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Disposability update: the decade of the diaper rash.

No issue has spurred such heated debate and continuing controversy recently than the issue of garbage, the environment and disposing of disposables. As words such as biodegradable, environmentally friendly, throwaway society and those two other words that incite public outcry-landfills and incinerators-become commonplace on the lips of the public, it appears that the 1990's will be the decade of the diaper rash, a rash of complaints from an uninformed public about the horrors of disposable diapers and what they are doing to the world. Granted, many are taking up the gauntlet and attempting, through technology and education, to cure this ailment. But while the symptoms may temporarily disappear, the country, and the nonwovens industry, is still a long way from finding a cure.

What follows is a collection of articles and ideas on this issue that has appeared in a variety of media across the country. Some address the problem at its roots, others call for harsh regulatory action, others simply offer commentary on the problem. In our continuing effort to keep the industry abreast of the disposability dilemma, Nonwovens Industry takes a look at what the public, and industry, is saying about the disposability problem. Perhaps the most publicized and potentially damaging piece of news recently came from the state of Vermont, in the form of a bill introduced January 3 by Sen. Mary Just Skinner proposing the ban of disposable diapers that are not biodegradable.

The bill proposes: "Effective July 1, 1994, no person shall sell ... in this state any disposable diaper which is constructed of a material which is not biodegradable, if the secretary of natural resources determines that biodegradable disposable diapers are readily available at a comparable price. The secretary shall issue his or her determination to the legislature on or before July 1, 1993."

Governor Madeleine Kunin of Vermont proposed a solid waste initiative banning all disposable diapers. She was recently a guest columnist in USA Today on this subject: "I have proposed mandatory statewide source separation and recycling, a ban on the use of toxic heavy metals in packaging; a disposal fee on waste oil, tires, automotive batteries and appliances, a requirement that Vermont newspapers make the switch to recycled newsprint, a household hazardous-waste education program, an extension of our bottle deposit law to all beverage containers; a ban on six-pack rings and brick pack' containers; and a ban on the sale of disposable diapers starting July 1,1993. Surprisingly, the only part of this proposal that caught the media spotlight has been the proposed disposable diaper ban."

While the focus has been on dirty diapers, the real message may have been lost, said Governor Kunin. "The fact of the matter is that we in Vermont and the U.S. must bid farewell to our throwaway' society and take the next important step, which is to create a 'conservation minded' society."

The question is raised, of course, of why disposable diapers are being singled out as the target of the consumer's wrath. The following articles offer some explanations for and insights into why:

The following article by Susan Okie was originally printed in the Washington Post: "To government officials grappling with the nation's growing garbage problem, disposable diapers-which account for only about two percent of solid waste-are of less concern than lawn cuttings, old newspapers, and other kinds of trash. But for environmentalists and consumers, disposable diapers have become an increasingly powerful symbol of the 'throwaway society'

Paul Kaldjian, an official at the EPA says in the article "'Almost unequivocally, we would support the use of reusable diapers."' He does say that regional priorities might affect the issue. "'In some states, shrinking landfill space might be seen as a compelling reason to use cloth diapers, while in others, a shortage of water might prompt consumers to choose disposables."'

In Seattle, the King County Nurses Association has been attempting to educate new parents about the cost, convenience and environmental impact of cloth and disposable diapers for almost three years. The article read: "The nurses won a grant from the city to produce a brochure on the issue, which they distributed to hospitals, clinics and doctors' offices ... They estimated that in Seattle, washing cloth diapers at home costs about $8 a week, that using a diaper service costs about $9.25 a week, and that disposable diapers cost about $12.50 a week." At the beginning of the campaign, only two local hospitals used cloth diapers. Now, five of the six hospitals that deliver babies use cloth. Business at Seattle's diaper services has increased 21-35% in the past year.


The following is excerpted from a column by Chuck] Bowden in the January 16 USA Today: "It would be safe to say that we live like pigs if it weren't an insult to the nation's self-respecting hogs. I have yet to see any porkers pitching beer cans along the nation's highways, tossing plastic fast food containers about our cities and trashing out our parks.

"No other species makes nearly the mess that we do. Disposable diapers form a scant 2% of the annual tonnage we haul out to the dump. That's the point. If we're going to cut down our wasteful ways, there is no single big-ticket item. It must be done by little steps.

"And disposable diapers - trust me- drive the point home. They make life easier, but they make life a mess. We use them to save ourselves hassles, and we don't need them...

"The question is not if we will change our ways, but what will be the first step. If we want a single item that will catch the national attention, it would be hard to beat a flat-out ban on disposable diapers."

So where does the answer lie? The answer is there is no single answer. The American public continues to search for and suggest alternatives, some of which are included here.

An editorial in the January 16 USA Today suggest cleaning up the diaper mess without a ban. "We can't ignore the diaper mess. But we shouldn't be too hasty about throwing away convenience and choice, either.

"There are only three U.S. cloth-diaper makers. And families must wait in some cities for cloth-diaper services.

"Parents who both work may have little time to wash diapers. They can't afford to lose the convenience of disposables if diaper services aren't available.

"And day-care centers and hospitals that don't have the space or staff to properly handle cloth diapers can't afford to use them if they would be unsanitary.

"Cloth diapers have environmental costs, too. Washing them pollutes water. Transporting them to diaper services and heating the water to wash them use energy and pollute the air. Places with water shortages or poor air quality may find that messes worse than disposables.

"We need other answers than simply to ban or bury disposable diapers... Diaper makers should making their products more recyclable or capable of being flushed. We need more projects like Proctor $ Gamble's pilot programs in several states to convert disposables into cardboard, compost and plastic planters.

"Dirty diapers are a mess we shouldn't leave to our kids. We should clean them up ourselves."


The following is excerpted from an article in the January 22 New Jersey Bergen Record written by UCLA professors Louis Blumberg and Robert Gottlieg, authors of a book War on Waste: Can America Win Its Battle With Garbage?: "Reducing garbage at the source: Mostly everybody loves it, but hardly anybody does it. Cities, counties, states all swear by it, claiming it occupies top priority in their garbage management plans. But, despite the hoopla and the rhetoric, source reduction remains a waste management stepchild, a strategy that policy makers and even environmental groups have done little to implement or rally around in specific terms.

"Why the contrast between rhetorc and reality? The idea public input about what gets produced - a taboo subject, especially for industries such as plastics and packaging that have become central to the problem and resistant to solutions...

"The concept of source reduction is not a new one. Twenty years ago, the packagers and plastics industry representatives held a conference aimed at heading off calls for government intervention as the first signs of our current landfill crisis began to appera. Ten years ago, a high-level presidential work group issued a report 'Choices for Conservation' exploring the range of possible garbage reduction programs - though the group also failed to reach consensus, given the continuing opposition of industry.

"Today, source reduction is making a strong come-back as garbage disposal problems become more difficult and widespread." Product bans, regulatory programs and financial policies have all been discussed in various communities. But, "Even though these kinds of reduction programs are more at the talking stage in most areas of the country, the threat of source reduction, particularly product bans and product regulations, has led to no initiatives on the part of industry to forestall yet more extensive intervention.

"Source reduction necessarily raises that larger issue of whether there should be public input about what kinds of products get produced, with the potential additional garbage they could represent. Industry interests still remain wedded to the design of new waste-generating products and more packaging, a route seen as more profitable to the industry, but ultimately far more costly to the public. The source reduction approach requires a reevaluation of that perspective, forcing all of us to address not only what we dispose, but where it comes from and what we can do about it."


What can be done about it is a question being considered by the entire disposable diaper and related industries. Technological efforts are underway and a substantial portion of R&D has been dedicated to the cause. Here's part of what the two industry leaders are doing, as well as a new entry in the biodegradable plastics category.

An article in Advertising Age reported that Procter & Gamble is considering a national information advertising campaign to refute claims of biodegradability by rival diaper marketers. While P&G hasn't set a national schedule for the print ad, which ran in Boston in November, it said that mounting pressure from diaper marketers touting biodegradability and from state legislatures prompted P&G to consider the campaign defending its "Luvs" and "Pampers" non-degradable diapers.

The ad is titled "Why we don't call our daipers biodegradable" and says that "almost nothing biodegrades in a landfill. That includes every diaper currently on the shelf. Even the ones calling themselves biodegradable."


The other major player in the U.S. disposable diaper market, Kimberly-Clark, distributed two fact sheets on "Biodegradable diapers" and disposable diapers in general with its fourth quarter stockholder report. It offered the following explanation in a section entitled "Misinformation On Disposable Diapers": "In recent months, an increasing amount of misinformation has been presented to the public on the environment. So that you may be aware of the company's position, we are enclosing two fact sheets which I hope will contribute to your understanding of this complex subject. They have been broadly distributed to our customers and to others who have requested information on the matter.

"Also, several states have proposed legislation that would either tax or ban disposable diapers. Among them is Wisconsin, which is considering a one-cent tax on disposable diapers to help fund recycling efforts. Our company supports the state's efforts to promote recycling, but we believe a tax, to be fair, should (1) apply to all products that go into landfills or (2) be based on the amount of trash a household discards."

The fact sheets discussed the claims of other biodegradable diaper producers and stated that Huggies are more than 80 % biodegradable, as well as emphasizing the small role diapers play in landfill mass and the company's source reduction, recycling and incineration efforts. K-C also sent a letter to Wisconsin parents informing them about the proposed tax and urging them to call state legislators to fight it.


A new plastic that the company claims is waterproof but biodegradable has been introduced by Uniteds Guardian, a Huappage, NY manufacturer of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and cosmetic additives. The new product, "Sheerskin," is a plastic that disolves in water but dries to a clear, waterproof layer that is stretchable and flexible, but biodegrades in sewage or waste dumps. Because it is applied as a water-based film, it can be rolled on, sprayed or dipped without the use of heat or flammable solvents.

These Diapers Are Indisposable

A recent column in the New York Daily News by humorist Erma Bombeck detailed the possible demise of disposable diapers and the impact on the U.S. lifestyle , as well as a series of alternatives for the environmentally conscious:

"The question being asked by baby boomers isn't 'Is there life after throwaway diapers are abolished?' but 'Is that life worth living?'

"Disposable diapers were something my generation used to fantasize about ... When diaper service came into being, we rejoiced. And when paper products became state of the art in this country, disposable diapers were a natural. Today, mothers use 16 billion of them a year. That's 3.6 million tons a year going into sanitary landfills. Environmentalists say you have to start somewhere...

"Could we talk about this? As a mother, I'd rather do away with foam cups and have hot coffee poured into both of my hands and drink fast than do away with disposable diapers. Want to cut back on paper products? Abolish those little paper dresses that doctors use to make you forget why you came to their office in the first place. Just bring a bathrobe.

"It's not as if we don't have other options. Think how much wastepaper we could save by doing away with the 18 or 19 subscription cards that drop out of a single magazine and into our laps each month. There is absolutely no reason in this world to keep turning out gift boxes year after year. My mother has enough to supply every major U.S. city for the next 10 years.

"You have to have priorities. What is more important? Filling out eight pounds of insurance forms for a crack in your windshield or changing the diaper of a child who just ate mud?

"There have been few contributions to society in this century that have made such an impact as the disposable diaper. I don't think people really care if their hamburger is housed in a white foam condo or if plastic rings are really necessary to bond' their six-pack. But to do away with paper diapers would once again bring mothers to their knees ... literally

"Let's hope manufacturers come up with a diaper that is environmentally sound. To go back to cloth would send us back to when breathing and raising a baby at the same time were incompatible."
COPYRIGHT 1990 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Noonan, Ellen; Bombeck, Erma
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Mar 1, 1990
Previous Article:The many faces of quality.
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