret shopper heads to the West Coast to discover why natural diapers are better for babies and the environment than conventional options.

NFM Staff

June 29, 2011

2 Min Read
Natural vs. conventional diapers—what's the difference?

Each month, NFM’s secret shopper heads incognito into a natural products store with a question. The employee’s answer—and our expert’s evaluation of the response—is reported here. Our aim: to help you improve your store’s customer service.

The question: Why are these natural diapers better than the ones I see in conventional stores?

STORE:  Large natural foods chain in California.  

Store: They’re pretty much the same.

NFM: I see it says chlorine free. What does that mean?

Store: Other diapers use chemicals and bleaches. We don’t want those rubbing up against little tushies.

NFM: So they’re safer?

Store: Yes, they’re safer.

NFM: Are they better for the environment?

Store: Yes, that too. I know those over there are recyclable. And these... I can’t recall exactly, but they’re better too.

Chad SmithComment: Chad Smith, senior manager of sustainability for Earthbound Farm, an organic produce grower based in San Juan Bautista, Calif.

The store employee really blows this one. Yes, the natural disposable diapers are constructed in the same manner and designed to perform in the same way as the conventional disposable diapers, so it is fair to say they are “pretty much the same.” But in the same breath, the employee should be telling the secret shopper the added benefits of the natural version: chlorine free, fragrance free, lotion free, basically mystery free. The secret shopper really has to pull this information out of the employee, and even then the employee doesn’t do a very good job of extolling the virtues of natural diapers over conventional ones. 

Conventional diapers 101: Typically, a polyolefin fabric (a synthetic originally made from plastic using fossil fuels) wraps around absorbent materials that are made from trees—this is where the chlorine is used in conventional diapers for bleaching. Add in synthetic rubber for the elastic waistbands (fossil fuels) and ink designs so kids can look cool while messing themselves (probably fossil unless the manufacturer claims the ink is soy based). Even some “natural” diapers use fossil materials and perhaps synthetic inks depending on the brand. No chlorine is typically the differentiator.  

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