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Reusable nappies, a Zero Waste solution to an European problem

Reusable diapers, a zero-waste solution to European problems

. We will use or have used diapers throughout our lives. The diaper is a fairly new invention that has eased the workload of several generations of parents, especially mothers. Therefore, diapers will continue to exist.

The question is how to make production, transportation, use, reuse and disposal sustainable? What kind of diapers are suitable for a society that aims to phase out waste?

Why is disposable diapers a problem?

Each child uses about 4000 to 5000 diapers before the age of 3, which is equivalent to a waste of 1 ton per child. Elderly people also use diapers, so a lot of perishable waste is generated. In fact, although diapers only account for 1% to 2% of the total municipal solid waste, they almost represent the largest proportion of residual waste where the separate collection rate is highest. For example, in Capannori, Italy's first zero-waste city, diapers account for nearly 15% of the waste that cannot be recycled or composted. As the diversion of other waste streams increases and the age of Europeans who need diapers increases, we will see an increase in the percentage and weight of Europe in the next few years.

The problem with the diaper is its high fermentability and the composition of the diaper—a combination of plastic, cotton, cream, and feces. This means that, firstly, dispose of diapers in the trash bin (as mixed trash), and secondly, due to the odor and other hazards caused by its rancidity, the trash bags are forced to be collected very frequently.

If we can solve the problem of diapers in the trash can, we can reduce the frequency of collection, thereby reducing the cost of collection and disposal. In addition, the fewer diapers in the landfill, the less methane in the atmosphere, and the lower the impact on human health.

How to remove diapers from the trash can?

The best way is to avoid the use of disposable diapers by expanding the use of reusable diapers. If we want to continue to use disposable diapers, another way is to find a way to seal them so that they do not produce odor and can be placed in the trash can for more time. However, this does not solve the disposal and sustainability issues. Another solution is to promote special bins/collection days for diapers so that they do not contaminate other garbage in the bins, thereby reducing the frequency of garbage collection. This is done in most door-to-door collection systems.

Finally, if we continue to use disposable diapers, another option is to produce diapers containing compostable bioplastics. For our busy society, this seems to be a direct solution. However, research shows that there are high levels of zinc in compost, which comes from hand creams and other additives used to avoid diaper rash. The toxins in compost run counter to the choice of compostable diapers.

Advantages of reusable diapers

Reusable cloth diapers have many advantages:

– They save money for users (from 1,000 euros to 2,000 euros per infant) and communities (reduction of perishable waste = less possibility of collection frequency = reduction of collection costs and smell). In addition, these diapers can be reused after the baby grows up, which means they can be sold and passed on to the next child or friend/relative!

It is also important to note that disposable diapers externalize the cost of collection and disposal to the public administration and thus to consumers. In other words, the price of disposable diapers in the supermarket does not include the social and environmental costs of the products after they leave the store. Ultimately, when companies that follow the polluter pays principle should bear these costs, we will eventually pay for it. If these costs are internalized in the price, the economic advantage of reusable diapers will be even greater.

– Reduce environmental impact: 1,000 kg of non-recyclable waste will be reduced within 3 years. In addition, the production and use of reusable diapers consume less than half of the water, only one-eighth of non-renewable materials are needed, 90% of renewable materials are reduced, one-third of energy is used, and the intensity of soil used is reduced by 4 To 30 times.

– Reduce infants’ exposure to chemicals: The cellulose that comes into contact with infants’ skin is produced and bleached by chemical products that have been in contact with the skin for 24 hours, which is conducive to the occurrence of hypersensitivity reactions.

– Contribute to the local economy – In many cases, compared to the industrial production of disposable diapers, reusable diapers are produced locally by the community. For example, in Capannori, Italy, local women work from home to produce diapers for the company. We found a similar case in Reus, Spain.

There are several good experiences in implementing reusable diapers in Europe:

– In Flanders, Belgium, the government jointly funded the purchase of reusable cloth diapers,

– In the UK, The Real Nappy Campaign has been very successful in bringing this issue closer. 80% of cities in the UK support the use of reusable diapers, and effective diaper laundry services are in place.

– In Austria, 10% to 15% of people confirm the use of reusable diapers,

– In Italy, the use of reusable diapers is common in communities that insist on zero waste.

– In Catalonia, Spain, a number of tests have been carried out to introduce reusable diapers in kindergartens, which has been proven to save schools by 37% in diaper usage and a reduction of 147 kg per baby per year – and one A way to promote reusable diapers between parents-many of them decided to adopt the system at home-

It is estimated that 20% of the population in Europe use reusable diapers-15% for economic reasons and 5% for environmental reasons-. The use is uneven among EU countries, with some high proportions and some very low proportions. Obviously, this is a growing trend, and if we are to move towards sustainable development, we will see more.From the perspective of waste, if we want to achieve a zero-waste society, replacing disposable diapers with reusable diapers is the only way to go.

It is estimated that 20% of the European population uses reusable diapers -15% for economic reasons and 5% for environmental reasons.

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