The disposable diaper and the meaning of progress

Is the disposable diaper the industrial equivalent of the Intergrated circuit?

Modern nappies can hold two cups of fluid without wetting the wearer. And they’re both thinner and more effective than the original nappies – because doing so made manufacturing, distribution and stocking cheaper.

Myself, I think that they quality and reliability of disposables is astonishing for what they’re expected to do.

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5 thoughts on “The disposable diaper and the meaning of progress

  1. Philip

    Now just work out how to make them either washable or completely bio-degradable and they’ll be a good product.

  2. josh Post author

    The environmental impact of disposable nappies vs cloth is complicated, the Australian Consumer Association’s current thinking seems to be that cloth is better when used with a nappy service, but this conflicts with a study they did several years ago that basically ended up saying “they’re about the same”.

    The impact of my nappy consumption is reduced by sending it to a recycling service, which strips out the paper and plastic for recycling and flushes the rest down the sewage system – nothing ends up in landfill. But what’s the problem with using landfill (other than possible groundwater contamination)?

  3. Ben

    I wonder if you can you buy recycled disposable nappies? No, not already used ones, but ones made of recycled paper and plastic. I suppose they would be a lot more expensive though…

  4. Philip

    Wasting resources is the problem with using landfill when a less resource-hungry alternative exists.

    There is nothing complicated about the cloth vs. disposable nappy question when one remembers that the overwhelming majority of disposable nappy users will throw the entire nappy, often including the excrement, into the rubbish bin. Cloth is better at any time:
    – Excrement (apart from what is wiped off with baby wipes or cotton balls) all goes into the sewer system, as it should.
    – The only resources consumed are water and detergent, and the net increase of these over what is used washing clothes and flushing toilets for an adult is not substantial.

  5. josh Post author

    I’ve seen “Nature nappies” in Coles. They made some environmental claim that I couldn’t refute in a quick test, so they may be good. I, however, have selected Huggies as The Brand To Use, and have stocked up for the coming famine. As such, I won’t be switching brands. Feel free to try them yourself.

    A substantial impact of cloth is the huge amount of water used to produce the nappies in the first place (I recall it being about a tonne of water per nappy), then wash them. Heating the water for washing and running the washing machine consume a fair chunk of energy too, leading to greenhouse gas emissions. Which is why the ACA ended up with “they’re about the same”.

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