Green Parenting vs. the Real World: Let’s Talk About Poop

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cloth diapers, green parenting, diaper dilemma

Photo courtesy of Heather via Flickr

Today, diapers-especially disposable ones-pose a huge global problem. We have covered the diapering issue extensively in our previous article The Green Diaper Dilemma, presenting facts that each diapering option represents for both parents and our environment. Particularly, disposable diapers create a huge burden on our environment. First, the synthetic materials disposable diapers are produced from may take as long as 500 years to decompose. Secondly, many parents don’t realize that leaving baby feces wrapped up in them before disposal provides an opportunity for potentially dangerous bacteria and viruses to flourish undisturbed during those hundreds of years of diaper decomposition. According to a statement regarding disposable diapers released in 1989 by the American Public Health Association: “More than 100 different enteric viruses, including polio and hepatitis are known to be excreted in human feces and these viruses can live for months after the stool has passed from the body. Diapers also pose potential health risks to sanitation workers.”
dipers, disposable diapers, diaper dilemma

Photo courtesy of sean dreilinger via Flickr

Even green parents, who spend time educating themselves how to help our planet, seem to miss some parts of the bigger problem. I had an experience recently with a mom of two kids, who is very Eco-conscious and health aware, that quite surprised me. She used only hybrid or cloth diapers with her first baby and she started her second baby the same way. After about 6 months she couldn’t keep up with work and 2 kids, so she switched to disposables, arguing the baby will soon be potty-trained so she won’t contribute too much to the waste. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’m sure all moms have been in a situation when we need to choose the easy way otherwise we’ll lose our mind. However, on one of my visits to her house I witnessed something that shocked me: after she replaced a pooped diaper, she didn’t empty it first to the toilet, rather just wrapped it up and tossed it to the kitchen garbage. At that time it wasn’t the right situation to ask her about it or even lecture her, so I just let it pass thinking we’ll discuss it later. Then I started contemplating what do most moms-especially the ones who solely use disposable diapers-do with their diapers full of poop. I did a lot of research and found that certain cities and states even give fines for improper handling of dirty diapers in order to reduce potential health hazards. Several respected online sources such as BabyCenter, WebMD or TreeHugger actually discuss and advise on proper removal of feces into the toilet before disposing the diaper, but why don’t the diaper-producing companies educate their customers about it? I haven’t found anything about this subject on Huggies or Pamper websites, or any other. Although they provide step-by-step instructions on how to change a diaper, the only thing on the disposal step they mention is “Dispose of the soiled diaper and wash your hands.”
So what can the green community do to educate other parents? Parents using cloth or hybrid diapers already know they need to drop the poop in a toilet before washing the diaper, but that doesn’t come as obvious to other parents. I personally think this problem is beyond the green community, and should be addressed on a bigger scale. Just like the tobacco industry is obliged to list the health risks of using their products, the diaper industry should be obliged to educate their customers about proper and safe disposal of soiled diapers to prevent any health hazards. In the end, it is a multi-billion dollar business, that needs to share a corporate responsibility to our planet.
And as for discussing diapering and its green options with friends and community? Similarly to talking about junk food, it can be a challenging subject. But spreading awareness is all our responsibility, and it’s concerning all of us, parents or not.
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Author:Katka Konecna-Rivera

Katka Konecna-Rivera, co-founder and host of Living Green with Baby, is an architect focused on sustainable design as well as a filmmaker, writer and personal wellness coach.

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