The Ugly Truth Behind Disposable Diapers

The Ugly Truth Behind Disposable Diapers
A group photo of all the participants during the celebration of National Water Week, hosted at the Kempville Hall

On Thursday, the 23rd of March, National Water Week was celebrated by an interesting presentation hosted at the Kempville Hall. Stakeholders, such as members from Dardlea (Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land & Environmental Affairs), Mondi, IUCMA (Inkomati- Usuthu Catchment Management Agency), the Department of Education, Mkhondo Municipality and the Gert Sibande District Municipality, attended the event and the feedback was phenomenal.

The subject under discussion was mainly the huge problems that disposable diapers hold for the environment. As the Program Director, Mr Vusi Dube (from Mkhondo Municipality) emphasized: “Dear future generation, we are sorry for not taking care of our environment”, the guests listened and watched an insightful video clip, showing the damage that we as humans are currently doing to the environment.

A presentation was hosted by Mr Mkhabane, from Dardlea. The Mpumalanga Nappy Campaign was initiated by Dardlea and this is necessary because some areas of the environment are becoming severely polluted and holds a health risk to humans. During a baby’s nappy wearing lifetime, it is estimated that each baby will use about 5 000 nappies. Can you imagine what the environment around you would look like if every mother would just dump their baby’s nappies anywhere?

When disposable nappies are left in the open, flies, rats and animals can spread diseases that might cause intestinal illnesses such as gastro-enteritis, ecoli or even worms. Even more interesting, is the fact that disposable nappies release methane gas into the air – which is a main contributor to climate change. Dumping nappies at riverbanks can pollute the water source and cause mayor health risks to members residing in those areas. After Mr Mkhabane’s presentation, Mr H. Makhubele had a chance to give another presentation from IUCMA.

Disposable diapers are a very popular consumer product in South Africa and although they offer convenience, they also pose several environmental health risks. Diapers account for tons of waste ending up on landfill sites daily. A website named The Good Human recently pointed out that more than 200 000 trees are lost annually to the manufacturing of nappies in the U.S alone.

It takes about 12 869 billion litres of fuel oil to make diapers every year. What it comes down to is that disposable nappies use 20 times more raw materials, two times more water and three times more energy to make than the old fashioned cloth nappies. Besides the fact that it is depleting natural resources quite significantly, manufacturing of disposable diapers also utilise non-renewable sources.

It was found that each baby wearing disposable diapers can create about 1 000 kg (a ton) of garbage over the course of one year. In South Africa, it is estimated that there is about one million babies born each year (according to a 10 year research) – can you imagine how much diaper garbage is being created annually? Did you know that a disposable nappy can take up to 500 years to decompose?

The millions of tons of untreated waste added to landfill sites annually through diapers can contaminate ground water and viruses excreted in a baby’s faeces could end up leaking into local water supplies. Disposable diapers often contain dyes and dioxin, a carcinogen, which can cause cancer.

After these insightful, yet eyeopening, presentations, four learners from Nsikinyane Primary School, near Lothair, had the opportunity to entertain the audience with their beautiful singing talent and poems. “When I’m brushing my teeth in the bathroom, I will never let the water run,” they sang proudly.

The aim of this event was to raise awareness about the fact that disposable diapers are causing havoc to the environment. Everyone needs to step up and protect our valuable water resources. Currently, private waste is becoming public waste as people pollute the environment around them. This has a huge impact on everyone’s lives and people can no longer look the other way. The truth can be denied but not avoided. What will be left for our future generations if we don’t start to take care of the earth right now?