FTC Settles with gDiapers with over Compostability Claim Complaint

These diapers hold a little surprise in them!
These diapers hold a little surprise in them!

gDiapers is a heartthrob product among sustainability-minded parents. The covers are stylish, and the inserts come in both cloth and disposable, which allows for some flexibility for times when cloth isn’t practical. The idea is that you can use cloth most of the time, and when you have to use disposable, the volume of the material that’s getting disposed is much smaller because you’re still using a reusable cover.

Unfortunately gDiapers has gotten their hand slapped by the FTC over claiming that their disposable inserts are actually compostable.

These issues are top of mind for me, as my husband and I are expecting our first child in March, and, y’know, hoping for the sweet young thing to be low-impact, environmentally speaking. We looked at gDiapers pretty closely but ultimately decided against them because, while the flexibility is cool, the inserts are more expensive than full disposable diapers, even the hippie ones. Cloth vs. Disposable is one of the first decisions any new eco-parent has to make, and the internet is chock full of resources for helping new parents sort out the environmental implications of their little darlings. But I digress…

gDiapers clearly understands that there are many expectant parents currently weighing these issues with a solemnity only expectant parents can muster. Of course they geared their marketing toward making their product seem as environmentally friendly as possible. However, it looks like they may have taken things a little bit too far…

According to the FTC complaint, the company made false or misleading representations in marketing gRefills and gWipes as biodegradable. These representations include claims that: the products are “100% biodegradable” and “certified” biodegradable; gRefills and gWipes will biodegrade when tossed in the trash; gRefills will biodegrade when flushed; and gRefills offer an environmental benefit because they can be flushed. In fact, the complaint alleges, gRefills and gWipes are not biodegradable because they do no completely break down and decompose into elements found in nature within one year after customary disposal, which is in the trash.

The complaint also alleges that the company has not obtained independent, third-party certification of biodegradability. Additionally, the complaint charges that gDiapers did not rely on adequate substantiation for its claims that gRefills and gWipes biodegrade when thrown away in the trash. The complaint also alleges that gRefills do not biodegrade when flushed, and that the company did not rely on, and could not substantiate, that gRefills offer an environmental benefit, because they can be flushed.

Yowzer.

Now, allow me to let you in on a little secret. Even at its best, most consumer-friendly, gDiapers’ recommended flushing system, is… kind of complex. “Before you take the first flush, know thy toilet. Read about precautions and tips on the diaper therapy blog. Then follow the simple directions and give us a ring if you have any questions at all.” Yes, it’s really nice of them to offer, but you may need to call them for help with diaper disposal. There’s also a three step process which includes a stick you use to poke up the solid things in the toilet.

gDiapers also advises parents that if a clog does occur, “reach into the toilet and pull out the material. You can always wash your hands.” Yes, parenthood is apparently a dignity-free zone and they just want to make that perfectly clear.

But getting too close and personal with baby poop was not the center of the complaint (although it is one of mine in re: the coming attraction). The biodegradability complaint centers on whether these things break down in a landfill environment (no) and whether flushing is environmentally preferable to the landfill. No.

Is flushing environmentally friendly?

Even though it’s tempting to think all the things we flush down into the toilet just go away, out of sight out of mind style, they don’t actually just disappear. Fresh, clean drinkable water shows up in your toilet, and when you flush away pee, poop, toilet paper, gRefills, condoms, baby wipes or dental floss, they all end up at a sewage treatment facility, where they go through an energy intensive treatment process:

sewage treatment
Image credit: Professor Patricia Shapley, University of Illinois

The non-biodegradable materials get caught right there at the beginning in the screens, if the treatment plant workers are lucky. (If they aren’t, these items clog up the pipes and someone has to go clean them out). Yes, it’s someone’s job to clean that stuff out of there. Guess where it goes after it’s been collected? The landfill!

In summary, when you flush something that isn’t biodegradable, you are using gallons of potable water to send it hundreds of miles underground, so that it can (hopefully) be caught in a screen and some dude can fish it out for you and throw it in the garbage. Environmentally friendly indeed!

Is it safe to compost human feces at home?

I guess I do need to ask. The answer is no, that’s gross. While there are special composting set-ups specifically to render humanure (heh) safe, your average home compost pile does not get hot enough to kill the pathogens and bacteria in the poop, so it’s unsafe to use the resulting fertilizer for anything practical like a garden supplement.

gDiapers was called out for tiptoeing around this issue on it’s website:

The complaint alleges that gDiapers misled consumers when advertising gRefills and gWipes as compostable at home. According to the complaint, the company failed to adequately disclose that consumers cannot safely home compost gRefills and gWipes soiled with solid human waste – a material limitation. Where gDiapers did disclose that limitation, in many cases the disclosure was not clear and conspicuous. For example, gDiapers made an unqualified home compostable claim on its website’s homepage, only to reveal the limitation on other site pages. Additionally, the complaint alleges that gDiapers lacked substantiation for its claim that gWipes are home compostable.

Even municipal composting agencies don’t generally allow human (or feline or canine) waste in their streams. It’s too difficult to ensure the compost piles get hot enough.

Sadly, as the video above displays, there’s no easy disposal for your baby’s poop. In the settlement with the FTC, gDiapers agreed to amend its website with the following considerations:

The proposed order prohibits gDiapers from making biodegradable and compostable claims, unless the claims are true, not misleading, substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence, and meet specific requirements outlined in the FTC’s revised Green Guides. Additionally, any claims that a disposable diaper or wipe is compostable must clearly and prominently disclose that the product cannot be composted if soiled with human waste.

Hopefully, the final outcome will be a bit more clarity for nervous, well-meaning parents. gDiapers still has a lot going for it, even without its errant compostability and biodegradability claims.

And, in case you are curious, my husband and I decided to go with whatever “eco” brand disposables work best for our little bundle’s bundles, because the long and the short of allll that hand wringing is that if you are going to use a diaper service for your cloth diapers, the environmental impact of your choice is basically a wash (pun intended.) In order for cloth to come out ahead, you have to wash (and preferably air dry) your diapers at home, and that’s just not feasible for our little family with two working parents. Assuming the use of a diaper service, the choice ultimately comes down to whether you want to be landfill-friendly (cloth) or energy/water conscious (disposables) and we decided energy and water constraints were bigger concerns for us than landfill growth. Plus we’re kind of lazy and disposables have better absorbency anyway. It’s hard for me to pick an eco-option with a lot of performance downsides, but I do like to support eco-products, even when they aren’t perfect, to prove there’s a market for them. By the way, despite the brouhaha over  compostability, I still think gDiapers is a good choice for people who value the style and flexibility over price.

Readers, what do you think? Was the FTC being too hard on gDiapers or providing needed clarity for confused and worried parents? 

Jen Boynton

Jen is editor in chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and lives in Oakland with her husband and normally happy baby. 
Hit her up at on twitter @jenboynton to discuss diapering strategies or sustainability reporting methodology.