Plastic Pollution
October 20 2008

Disposable Bio-Bombs; A South Texas Tradition!

by Rob Nixon

Disposable Diapers. To me these are the scourge of the beaches here in South Texas. It is not uncommon to walk our beaches here on South Padre Island at the peak of summer and see two, three or even five used disposable diapers lying in the sand. Most of the time in the proximity of a nearby trash barrel. Many times in the immediate vicinity of those who threw them there. I have lived here most of my life and have never understood and probably never will understand why these little bio-bombs can't seem to make it in the trash can or even more desirably taken out with those who produced them.

Rise Above Plastics concentrates on single use plastic containers. Typically these are assumed to mean plastic bottles and shopping bags. What about the disposable diaper? Perhaps this is not a noticeable problem on the West and East Coasts of the United States. In the past few months I have been asking people that I have met from California and other places on the West Coast if this is a problem. The majority can not remember ever seeing a disposable diaper on the beach, must less used, except here in deep South Texas.

So as a fellow Surfrider Foundation Activist who just so happens to live in a region where it is sociably acceptable to throw your used disposable diapers on the beach, in the water and on the floor of the public shower, I bring you some scary facts about what I consider the third leg of the plastics consumption threat; non-biodegradable disposable diapers.

  • The back sheet of these diapers are made of polypropylene. This is a plastics polymer that can be used both as a structural plastic or plastic fiber.
  • According the The Texas General Land Office's Adopt-A-Beach program these diapers may take up to 300 years to degrade. Therefore, as with most plastics, all disposable diapers ever made still exist today! This includes places such as landfills, beaches and in our oceans!
  • In the United States alone, over 18 billion diapers are thrown away each year
  • Over 82,000 tons of plastics are used to make those disposable diapers every year
  • In most countries, including most states in the United States, it is illegal to dump human waste in landfills. It is definitely illegal to dump them on our beaches in all coastal communities. However they do end up in both places with the potential to spread polio, hepatitis, dysentery and other serious disease!

As a "humorous" side note Huggies makes a line of disposable diapers called "Little Swimmers". These diapers are designed so that babies and toddlers can go in the water and not have their traditional disposables soak up the water and sag. On the FAQ section of the Huggies website a question asks,
Are HUGGIES® LITTLE SWIMMERS® swimpants biodegradable?

The answer:
No more or less so than disposable diapers. In modern landfills, most materials, including food and yard waste, degrade very slowly, if at all, due to the absence of air, moisture and sunlight. Disposable diapers make up less than 2 percent of landfills, compared to 40 percent for paper (e.g. old newspapers, office waste).

Awesome! The swimming pants that are made to be disposed of and used in recreational water-use such as at the beach are not even biodegradable and beach friendly.

Mind blowing isn't it!