The Effects of Disposable Nappy Pollution

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The more we learn about the production, usage, and the potential health and environmental impact of disposable nappies; the more we wonder why this topic is not more widely publicised and debated. 

The first “official” disposable nappy was created and patented in 1948 and today, disposables are the most common choice for parents, an easy solution which help to keep baby poop under control. They are a billion dollar industry. And they are a glaring symbol of our throwaway, unthinking consumer culture.

It takes hundreds of years for the majority of disposable nappy brands to decompose when exposed to sunlight and air. Since over 90% of nappies are dumped into landfills, covered and not exposed to sun or air at all, nobody knows how many hundreds or even thousands of years they are actually here for.

Disposable nappies are the third largest consumer item in landfills representing 30% of non-biodegradable consumer waste. The only other items that outnumber the amount of disposables in landfills are newspapers and beverage and food containers.

Here are some of the facts that we have uncovered when looking into the topic of nappy manufacturing and pollution: 

  • With every disposable nappy thrown into garbage and therefore landfill, raw fecal matter is going directly into the environment via our waterways.
  • Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and The American Public Health Association advise parents that fecal matter and urine should NOT be disposed of in the regular garbage, because it contaminates the ground water and spreads disease, yet most nappies end up in here.
  • Gases released from our children’s buried faces and disposable nappies are contributing to global warming.
  • Disposable nappies require large volumes of pulp, paper, plastic and other raw materials in the manufacturing process and hence, significant amounts of water and energy are used.
  • Billions of trees are destroyed and gallons of oil are used. They are not a sustainable solution.
  • Oil is a natural resource that is running out globally, which is also a major cause of war and conflict, and the amount of oil used to keep our baby’s bottoms clean could have powered millions of cars in the same time period. 
  • Nappy production and usage across the globe is enormous, and therefore the overall impact on global energy and pollution is enormous too.
  • An individual baby wearing disposable nappies creates about 2,000 pounds of waste pollution over the course of two years.
  • To put this into context, in America alone, babies use 27.4 billion disposable nappies each year, which is enough waste to stretch to the moon and back 9 times.
  • If the toxic waste and the misuse of oil weren’t bad enough, disposable diapers are toxic to babies and the environment they end up in.
  • One example of a dangerous chemical used in all disposable nappies (even the ‘eco-friendly’ ones), is Sodium Polyacrylate.
  • This chemical is known as waterlock, and is added to the inner pad of a disposable to make it super-absorbent.
  • Sodium polyacrylate is highly toxic when inhaled or ingested, and was banned from tampons in 1985 because of its link to Toxic Shock Syndrome.

Why is nappy pollution and the unsustainable nature of disposable nappies not being covered more in the news? Why are governments and environmentalist groups not massively encouraging the use of reusable cloth nappies as a very feasible alternative? (We use them on our own babies and can confirm that reusable nappies are different and not always as convenient as throwaways, but awesome modern options are available and are completely manageable - way more than we thought they would be, even for very busy families).