To create this modern wonder of technology (since about 1961) and make it available to mothers and babies everywhere, we use a lot of oil, trees and plastics. Through this production process we create films, polymers and gels that take a very, very long time to decompose. Some basic statistics:
- It takes over 10 full sized trees to produce the number of diapers your baby will use in its first few years. Studies say that over 250,000 trees per year are felled to satisfy the USA’s disposable diaper demand.
- Production of a single disposable diaper requires 2/3 of a cup of petroleum. This adds up to over 3 billion gallons of oil (per year!)dedicated to disposable diaper production.
- Every year 82,000 tons of plastic is concocted and spun with combinations of the above ingredients to create the high-tech, breathable films which keep our baby and home comfortable. This production process burns through energy and creates hazardous by-products.
The process alone to produce disposable diapers creates significant quantities of greenhouse emissions which can last for decades.
- In the
alone, 16 billion soiled diapers are deposited into landfills every year. The weight of this mess is over 3.5 billion pounds. United States
- According to studies it can take from 200 to 500 years for these diapers to decompose. “Biodegradable” diapers don’t fare much better because although some elements of the diaper do degrade faster, many of the core elements which make it mother and baby friendly (i.e. the absorbent materials and polymer linings) are made of the same materials as standard disposables.
- The nasty goop that pools at the bottom of a landfill, which is a place you probably do not want to visit, is called “leachate”. It is possible that viruses excreted in human feces could end up in the leachate and, particularly in older landfill sites, could leak into local water supplies. In most places it is illegal to dump human bodily wastes into a landfill. Diapers are generally excluded from enforcement of this rule.
- Diapers are the third most common item, by volume and weight, in American, UK, European, Japanese and Australian landfills.
- In developing countries the problem is particularly bad as they generally do not have modern landfill technologies installed or available. This is a global environmental problem.