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EARTHWATCH

The Wrap Scene : The 2.5 billion plastic diapers buried yearly would pave the highway from Oregon to Mexico.

November 08, 1990|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Let's talk about babies. Actually, I'd thought of taking this occasion to discuss children and environmentalism. But on the phone with a friend, Berkeley-based John Javna (author of "50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth"), we got to discussing babies--he's a brand-new father--and what we should be doing for their environmental safety, specifically cloth versus plastic diapers.

It turns out to be an important topic, not just for new parents but for everybody. I've done some checking around and, to put it delicately, by throwing used plastic diapers into the landfill we are fouling our California nest.

The recent growth of recycling has diverted tons of newsprint, cans and bottles from landfills, but hasn't cut the flow of used plastic diapers. Californians bury 2.5 billion of them in our soil annually. At 5% of our landfill use, that's enough volume to bedeck Interstate 5 from Oregon to Mexico each year.

Javna had written of this problem, of course, in his original "50 Simple Things" book. But with the arrival of Javna junior, "His presence makes everything different. If there had been any question about using cloth diapers, well, no longer. You're suddenly going to be responsible for another person's lifetime."

He further observed that it isn't the enormous sacrifice that everyone seems to think it is. "I assumed it would be inconvenient, a sacrifice," he said, "but it's not as hard as people say."

It seems that at best only one of five California families uses cloth diapers today. But according to Dana Garner, whose diaper facility is in Oxnard, "business is up, up, up. People want to do what's right for their baby."

By using a service (see FYI, above) or washing at home, we are refraining from putting untreated sewage into the soil. The services I'm listing are nationally accredited and tested monthly. They use pure soap and no industrial chemicals, with the resultant waste water being suitable for normal county sewage treatment processes.

From my own experiences I feel compelled to say something about how cloth diapers fit. At the risk of being a little clinical, there is the leakage problem to be dealt with. Or there was until recently. In the last few years--in response to the rise in cloth diaper use--some clever washable, reusable diaper covers have come on the national market. Goodby safety pins, hello Velcro--and great fit, colors and prints. It's interesting that they're manufactured right on Ventura County's borders, at Diaperaps Inc. in Granada Hills and R. Duck Inc. in Santa Barbara. (Biobottoms Inc. is in Petaluma.)

Javna earnestly pointed out, "Look for gussets because the fit around the leg is important." Biobottoms slogan, it turns out, is "Leg gussets for extra seal."

Since there are lots of phone numbers to give today, I'll close with a final admonition from Javna. About the "wipes" he said, "Recycled materials--no fragrances, no alcohol, nothing." Good advice in almost any context.

FYI

* Bottoms Up Diaper Service (805) 966-4137. Service to your residence and/or baby's day-care center for about $13/wk. in north and west county plus city of Ventura.

* Dy-Dee Diaper Co. (805) 581-5033 or 1-800-459-BABY. Serves east and south county plus city of Ventura for about $13/wk.

* R. Duck (wraps) (805) 964-4343 or at Panda Kids Store (805) 684-2318. Six for about $30.

* Diaperaps (wraps) (818) 886-7471 or 1-800-251-4321. Six for about $35.

* Biobottoms (wraps) 1-800-766-1254. About $16 apiece. Ask for catalogue of all-cotton clothing.

* John Javna's "50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth" is available at Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, Ventura Bookstore and other locations for $6.95.

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