In Defense Of Disposables

By Karen Bitz McIntyre, Editor | November 10, 2008

Disposing of disposables has been a huge issue in nonwovens since long before it became ultra-cool to be green and every other company out there put sustainability at the top of their list of corporate goals.

In an industry where products are being made to be used once and then thrown out, touting eco-friendliness has been downright near impossible. Markets like disposable diapers and wipes have been looked down upon by environmentalists who view them as irresponsible for the raw materials they consumer and the landfills they clog.

Over the years, however, advocates of disposable diapers and other hygiene products have continually defended their environmental footprint, saying that the percentage of landfill waste comprising disposable goods is fractional and there are far greater offenders when it comes to wreaking havoc on the earth.     

This week, advocates increased their ammunition with the release of a U.K. government-sponsored study claiming that reusable diapers, in fact, are more damaging to the environment than their disposable counterparts. The U.K. Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) found that using washable diapers—or nappies as they call them there—is only more eco-conscious if parents hang them out to dry all year round and make sure the water in their washing machines does not exceed 60°C. Furthermore, two-and-a-half years of disposable diaper usage would bear an impact of 550 kg; washing and drying diapers for the same period would be 993 kg.

Apparently, these results were so surprising to the government agency that officials were hesitant to release them. Plans for further research on disposable diapers’ impact on the environment have been shelved by DEFRA, according to reports.

Looks like a score for the disposable diaper makers.

Karen Bitz McIntyre

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