Advancement in technology has allowed us to reach previously impossible levels of sourcing materials. Currently, we are able to source natural materials both on and beneath the surface of the earth and potentially the moon for these natural resources. Among these technological advancements is in being able to source materials from natural resources to devise biobased baby diapers.
This advancement in technology has led to the revolution in baby diapers in terms of hygiene and in the absorption capabilities of baby diapers.
The usage of bamboo, a biobased material has enhanced the dryness levels in biodegradable baby diapers to ensure the baby is hygienically comfortable between diaper changes for longer periods of time.
These biobased materials originate from natural biological resources and are found to be of greater absorption capability than other materials in current use. Bamboo core diapers are found to have as much as four times more absorption capability as compared to cotton.
We have certainty that these advancements are indeed great for baby, however, as guardians of our little blue planet, the question arises whether such advancements are indeed great for our planet.
Are Biodegradable Baby Diapers really Biodegradable?
There has been much debate as to the biodegradability of other disposable diapers as compared to bamboo baby diapers. In order to fully appreciate what is a biobased diaper, an understanding of biodegradability or the biobased diaper is required.
Structure of the Diaper
Biodegradability, as regards a biobased diaper, in essence, means a number of things. Consider a disposable diaper, in its structure, it’s made up of a number of things; an inner permeable sheet, an absorbent pad, an impermeable outer sheet, the pad or core itself, fastening tapes (tabs), a fastening mat to append the tape, appropriate leg fit, an elastic side sheet to fit leg, rubber bands attached to elastic side sheets, and an elastic waistband.[i]
Each of these components requires consideration in how each of these may be developed and the materials used to create each of them. Of key importance in determining the correct types of materials to be used is, whether the materials utilized would be able to be returned to nature when broken down.
Landfills, Dumps and Compost Sites
We often dispose of items we have consumed to trash sites; these sites range from landfills to include deep landfills as well. It is at these landfills where much of the disposables of modern society end up and deep within these landfills is where much of these disposable’s breakdown. These breakdown processes, which we may often understand as decomposition, is a rather complex process[ii] even though we may simply shrug off and say nature is doing its job’.
This decomposition is essentially the biodegradation process. It means that; materials can be decomposed through the action of enzymes and bacteria (aerobic and anaerobic). The environment created deep within landfills makes for the appropriate conditions for such enzyme and bacterial activity to ensure the decomposition of the materials. Decomposition may result in a total breakdown of materials into inorganic material, carbon dioxide, and water. The comparison between decomposed or biodegraded material and compost shows that compost is not reduced to an inorganic state, water or carbon dioxide as we see with decomposed material[iii]. This process of biodegradation may also take place in water states, either salt or a mixture of fresh and saltwater.
Seeing we have clarity in understanding what biodegradability is, we have an idea as to what types of materials would be considered for a diaper to be regarded as a biodegradable diaper.
Each of the components which go to make up the diaper would require being able to be biodegradable, meaning decomposing all the way down to the form of water, carbon dioxide or inorganic material. It then would require the conducive environments of dumpsites, landfills or compost sites for the efficient breakdown in the soil.[v]
The materials which may be considered for each component would ideally be sourced from nature itself. The inner sheet (permeable), could be a from a mixture of biobased or petroleum-based sources, biodegradable polyester or cellulose polymers. These polymers may also be used for the impermeable out sheet. This inner sheet requires being more porous than the outer sheet, to ensure the absorption of baby output. Thus, the manufacturing processes to ensure that the inner sheet is porous would differ to that of the outer sheet which would remain impermeable.
The core or pad itself; the core may be made up of two aspects, a matrix and filler particles. The core may be made up of superabsorbent material. This absorbent material may be made up of bamboo fiber, avian feathers, cellulose material, cotton fiber or wood fiber. The filler particle may be composed of starch-sodium polyacrylate this ensures 100 to 130 times its own absorbency weight.
The remaining components should also be made of biobased materials. These components include; the tapes, the waistband, and side sheets. These components should be composed of over 25% biobased materials i.e. PHA – Polyhydroxyalkanonate. This PHA should be over 25% biobased as well[vi].
In gaining an understanding of what biodegradability is and what a biobased diaper ideally is, it gives us clarity what should we actually be developing and using.
The biobased baby diaper ensures there is minimal impact on the planet and in implementing these levels of standard ensures biodegradability of diapers. This gives us confidence that the biobased diapers are environmentally friendly and this, more importantly, ensures that there is a legacy for our future generations