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Something's got to give.

Something's Got To Give

We found out a lot about people and "the American Way" in researching our series on biodegradability and disposing of disposables. The "American Way" has given us the freedom to do whatever we want, within boundaries, yet in one aspect it has become a threat to our future as we use this freedom to harm our environment. A general rethinking of values is in order.

The American public is guilty, though perhaps unconsciously, of becoming accustomed to the disposable conveniences it has today; today's younger generations have grown up using and enjoying disposables. We have not perceived disposability as a problem because it's been the status quo. "I've seen my kids use 10 paper towels for a job that needs only one," said one person we contacted during our research. Unfortunately, this is something of which many of us--however unconsciously--are guilty.

Manufacturers must share some of the recent blame also, despite some admirable technical efforts. They have been touting biodegradability as the end all of their products when they have to know--as the uninformed public does not--that most products are degradable only under ideal laboratory conditions, not in a dark, airless landfill. Yet many marketers incite the people to "do their part" and buy their products to help the environment. The fact that no one has yet come up with a definition of exactly what biodegradability is hasn't stopped producers of everything from garbage bags to disposable diapers from using this claim.

Granted, many manufacturers should be applauded for trying. They must, however, continue to look for other viable solutions and educational tools. The Environmental Protection Agency has deemed source reduction as the first step in its hierarchy for waste management. If, or when, this begins to occur, it can present serious problems for disposable diaper manufacturers.

Something--or someone--somewhere, has got to give. This may mean convincing the public to compromise on its conveniences for a safer environment...or to pay a little more in taxes for a solution...or to spend a little extra time learning about recycling and waste separation...or perhaps just to give a little psychologically when the talk turns to building an incinerator in town.

Perhaps it's the manufacturer who must be willing to give in terms of funding for research into solutions...or time for educational programs and industry meetings...or for offering a better product at lower margins, so the public will be willing to buy.

The simple fact is that our industry's survival may depend on flexibility. Whether we like it or not--and whether it is fair or not--the disposable diaper industry continues to bear an inordinate share of the environmental lobby's invective. Some suppliers have taken aggressive marketing, public relations and research steps in this direction, but the solution for disposable diapers still remains in the back room somewhere.

Whether it is the American consumer, the manufacturer, industry in general or some combination of these, the fact remains that this is a real problem and something's got to give.
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Title Annotation:conflict between convenience of disposable materials/products and environmental concerns
Author:Noonan, Ellen
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:editorial
Date:Oct 1, 1989
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