Disposable diapers have become a $5-billion-a-year worldwide market, but getting rid of the soiled ones is a problem. The average baby uses up 10,000 diapers before becoming potty trained. According to the Rhode Island Solid Waste Management Corp., a state organization created to study trash disposal, 18 billion dirty diapers weighing about 5 million tons are buried each year in U.S. landfills.
Cotton diapers take from one to six months to decompose, but plastic diapers require as long as 500 years to break down, program manager Russell C. Carlson said. "They're not biodegradable, and they're full of wonderful things," said Wendy R. Haldeman, a registered nurse and breast feeding consultant in West Los Angeles.
Disposable diaper manufacturers argue that the problem is exaggerated. About 59% of an Ultra Pampers Plus diaper is made from fully biodegradable wood pulp, said Kelly L. Gillespie, a spokeswoman for Pampers and Luvs manufacturer Procter & Gamble, headquartered in Cincinnati. Trash bags represent five times as much completely non-degradable plastic waste as disposable diapers in a typical municipality, she said.