Parents swaddle their babies in comfort, but biodegradable baby wipes are an essential part of modern parenting, too. Having biodegradable baby wipes close to hand means parents can quickly and easily wipe away the grime left on their new arrival after feeding, changing nappies or cleaning up spills. It is important for biodegradable baby wipes to be biodegradable because traditional wet wipes contain harsh chemicals that take a very long time to break down – if they ever do.
In addition to being biodegradable, parents should ensure biodegradable baby wipes do not contain any alcohols or parabens as these chemicals have been linked to rashes and other skin irritations when coming into contact with baby’s sensitive skin.
Parents should also ensure biodegradable baby wipes do not contain aloe vera as there is evidence to suggest this ingredient may inhibit skin regeneration and cause the release of histamines when exposed to inflamed skin. [ALERT: This information is based on personal online research, so it is NOT in any way certified and definitely cannot be used as professional medical advice.]
As well as being biodegradable and non-irritating, biodegradable baby wipes must also contain no plastic materials such as polyester or PVA. While these materials are biodegradable in commercial composting conditions (heated at 55 degrees for several days), their biodegradability decreases significantly in standard composting conditions (heated at 34 degrees for three months).
It is advisable for biodegradable baby wipes to be unscented as some fragrances may contain chemicals that are toxic when inhaled. Parents should also avoid biodegradable baby wipes scented with essential oils, as these oils can cause skin irritation and severe allergic reactions.
Finally biodegradable baby wipes should be hypoallergenic so they are unlikely to cause skin irritation problems. As well as being biodegradable, baby wipes must also be free from alcohols, parabens, aloe vera, polyesters or PVA fragrances and essential oils.
There are many biodegradable baby wipes available on the market, but it is important for parents to know how biodegradable baby wipes biodegrade. Biodegradability relates to the breakdown of materials by microorganisms under aerobic conditions. The biodegradation process involves microorganisms breaking down polymers into smaller units through enzymatic reactions. Common biopolymers that need to be broken down to facilitate biocide include cellulose and starch-based polymers found in food, paper, leaves and even kitty litter. Biocides have been developed to speed up the biodegradation process because otherwise biopolymer molecules can break down so slowly they are considered non biodegradable. Biocides include chemical and biological agents, such as enzymes or microorganisms that break biopolymers into biodegradable units.
While biodegradation is highly desirable because it allows biodegradable material to be reused by living organisms without causing any harm, the entire biodegradation process can take a long time – even years for some materials. For this reason manufacturers should specify the length of time biodegradable baby wipes take to decompose so parents know exactly what they’re getting when they choose one product over another. Given the conditions under which biodegradable baby wipes need to decompose (i.e., hot composting conditions), it is estimated most biodegradable baby wipes take approximately 12-18 months to biodegrade.
The first step towards biodegradability is creating a material that will break down once it has been discarded (i.e., biopolymers such as bioplastic starch and cellulose). The second step involves adding biocides or compostable plasticisers like D2W (a glycol) to biopolymers. These ingredients help speed up the biodegradation process, making it possible for biopolymers to break down into biodegradable units within a reasonable time period (i.e., several months rather than several years).
The final step in creating biodegradable baby wipes is ensuring they biodegrade in composting conditions. Composting conditions involve heating biodegradable material at 60-100 degrees Celsius and maintaining this temperature for several days to create good compost.
Biodegradable baby wipes are biodegradable, which means they will biodegrade when exposed to composting conditions such as hot temperatures and microorganisms (e.g., bacteria). But what happens when biodegraded bioplastics end up in the sewer system or waterways? Do these materials convert into toxic by products that can be harmful to living organisms?
The short answer is no because typically decomposing biopolymers transform into carbon dioxide (CO2), water (H2O) and biodegraded material like methane (CH4). All of these products are biocompatible, meaning they will not harm living organisms. There is also plenty of evidence to suggest bioplastics biodegrade in the environment with both laboratory studies and field tests confirming biopolymers decomposing into biocompatible CO2, H2O and CH4.
Biodegradable baby wipes must be biodegradable so they can biodegrade when exposed to hot temperatures under aerobic conditions. But what about environmentally friendly baby wipes that say they are made from natural materials or 100% organic cotton? Is there any difference between biodegradable bioplastic and biodegradable biopolymers? The quick answer is no, but there are a few arguments suggesting bioplastics behave differently compared to biodegradable bioplastic.
One argument suggests bioplastic will not compost because natural materials such as cotton cannot be broken down under bio composting conditions. However, the only way manufacturers can ensure their products qualify as biodegradable baby wipes is by subjecting them to hot temperatures, which will break down any material regardless of whether it is made from natural or synthetic sources. Another reason for choosing bioplastic over biodegradable biopolymer has to do with cost and availability since bioplastics tend to be cheaper and easier to source compared to biodegradable biopolymers that require biorefineries or biobased product manufacturers.
Biodegradable wet wipes take an average of 18 months to decompose in bio composting conditions (heated at 60-100 degrees Celsius under aerobic conditions). They should also be made from bioplastics like biodegradable bioplastic starch or biodegradable cellulose. However, not all products are created equal and instead of looking for biodegradable bioplastic there are a few essential features parents need to look for before buying. These include:
There are generally two types of wipes on the market today – biodegradable bioplastic wipes and biodegradable biopolymer wipes. Bioplastic has its origins in biotechnology, which involves the development of industrial techniques for manufacturing bioplastics like biodegradable bioplastic starch or biodegradable cellulose. This type of wipe is generally made from synthetic materials sourced from fossil fuels (e.g., petroleum) that are turned into plastic using chemical processes. The resulting product may be called bioplastics, biodegradable plastics or bio-plastics depending on how it is processed or what ingredients are used to manufacture it.
Biopolymers have their origins in biology, which involves the use of natural materials such as wood pulp or cornstarch to make biodegradable polymers like biodegradable bioplastic starch or biodegradable cellulose. This type of wipe is generally made from natural materials supplied by renewable sources (e.g., wood pulp, corn starch) that are broken down into biocompatible products under bio composting conditions. The resulting polymers biodegrade like any other bioplastic under bio composting conditions. While bioplastics biodegrade under hot temperatures, biodegradable polymers biodegrade in cold organic conditions (aerobic).
To summarize, although both types of wipes are classified as biodegradable baby wipes they biodegrade under bio composting conditions in two different ways. Bioplastic biodegrades using hot temperatures while biopolymer biodegrades using cold outdoor composting conditions.
Both bioplastic biopolymer biodegradable baby wipes are biodegradable bioplastics, but not all bioplastics are biopolymers. Some bioplastic products can be 100% biobased (e.g., biobased packaging), which means they contain 100% renewable materials sourced from non-food crops such as biobased bioplastic starch, biobased cellulose or bio based polyethylene. The main difference between bioplastics and biodegradable bioplastics is that the former tends to be sourced from fossil fuels while the latter is sourced from renewable resources such as corn starch or wood pulp. There are a few arguments suggesting bioplastics behave differently compared to biodegradable bioplastics. One argument suggests bioplastic will not compost because natural materials such as cotton cannot be broken down under bio composting conditions. However, the only way manufacturers can ensure their products qualify as biodegradable baby wipes is by subjecting them to hot temperatures, which will break down any material regardless of biobased bioplastic or bioplastic biodegradable bioplastics.