Nappy Stories In the Media
There have been many discussions surrounding the environment and the use of disposable nappies. Here we supply you with the facts and respond to a few of the myths created by stories in the media.
“The problem was the 500 years it took for a nappy to decompose.” During that time they produced leachate and could harbour up to 100 viruses. If a child was recently vaccinated the nappy could contain live vaccine capable of surviving up to two weeks. Kaikoura Star 29.3.2006
It is hard to know how the 500 years claim came about, because disposable nappies have only been around for 30 years. Using specified tests which measure breakdown in 6 months, a Huggies®: nappy is 35% biodegradable, but in a realistic time frame of a few years approximately 65% of a nappy is biodegradable. However, landfill sites are engineered to be stable and low in moisture. As a result nothing much breaks down in landfill. Even newspapers which are 100% degradable, remain intact and legible for decades. That means even a biodegradable nappy in landfill is normally not given the chance to biodegrade.
Since nappies were introduced, there have been no public health problems attributed to the use or disposal of disposable nappies, and independent tests have repeatedly backed this up. Neither the nappy’s ingredients, nor the baby waste it contains, can migrate from properly constructed and maintained landfills. Parents are in contact with baby’s faeces just as much with cloth as disposable nappies.
“The high amount of energy used in the manufacture of disposable nappies was also considered environmentally unfriendly. Producing one disposable nappy used as much energy as washing a cloth nappy 200 times.” Kaikoura Star 29.2. 2006
Successive studies have shown that both reusable and disposable nappies have similar overall impacts on the environment in typical usage scenarios. A UK Government funded analysis has found that:-
- Using cloth nappies uses more water, energy and detergents
- Disposable nappies contribute more solid waste to landfill.
Washing and drying cloth nappies uses large amounts of energy such as gas and electricity which emit carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
“It is estimated that 1.3 million trees are harvested a year to provide paper for all the disposable nappies used in New Zealand.” Dannevirke News 3.8.06
Across the globe, Kimberly-Clark sources fibre from managed forests to ensure sustainability into the future.
Our pulp mill in Australia was established with government and local support, keen to use pine plantation wastes left in the South Australian pine forests. This waste is called “thinnings” – small trees which are cut down for the health of the bigger trees which ultimately are harvested for lumber. These "thinnings’ were originally left to rot and were a wasted resource.
These pine plantations are replanted and managed to ensure there is full replacement and sustainability into the future. It’s like growing and harvesting wheat, only on a longer time scale. Kimberly-Clark Australia uses this renewable resource as the sole supply for the fibre made in its pulp mill. Today, our use of the pine forest thinnings is integral to the economics of South Australia’s South East forestry industry and provides a local, Australian use for this forestry by-product.
“Babies use about 6000 nappies before they become toilet trained. Around 575 million nappies will go into New Zealand landfills each year, equating to about 3 percent of the waste stream.” Northland Age 1.8.06
These numbers simply don’t add up. At an average use of 6 nappies per day, there would need to be an estimated 260,000, or twice as many, children under 2.5 years old in New Zealand for 575 million nappies to go into landfill each year. Our estimate is closer to 296 million nappies.
Nappies and Sanitary products combined represent 3% of landfill compared with, for example, food and green waste, which represents over a quarter of waste sent to landfill.
“Chemicals and gels used in the absorbent layers of disposable nappies aren’t subject to government controls and the sodium poly-acrylate gels used in nappies were banned from use in tampons in 1985.” Whangarei Leader 17.10.06
Sodium poly-acrylate gels were never used in tampons.
Superabsorbent materials are used in nappies because they can absorb up to 100 times their weight in water, resulting in drier baby skin which minimizes rash and irritation and helps to keep skin healthy. The use of superabsorbents has also facilitated a 30% reduction in nappy bulk in the last decade or so, with consequential benefits for reduced waste disposal. Superabsorbents have been extensively tested to assure they can be manufactured and used safely in personal care products and this is acknowledged by experts in toxicology, general medicine, nursing and paediatrics. We comply with the controls and regulations in each country where we operate around the world.