Monday 23 October 2023

Diaper doo, nappy two

I started riffing on diapers, intending to write everything I knew, but I was caught short and launched a partial product prematurely. But nappies have been in the statistical news. In July 2023, More or Less looked closely [9min] at the assertion that more adult diapers are sold in Japan than those for babies. Because this chimes with a narrative about the aging population, and shy-breeding among 20- and 30-somethings, in that country, this 'fact' has been widely propagated.

Japanese diaper production (incl exports, hoarding etc.)


So that gives some ball-park numbers to suggest that incontinent Japanese weans are holding their own against ditto elders in a ratio of about 1 : 10. But Dr Landfill wants to factor in that baby diapers weigh [dry!!] ~18g while adult ditto come in at ~90g or 1 : 5. Nappies can absorb 20x their weight in liquid! Source "A new approach for assessing the absorption of disposable baby diapers and superabsorbent polymers: A comparative study" by Bachra et al. (2020). That's still a hella lot of organics going to landfill where they will fossilize until it becomes economic to mine the tips for aluminium drinks cans..

In June 2023 Sliced Bread [as L with Greg Foot] had a piece [29min] on reusable vs disposable nappies. The conceit of the series is to ask whether such-a-commodity is the best thing since sliced bread = SB or mere marketing bullshit BS. Often the answer is "it's not black-and-white" or "it depends". Having spent 60 years trying to push parents towards disposables, now there is a growing market in re-usable nappies.

Even here, tech has moved in. Back in our day, a nappy was a terrycloth cotton square. Cotton is rather less absorbent than help or bamboo fibre but more so that microfibre. That's a trade-off because the less absorbent materials dry quicker after washing. 

For a comparison baseline you need to know that in the 2.5 year period of birth to potty, the average infant will need 4,500 changes. 

If you're going re-usable, you need to upfront about £100 for a set of cotton diapers + £30 for a nappy-bucket to steep t'buggers until wash-day and a waterproof bag to keep them safe if you are out and about. But you can spend >£400 on well-marketed = marked-up designer nappies. And you've got to factor in the cost of washing a batch of 12-16 nappies every couple of days: at 30p for electric + 20p for metered water +30p for detergent. The all-in-cost for each change of re-usable nappy tops out at 15p a go.

Disposable nappies otoh is all about consumables rather than capital. They start at maybe 5p for an Aldi own-brand newborn size rising to 40p to put a toddler into Pampers. I suppose you should factor in the bin-charges cost of sending the one-use nappies off to landfill, but Sliced Bread didn't bother. Bottom line: re-usable nappies are about half the cost of disposables averaged over that birth-to-potty life-time.

There is a market for "eco" disposables at top-flight designer prices. But the Sliced Bread experts hold these to be a load of green-washing. They are not really better for the planet than other re-usables. The latter half of the podcast has a lot more to say about various measures of greenity and conscience-smiting for those who care about those things. Cripes, though, my memory of those diaper days is that it was work enough dealing with "leakage", Sudocrem, wet-wipes, clothes-lines, weather-watching . . . let alone "tsunamis" and "arm-pit jobs".

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