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DISPOSABLE DIAPERS: An Environmental Fiasco 

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By: Shakir Nisar

Do we really have anybody today who doesn’t know about Diapers? Well, I don’t think so. A diaper or nappy is an absorbent garment worn by individuals who are Incontinent (i.e. who lack control over bladder or bowel movements) or are unable to reach the toilet when needed.

This primarily includes infants and young children, some elderly people, some with physical or mental condition, people working in extreme conditions (e.g. astronauts) and also for pet animals. Mostly diapers are used for kids until they are potty trained, and by adults who are incontinent, sick.

While disposable diapers seem simple, they have more materials and parts than you might think. Diaper companies aren’t required to list what’s in their product on the packaging, but most modern disposables follow the same basic model.

It’s hard to imagine life without disposable diapers. After becoming widely available in the late 1960s and early 1970s, disposables are now the norm in much of the world – and for good reason. There’s no denying that throwaway diapers are a major convenience for many parents. Here in Kashmir, we see diapers everywhere with dogs pulling the stuff out of them, diapers in the water bodies, diapers in orchards, diapers on roads, diapers, diapers and diapers.

Disposables are such a given, in fact, that few wonder what they’re made of. But it’s a reasonable question for a product that spends so many hours in direct contact with your child’s most sensitive areas. What’s really in disposable diapers, and could those materials could harm your baby?

Disposable diapers are made from common materials that have a long history of safe use in a variety of everyday consumer products. The outer lining is usually made of polyethylene film, essentially the same stuff that’s in plastic wrap. The inner lining that touches your baby’s skin is usually made of polypropylene, a common material that’s also found in thermal underwear, among other things. A disposable diaper’s absorbent center contains wood pulp (usually bleached white with chlorine) and super-absorbent polymers, usually sodium polyacrylate – a compound that can soak up to 30 times its weight in urine. Sodium polyacrylate is supposed to stay in the core of the diaper. But sometimes it leaks through the lining, leaving small transparent crystals on the baby’s skin. The cartoon characters and other images on the outside of many diapers are made with dyes.

Disposable diapers provide an enormous relief to the infants as well as the patients. It also provides relief to the mothers and keep things clean but everything comes with a disadvantage and Disposable diapers have a larger one. Diapers provide relief at the cost of environment.

According to a survey, a baby uses 7000 diapers prior to being potty trained. The case is same in India and Kashmir is no different. Most of these diapers end up in land fills and can take up to 500 years to degrade releasing methane gas and micro plastics into the surrounding environment. Methane warms the planet 86 times more than carbon dioxide. This leads to the global warming and we know the consequences later on. According to a survey, disposable diapers accounted for 8% of non durable goods in municipal solid waste streams in US. The average daily plastic consumption of each disposable diaper wearing child Is reportedly equivalent to 7 single use plastic bags. As the world moves away from single use plastic, disposable diapers will likely be firmly in the cross-chairs of regulators.

Almost 95% of solid waste is inappropriately thrown in the open fields and streets and creating severe problems and plots or houses near the landfills or dumping site could not attract tenants or property dealers due to unhygienic and unpleasant conditions surrounding those. These disposable diapers, when disposed indiscriminately, especially into drainages, they block the free flow of runoff water and this practice gives rise to flooding and the communities are adversely. When dumped on the road side, they reduce the width of the road and esthetics of the cities especially in Srinagar.

This is evident as one walk across the nook and the crannies of Kashmir; you find heaps of refuse littering the entire landscape, road sides, parks, gardens, commercial centers and other land use. The accumulated billions (or trillions) of disposable diapers sitting in landfills all over the world right now are leaching dangerous chemicals such as: Dioxins, Sodium Polyacrylate (SPA), phthalates, heavy metals, and other toxic substances into the soil and water.  These harmful chemicals found in disposable diapers may be accumulated in fish and other edible life forms found in receiving water bodies. The accumulation of such chemicals in biota over time may result in related food chain problems such as bioaccumulation and biomagnifications (WHO, 2016).

Soiled diapers are often rolled with the feces and placed in bins or dumped illegally along road sides. The smell from the diapers attracts disease vectors such as flies. They also attract dogs which often tipped the bins in order to retrieve the diapers. The dogs either carry the messy diapers to their homes or simply liter them in open spaces creating an aesthetic nuisance.

Furthermore, there is a repulsive and ugly look christened on containers, cans or dumpsites rich in diaper waste, also dried diapers are easily blown away by wind, and some get carried along; hence may become strewn approximately two hundred meters away from disposal site. This may constitute a serious clamp down on the aesthetic values of estates and sites rich in spent disposable diapers.

In addition to the environmental hazards, disposable diapers can cause Medical hazards to the infants as well. Some of the common hazards include rashes, Allergies, Infection, etc. The frequent use of diapers also incur expenses to the parents. Furthermore, toilet training can be harder while using Disposable Diapers. Dioxin is a by-product of the paper-bleaching process used in manufacturing disposable diapers and is the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals. It causes effects like birth defects and liver disease in laboratory animals.

To sum up, we must make sure to switch to cloth diapers instead of the Disposable diapers which pose a greater threat to our planet.  It is however overtly clear that very little attention is being given to the product after its use and therefore unguarded dumping, burying, and burning of soiled disposable diapers seems the popular disposal practices. The use of disposable diapers leads to unimaginable increase in the volume of human faecal matter with its attendant frank pathogens in the landfill. Man must understand that he is a product of nature and not the owner of nature.

The author is a Vocational Trainer at Govt. Boys High School Gariend Budgam and can be mailed at shakirnisarofficial@gmail.com

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