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Report: Develop/design strategy for social change to address a particular sustainability challenge Essay Example

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The Rise of Disposable Diapers and Its Environmental Threats

Background to the ‘Unsustainable Practice’

The rising changes in modern lifestyles have inspired the growth of modern-day consumer product, which to some extent, have made life more comfortable, but on the negative side, have brought detrimental effects on the environment. The gradual rise and use of disposable baby diapers are one of the hotly contested issues when it comes to modern consumer behaviors and their impact on the environmental issues. Disposable baby diapers or the single-use diapers are modern baby diapers that consumers purchase and dispose of immediately after use. The diapers were first introduced in the United States when a Westport housewife named Marion Donovan designed a ‘Boater’, which was a waterproof covering that could be attached on the cloth diapers. For the better part of the 1940s, disposable diapers remained a luxury that only a few rich could afford. From the 1950s, the evolution of the disposable diapers took a steady transformation, but in a highly controversial manner.

In 2000, the popular American manufacturer of disposable diapers, known as Fuzzi Bunz, opened an online store and other similar companies followed the trend, consequently making disposable diapers very synonymous with the modern generation (Lehrburger, Mullen & Jones, 2011). As the consumption demand grew by threefold throughout the 20th century, disposable baby diapers became fashionable products that resulted in a sudden upsurge in the number of companies manufacturing the modern diapers (Lehrburger, Mullen & Jones, 2011). Nowadays, the environmental impacts and the high costs of the disposable diapers have become hotly contested issues, with environmentalists and policy makers involved in this troubling issue. Environmental statistics from 1991 have shown that in the U.S alone, disposable diapers have caused serious environmental problems including water pollution, air pollution, landfill pollution, and some greenhouse effects. Regardless of the growing knowledge about the environmental problems associated with disposable diapers, consumers have increasingly relied on them and bought them in large volumes.

Growing Reliance on Disposable Diapers

Pampers have undergone significant transformations since the moment they entered the American market (Lehrburger, Mullen & Jones, 2011). At the moment, manufacturing of diapers has become a booming business, with almost all the new generation mothers getting interested in the idea of using disposable diapers as they create convenience and reduce the burden of washing that was common among the traditional reusable diapers (Cordella, Bauer, Lehmann, Schulz & Wolf, 2015) At the moment, disposable diapers have taken 99% of the diaper market, leading the reusable and washable diapers with less than 1% market prominence. Environmentalists have singled out disposable diaper as one of the notorious product that associates with numerous environmental problems. Even with the growing public knowledge about the foreseeable dangers of disposable diapers, the purchasing decisions remain with the consumers who routinely go for these environmental hazardous disposable diapers (Cordella et al., 2015). The growth of diapers in the local stores, supermarkets, and retail shops is overwhelming as their environmental impacts go unnoticed and sometimes overtly ignored.

In the United States, companies dealing with the manufacturing of disposal diapers have increased by threefold and consumption has grown beyond the regular estimates. Statistics can never provide enough answers to the empirical facts we need to understand the growing environmental and economic burden of reusable diapers across the world (Cordella et al., 2015). Research is on a problem can prove more reliable when facts are drawn from real life situations. From my own perspective, I realized it is important to undertake a practical approach to the existing menace. Recently, I decided to conduct an informal interview with ten mummies I have personally known for several years. The mummies were almost my age mates and most of them were below 40 years. Hence, I randomly asked their ages and calculated the average age, which I got to be 30yrs. On a casual interaction with these parents, I decided to ask them three questions on their usage of disposable diapers. The three questions were:

a. How often do you buy diapers?

b. How often do you change your baby’s diapers?

c. How much do you spend on disposable diapers per day?

d. Is it too expensive to manage the cost of disposable diapers?

e. Where do you dispose the used disposable diapers?

Prior to the completion of my interview, I received shocking responses from my respondents. On average, on the quiz (a), most of the respondents stated that they buy disposable diapers regularly and they are part of the regular items purchased during the shopping time. On quiz (b), regarding the intervals of changing babies the diapers, the new generation mummies stated that on average, they change the babies more than six times in 24hrs. However, these changes, according to the mummies, depend on the age of the child, the condition of the diaper, and the authenticity of the diaper brand. On quiz (c), the mummies declared that pumpers cost more than most of the regular consumables. Quiz (d) supplemented the data collected on the quiz (c). When asked whether it was too expensive to manage the cost of disposable diapers, mummies stated that they use an average of USD75 on diapers. Regarding the last question, the mummies agreed that they dispose their used diapers around the local dumpsites.

Major Sustainability Issues Associated with Disposable Diapers

Disposable diapers have been condemned and considered as environmental problems because of a number of issues that manufacturers and governments have ignored for several years now (Cordella et al., 2015). Among other environmental problems, economic and environmental assessments on diapers show that disposable diapers have been associated with poor material utilization, high energy consumption, high water consumption, solid waste generation, industrial air emissions, waterborne emissions, unsustainable living cost, and toxicity impacts (Cordella et al., 2015). To begin with, the most disturbing issue in environmental sustainability is the proper use of materials in order to reduce the burden of manufacturing more, as manufacturing results in serious greenhouse gas emissions (Cordella et al., 2015). Manufacturing of single-use diapers or the disposable diapers has resulted in the unreasonable use of the raw material as it constitutes more than three times manufacturing process than other regular consumables. This means that the use of disposable diapers ruins the global sustainability agenda of ensuring that there are reduced manufacturing processes.

High energy consumption is another practice associated with environmental sustainability problems. According to environmentalists, high energy consumption impels an increase in the production of greenhouse gas emissions and use of carbon in the production of energy. It is believed that manufacturing of disposable diapers encompasses six times more energy consumption than the production of the traditional cotton diapers. Currently, production of disposable diapers uses 3.4 billion gallons of fuel. Reduced water consumption is another global sustainability agenda and when viewed from the manufacturing and use stages, evidence has emerged that single-use disposable diaper uses 37% more water than the conventional cloth or cotton diapers. Excess use of water is an unsustainable practice that threatens the future of humanity. Studies comparing water usage in disposable diapers and washable cotton diapers have highlighted that waste water used in growing and manufacturing reusable cloth diapers is 20times fewer than water used in the manufacturing of disposable diapers. Such facts make disposable diapers more threatening to the environment.

Another disturbing issue associated with the use of disposable diapers is because it is linked to high solid waste generation. Solid waste is very dangerous as it increased landfill pollution. As witnessed from my informal interview, mummies dispose the diapers carelessly around the dumpsite. Medical experts have estimated that from birth to toilet training, each child is capable of using at least 5,300 disposable diapers. In the United States, statistics show that reusable diapers contribute to seven times more post-consumer solid waste than most of the common consumables. Disposable diapers constitute 2% of the U.S. municipal solid waste, equivalent to 85% less of the traditional cloth diapers. Industrial air emissions and toxicity are also two aspects heavily debated in the environmental sustainability agendas. It is believed that manufacturing of disposable diapers associated with high chemical oxygen demand (COD) and total dissolved solids (TDS). Moreover, all disposable pumpers contain compounds that involve high carbon emissions.

Key Problems and Challenges for Effecting the Needed Changes

In order to understand that disposable diapers have become commercially protected items, it is first important to know their current production and usage (Jesca & Junior, 2015). There are 18 billion diapers produced, consumed and disposed into landfills each year. Diapers produce over 6.8tons of landfill waste that accounts for 2.1 percent of U.S garbage (Jesca & Junior, 2015). The above statistics show that the industry is very lucrative to both the manufacturers and the governments. In 2000, that is more than decade age, production of diapers in Turkey and EU had a market value of 5000 million Euros. Most of the governments have downplayed the effects of these diapers for the purpose of safeguarding their economic interests. Governments impose duties on these businesses that are highly lucrative, but dangerous to future sustainability. The second challenge is the ability to influence the purchasing decisions of the consumers, who are new generation mummies who feel sophisticated and educated (Jesca & Junior, 2015). These mummies are hard to convince even with the increasing public awareness of the environmental impacts of the disposable diapers.

Current Approaches that Failed

Due to the increasing pressure from the environmentalists, giant diaper producers have reacted through introducing various models of diapers as part of their agenda in mitigating pollution caused by the disposable diapers (Jesca & Junior, 2015). For instance, companies are now using superabsorbent polymers to manufacture diapers to enhance their efficiency and improve their environmental friendliness (Jesca & Junior, 2015). The water absorbent polymers have been crucial in transforming the new models of disposable diapers. Nonetheless, these superabsorbent polymers have not assumed the environment of any sustainability. The other solution that has been tested in the production and use of disposable diapers is the monitoring of the production and advising the consumers on the best approaches to handle disposable diapers. The knowledge has been very important although often ignored (Jesca & Junior, 2015). These sensitivity efforts have been futile due to the growing human irresponsibility and civility in environmental protection. Globally, over 4million disposable diapers are ignorantly disposed of in open dumpsites.

Rationale for my Strategy for Change

The continued production and use of disposable diapers are now reaching some disastrous levels. This report suggests three important approaches that may increase environmental sustainability in the use of disposable diapers to greater levels. The three approaches are: controlling the production of disposable diapers through industrial regulations, revisiting the traditional cloth diapers that were washable, and lastly, sensitizing mothers on better diapering philosophies. First and foremost, the greatest problem to the mitigation of improper use of disposable diapers starts with the uncontrolled production of baby diapers, which to certain extents have been produced in varying degrees of quality. Moderated production and controlled production of the disposable diapers can be significant solutions to the increasing dangers of landfill pollution caused by the mass production of low-quality diapers. While trying to understand why mitigation of the production levels and standards of baby diapers is important, it is good to acknowledge that commercial production of disposable diapers is one with the highest utilization of fake production approaches.

Fake production of disposable diapers is not only involving the young and unstable companies but shockingly, even the most established companies have once been nabbed. We should start by reflecting on the 2014 scandal of the Procter & Gamble’s diapers. It was rumored that the U.S giant manufacturer of home consumables created fake diapers that were of low effectiveness and low in eco-friendliness. Aside from the case of fake diapers associated with the aggressive business expansion strategies of Procter & Gamble, environmental scientists have attested that the mass production of both fake and authentic disposable diapers includes high consumption of energy, water and manufacturing the raw material. In terms of excessive use of raw material that is linked to environmental depletion, Abdul-Rahman (2014) found evidence from the Environmental Protection Agency that stated that over 50,000 tons of wood pulp collected from raw wood was in 2011 used to produce disposable diapers.

The above facts reveal that a continuation of such trends may result in severe deforestation and in addition to the previous discussions in this paper; there will also be a significant loss of water that is meant to assure future sustainability in humanity. The second idea is revisiting the use of traditional cotton or cloth diapers that were washable. Compared to the mixture of environmental harms associated with the water use and energy use associated with the manufacturing and usage of the disposable polymorphous diapers, the washable cotton diapers use less energy and water. The commercially produced disposable diapers are missing out the three crucial ideas of ensuring environmental sustainability; Reducing, Reusing And Recycling. The 3R paradigm is non-existing in the product life cycle of the disposable diapers as they do not encourage reducing the use of raw material, reusing of the polymorphous diapers or even recycling of these diapers.

In actually, less than 2% of the material used in disposable diapers can be recycled to produce other significant products (Cordella et al., 2015). The last important strategy that can be important in mitigating the careless consumption and post-consumer pollution associated with disposable diapers is through sensitizing mothers on the best diapering philosophies. Current scientific evidence shows that there is little research done on the exact time taken by disposal diapers to decompose (Cordella et al., 2015). However, in 2014 environmentalists estimated that it may take a whopping 450 years to completely decompose. Surprisingly, even as these diapers seem to decompose immediately upon exposure to water and soil decomposing agents, it is believed that the 450 years of decomposing are 45times more than the plastic bags whose decomposition is normally feared among the policy makers (Abdul-Rahman, 2014). When properly trained on the better diapering philosophies, mothers can reduce their tendencies of disposing of the used diapers carelessly and reduce the average use of these diapers.

Evidence of Thinking through the above Change Paradigms

There is a reason why the governments must take actions on the companies that are producing disposable diapers through unsustainable practices. In many nations, government policing is the most effective approach used in controlling the behaviors of industries that are believed to have negative environmental impacts. At the moment, the unregulated industry of disposable diapers places the world at risk of unsustainable future if the trend of production and consumption of these products is not mitigated. In the United States, the Federal Government and the State Governments should amalgamate efforts to reduce the commercial production of disposable diapers as one of the approaches that can assist in decreasing the environmental impacts of diapers. Together with the existing policies on solid waste, the U.S government should implement the green approaches that were once introduced by the Germany government, which now enjoys a clean environment courtesy of these policies.

a. Government Controlled Production of Disposable Diapers

One of the most effective policy frameworks is the transfer of the pollution impact to the producers. This can be achieved through ensuring that companies remain accountable for the waste products they produce and their consumer behaviors. The U.S Government should introduce a mandatory tax based on the estimated production quantity of each of the companies producing disposable diapers with the Federal and State levels (Cordella et al., 2015). This tax will automatically be channeled to the garbage collection and garbage management companies that will in return, ensure a systematic approach of handing the disposable diapers at the dumpsites (Cordella et al., 2015). This will automatically mean that the American diaper producers will take caution on what they produce, how they produce, and the amount they produce. Such attempts will reduce the production of diapers and would lead to the existence of companies that will only produce diapers under the commercially acceptable standards, business ethics and government regulations.

Another idea within the context of policy framework is the introduction of a trained team of scientific researchers who are well equipped with information regarding Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The current data concerning the LCA of disposable diapers is murky and unreliable, thus, making the actual life cycle of the diapers unknown to many people (Cordella et al., 2015). The team will be responsible for conducting a ‘cradle to grave’ LCA of the diapers from different samples collected. The analysis will focus on assessing the amount of product toxicity and the chemicals that are suspected to be dangerous to the environment, after which, every company that is breaking the standards of production will be identified and terminated if possible (Cordella et al., 2015). The last idea in the policy framework is the introduction of government controlled pricing strategies, in which the government will detect the maximum and minimum prices of the diapers for sustainable economic survival. With over $850 spent on diapers alone, American families risk their future economic plans.

b. Revisiting the Washable and Reusable Cloth Diapers

Even though they seem unadventurous and boring to use, the conventional diapers that were washable and reusable can be important in the quest for mitigating the growing danger that disposable diapers pose to the environment. It is believed that the gallons of water and the gallons of fuel used in the manufacturing of disposable diapers cannot be compared to the amount of water used for home laundry for washable diapers and the amount of energy used for heating water meant for the same laundry. Since history, the washable diapers have never exceeded a landfill pollution of 1.5%, compared to the disposable diapers whose landfill pollution is nowadays estimated to more than 80%. It is unfortunate that the whole debate of cloth versus disposable polymorphous diapers revolve around baseless arguments because until now, these modern diapers are of luxury products than basic needs. Evidence from some American families continues to show that families are reconsidering the cloth diapers.

The unregulated market prices for the disposable diapers sets fear on the escalating economic burden that most of the American families continue to incur. The government of the United States and other governments across the world should begin reviving the traditional industry of the cloth diapers that for years, has plunged due to the influence of the disposable diapers that have taken the diaper market by a storm (Abdul-Rahman, 2014). An introduction of more advanced versions of traditional diapers that are soft for quick washing and good fabric for longevity will be very important in assisting the government in reducing the overwhelming influence of the disposable diapers (Abdul-Rahman, 2014). These companies should have a favorable operating environment and should be accorded the necessary support to reestablish. However retrogressive it may seem, the idea is very important to the efforts meant to enhance environmental sustainability.

c. Sensitizing Mothers on Better Diapering Philosophies

Together with the dysfunctional environmental laws that have strongly focused on the corporate world that the entire public, the U.S families lack knowledge on environmental ethics (Lehrburger, Mullen & Jones, 2011). The best way to ensure a significant reduction in the post-consumer landfill pollution associated with the reckless disposal of the disposable diapers is to sensitize families on the proper ways of handling disposable diapers during the disposal process (Lehrburger, Mullen & Jones, 2011). This idea will work closely with the first idea concerning the policies on production, pricing and Garbage Management of the disposable diapers. Using trained environmental experts, the government should implement Federal and State level campaigns aimed at sensitizing mothers on the best way to dispose of the diapers (Lehrburger, Mullen & Jones, 2011). If necessary, the government can use this opportunity to inform the public on the new regulations, on the new strategies of the contracted garbage collectors and on the possible law implications in case consumers fail to uphold the expected regulations.


Unfortunately, 20% of the poorest American families spent 14% of their income on disposable diapers, an amount that exceeds that of the regular food consumables purchased within the local stores. This means the real cost of raising kids has escalated in threefold. However, the problem goes beyond the massive economic sabotage that these diapers cause to the American families. Environmental scientists have revealed that disposable diapers associate with poor material utilization, high energy consumption, high water consumption, solid waste generation, industrial air emissions, waterborne emissions, unsustainable living cost, and toxicity impacts. These unsustainable practices can be mitigated through controlling the production of disposable diapers through industrial regulations, revisiting the traditional cloth diapers that were washable, and lastly, sensitizing mothers on better diapering philosophies.


Abdul-Rahman, F. (2014). Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Alternatives for Waste Management. Consumer and Environmental Sciences, 3(3), 1-4.

Cordella, M., Bauer, I., Lehmann, A., Schulz, M., & Wolf, O. (2015). Evolution of disposable baby diapers in Europe: life cycle assessment of environmental impacts and identification of key areas of improvement. Journal of Cleaner Production, 95(3), 322-331.

Jesca, M., & Junior, M. (2015). Practices Regarding Disposal of Soiled Diapers among Women of Child Bearing Age in Poor Resource Urban Setting. Journal of Nursing and Health Science, 4(4), 63-67.

Lehrburger, C., Mullen, J., & Jones, V. (1991). Diapers: Environmental Impacts and Lifecycle Analysis. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Walnut Publishers.