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What's Wrong with Disposable Single-Use Diapers?

What is a Disposable Diaper?

Image: Two businessmen tossing a baby back and forth

Single-use diapers consist of waterproof polyethylene outer layer, an inner layer made from wood pulp and synthetic polyacrylate (a super-absorbent crystal) and a water-repellant liner. Most brands also have fragrances and perfumes.

The single-use diaper market is worth $400 million per year in Canada alone.

Image: Soap Opera : The Inside Story of Procter and Gamble Paperback, by Alecia Swasy (Author). Publisher: Simon and Schuster; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (September 1, 1994)

Soap Opera : The Inside Story of Procter + Gamble
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Can Cause Health Hazards

The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission has received numerous complaints about single-use diapers. These include the DEATH of babies from suffocation and asphyxiation by the wood pulp stuffing, the plastic shell or the tape tabs. In addition there have been hundreds of complaints about rashes, allergic reactions to chemicals, perfumes or plastics as well as injury due to foreign objects like wood splinters and metal scraps found inside the diapers themselves.

Further complaints from parents using super-absorbent single-use diapers include severe skin irritations, oozing blood, fever, vomiting and staph infections.

History may repeat itself in the marketing of these super-absorbent single-use diapers. The Rely® tampon, introduced in 1975 was removed from the marketplace because of the sometimes fatal Toxic Shock Syndrome associated with its use. These super-absorbent crystals are the same ones now being used in single-use diapers!

Many doctors claim there is a rise in infections, especially in baby girls, as parents tend to change single-use diapers much less often than cloth diapers. Single-use diapers don't breathe well and don't feel wet, increasing diaper rash as heat and moisture provide an excellent medium for bacterial growth.

Employees in factories manufacturing super-absorbent diapers suffer from fatigue, female-organ problems, slow-healing wounds (suggesting a compromise of their immune system) and weight loss.

Raw Sewage is a Public Health Hazard

Not since the Middle Ages has there been so much human waste in our garbage. There is NO safe way to dispose of single-use diapers. Flushing them down the toilet causes 95% of clogged sewer lines in the US, and creates 43,000 tonnes of extra sludge per year. Most people simply toss these soiled single-use diapers into household, hospital or roadside garbage. This adds 84 million pounds of raw fecal matter to our environment per year.

Raw sewage is then dumped in landfill sites, breeding viruses and bacteria. As many as 100 viruses can survive in soiled diapers for up to two weeks, including live polio virus excreted by recently-vaccinated babies. According to Environment Canada, once in landfill sites - which are not designed to handle human waste - single-use diapers threaten the health of sanitary workers, water supplies and our wildlife.

Image: Whitewash: Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Women's Sanitary Products and Disposable Diapers : What You Can Do About It, by Liz Armstrong (Author), Adrienne Scott (Author). Publisher: Harpercollins (May 1993)

Whitewash: Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Women's Sanitary Products and Disposable Diapers
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Did you know each baby in single-use diapers consumes 4.5 trees and puts two tonnes of solid waste into our environment (based on 2 years in diapers)?

Single-use diapers are the single largest non-recyclable part of household garbage. It costs the public 50 million per year to operate landfill sites, monitor pollution and replant forests to keep up with the surging tide of single-use diapers.

In Toronto alone, for example, we must deal with 43 million single-use diapers per year, weighing 5000 tonnes and costing $500,000 to haul them away. Manufacturing single-use diapers for Toronto's babies takes 450 tonnes of plastic and 30,000 trees.

Reportedly, 2.4 million trees in Canada and one billion trees world-wide are used per year, just to manufacture single-use diapers. In Canada, the manufacturer of single-use diapers consumes 65,500 tonnes of plastic and 9,800 tonnes of packing material per year. Their potential for recycling remains low and they contain chemicals whose long-term effects on users and the environment remain unknown.

Bleaching the wood pulp with chlorine gas to give it that desirable bright, white look produces toxic chemicals such as dioxin and furans. These pollutants make their way into the mills emissions and into the diapers manufactured from the pulp.

Uncomfortable and Unsafe

Putting a non-breathable synthetic next to your baby's most sensitive and most intimate body area is extremely uncomfortable. Would you put a trash bag on your baby? Single-use diapers are just fancy trash bags with a lining. Would you give your baby a plastic bag and say good-night? Your baby is in danger of suffocation when single-use diapers are left within reach. Your baby will be in diapers 24 hours a day for up to 3 years and deserves to be safe and comfortable.


Single-use diapers are expensive. To diaper your baby for 2 1/2 years in single-use diapers could cost you over $1,600.00!

Most parents don't realize just how much they spend as the cost gets buried in the weekly grocery bill. By only purchasing one box at a time, parents don't add up the dollars spent each month. Single-use diapers are a highly-priced, on-going expense.

Image: gDiapers Little gPants - soft cotton diaper covers made of breathable materials so babies are far less likely to get diaper rash

gDiapers Little gPants
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Environmental Benefits of Cloth Diapers

Reusable cloth diapers not only spare our landfill sites, they take a fraction of materials to produce. Less than 10 kg. of cotton is enough to supply all the reusable cotton diapers required by one baby during the 2 years spent wearing diapers. It takes 200-400 kg. of fluff pulp and 130 kg. of plastic (including packaging) PER YEAR to supply one baby with single-use diapers.

Some concern has been raised that the use of pesticides (used in cotton growing) would increase with a shift towards reusable cotton diapers. However, even if ALL single-use diapers were replaced with 100% cotton diapers, the impact on the cotton industry would still represent a small fraction of the total cotton market.

Economically, no small concern, a parent purchasing simple flat squares and quality brand waterproof pants would recoup their initial expense in less than TWO months. Or opt for the top-of-the-line fitted diapers and breathable cotton covers and STILL recoup your initial expense in less than a year!
That means your second and third years of diapering are FREE!!


This article compliments of Born to Love.

Other articles that might be of interest:

• The High Cost of Convenience - The Risks of Disposable Diapers
• Chemicals in Diapers Cited as Possible Asthma Trigger
• Dangers of Disposables
• New Tests Confirm TBT Poison in Proctor & Gamble's Pampers®
• Your Choice Does Make a Difference!
• The Facts: Cloth Versus Disposable Diapers
• What's Wrong With 'Disposable' Single-Use Diapers?
• Proctor and Gamble's Toxic Tea
• The Truth (About Disposable Diapers)
• Environmental Concerns - What Do They Mean For You and Your Baby?
• Environmental Concerns II - Looking at Both Sides of the Issue


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Born to Love articles are written by

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Last updated - February 8, 2017