“This is a question that I am asked very often, mainly from mothers involved in ecological groups that are not well informed. Please do not read me wrong, I love the ecology, specially when it is approached with heart and mind not with the stomach. I have been asked a similar question by the owner of a diaper service and by an elementary school teacher in California. Let me try to answer as directly and honestly as possible…..”
The disposable diaper industry uses some components that are not currently biodegradable. About 85% of the volume in a used diaper is actually biodegradable (wood pine pulp, chemically identical to tissue paper, and urine or feces); however, unless it is disposed of properly, it is very likely that it will not decompose. Even a simple idea like opening the shell of a typical disposable diaper and separating the inner absorbent core could result in an important reduction on landfill volume contamination, the inner core could then biodegrade.
In my 24 years of experience in the diaper industry, I have seen (and also participated in) consistent improvements in the design of the diaper, which have helped reduce the amount of materials used and at the same time, have improved its performance. For example, a diaper made 25 years ago was two and a half times heavier than a modern diaper today and it had a performance of less than one half the performance of a new diaper. A mother needed many diapers before (from 7 to 10) than she needs now (3 to 6) because of the improved performance. There are few industries that can show this level of improvement in terms of ecological value; very few can claim that they have done so much in so little time.
Many people believe that by using cloth diapers they are doing their part to save the environment, they may be wrong! This is like many vegetarians who do not eat meat just to avoid the suffering of farm animals but at the same time feed their pets food that uses meat from the same sources of suffering or worst. Talk about such a lack of understanding of life cycles. Once you consider the pesticides used in agriculture, the energy required for farming (cotton) and the water used to wash the diapers, even when you use the so called “biodegradable detergents” (which half the time are not 100% true), the story can change quite significantly. In some areas of the world, water is one of the most precious commodities. Even after considering recycling of water, in actual practice, there is a major health concern – water is not truly clean, unless you use a good amount of energy to clean it (that needs oil or gas). An talk about spreading disease on day care facilities, there is just no comparison in containment.
Cloth diapers are not recommended by many pediatricians for good reason: they simply can not compete with the comfort and the feeling of dryness that a disposable diaper gives to the baby, an added value that the cloth diaper does not have. This translates into a simple fact: disposable diapers are healthier for the skin of your baby when they are changed as frequency as a cloth diaper. That is why mothers face problems of skin rash associated with diapers much less frequently than our mothers faced when we were babies. A particularly important property of disposal diapers is “diaper rewet”; it measures how much liquid returns to the surface. A cloth diaper does not come even close to a disposable diaper in terms of its rewet. I have tested more diapers than you care to know. I am sure about what I am telling you. No cloth diaper feels as dry to the skin as a disposable diaper, no one has ever challenged me in this topic.
It is fortunate for many not true hearted “environmentalists” that babies do not talk. Of course they do try to communicate with their parents but not every parent is ready to understand them (even when they have to wake up at the middle of the night to change their wet diaper); if you know what I mean. Few diaper services are willing to talk about this situation. Just think about this simple experience: After a swim, have you ever gone through the discomfort of not changing your wet swimsuit – i.e. when you either did not have any dry underwear or, worse still, you had put on your pants on top of the wet suit? Well, that is exactly what I am talking about. You can not be comfortable wearing a wet suit under your pants. You would not feel easy until you replace your wet swimming suit with dry clothes. This is also why babies sleep much better at night using disposables. If you could had an honest chat with your one year old baby in an intelligent way, he/she will probably challenge you that unless you are willing to use a bicycle to work every day, feed soy protein products to your cat or dog, and so forth… please show your ecology values somewhere else but let me be happy and let me sleep fully at night with a dry disposable diaper. Let the experts continue their work in a direction where disposable nappies will be biodegradable at a competitive cost and support them, not fight them. Making fun of the very few guys trying to work in this direction is not funny.
If you are a true environmentalist, before you judge me a bad person and write good jokes about me and my website, please consider at least these personal facts: I was the first diaper producer in the world to launch a disposable ecological diaper in year 2000, it was called “Natural Baby”. This had to be removed from the market because I was sued in the US and could not afford the cost of a million dollar legal defense. In my opinion the legal system is not pro-ecology and this should be the priority for environmentalists. You can read here: Now you see it now you don’t. I am probably the only disposable diaper consultant in the world promoting the idea that disposable diapers have to be more eco-friendly and have done as much a humanly possible to move in that direction. I also have a listing of the most eco-friendly disposable diapers in the world to help them become a new trend, you can find it here: Friendly disposables. In conclusion, if you are such a green person, I am not your enemy, I am your best friend.
I believe in the benefits of the disposable and adult incontinence diapers. However, I am not satisfied with the improvements effected so far and I feel bad about it. I feel bad about using my car, my air conditioning equipment, the heater during winter, and so on. I still use them, even when I try to reduce their set point as much as possible with better insulation and car pooling, I can do little more about it. In the case of the disposable diaper, I can be a contributing factor, even a major one. I will continue to work on a better more environmentally friendly product. I will continue to invest time and resources to develop the next generation diaper! I feel responsible about the world where I live and that is why I am doing something about it! I will continue to look at better alternatives. I will not stop until we can manufacture a fully bio-degradable disposable diaper at a competitive price.
By the way, you are welcomed to visit my wife’s ecological Site to help protect the animal rights in México: Fundación Luca.
Respectfully, Carlos Richer