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Environmental costs of keeping baby dry.

Environmental costs of keeping baby dry

U.S. babies dirty some 18 billion disposable diapers a year. Unlike the cotton ones mom washed and then recycled back onto baby's bottom, disposables -- now used in 85 percent of all U.S. baby diapering -- enter the trash stream. A study released last week by Carl Lehrburger, who designs recycling programs at the Albany, N.Y.-based Energy Answer Corp., now shows that by weight, disposable diapers constitute 3.5 to 4.5 percent of all household solid waste. "No other single consumer product -- with the exception of newspapers and beverage and food containers -- contributes so much," he says. And its share is growing as adult-size disposables fill a related niche for incontinent older people, and as recycling reclaims more conventional wastes -- like cans and paper.

Parents pay a high premium for the disposables' convenience -- an increase of $546 to $1,417 per child over the cost of using a commercial diaper service or home washing. Not only does landfill disposal of dirty diapers cost at least another $300 million annually, Lehrburger argues, but it also needlessly exposes sanitation workers to diseases -- including possibly polio and AIDS -- from incorporated viruses.

With almost one-third of U.S. landfills due to close in five years -- and few new ones slated to open -- Lehrburger says U.S. society will soon realize it has no choice but to change its diapering habits: Either return to washable diapers, or develop flushable and/or recyclable disposables.
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Title Annotation:disposable diapers
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 4, 1989
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