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October 12. 2012 9:12PM

Explosion in Japan threatens disposable diapers in U.S.


Rachel Mueller uses cloth diapers on her five-month old son Pavel. She said it saves her money and is less-irritating for the child (Simn Rios/Union Leader Correspondent)

NASHUA —Word of an explosion earlier this month at a Japanese chemical plant left many parents wondering if it would lead to a shortage in disposable diapers.

But for moms who wrap their babies' bottoms in cloth, it's no big deal.

Rachael Mueller is a new mother and aspiring midwife. Mueller said her choice to use cloth diapers is both rational and reasonable.

“Most important is environmental,” said Mueller, 31, holding her five-month old son. “Everything's so disposable in our culture.”

She said she also also does it for health reasons, because disposable diapers typically contain chlorine bleach and other chemicals that can lead to rashes.

Each year the Japanese company Nippon Shokubai produced about 460,000 tons of acrylic acid, a key ingredient in the superabsorbent polymers used in diapers and other sanitary goods.

“All that (stuff) is not natural and we don't know the long-term effects of any of it,” Mueller said.

Just using cloth isn't always enough, however. Mueller said using chemical detergents can also lead to diaper rash.

Then there's the simple economics of it. Her cousin uses cloth diapers, she said, not because they're easier on the planet but because of the cost.

Mueller estimated that using disposable diapers would cost her $25 a week, and as much as $4,000 over the three years her son will be in diapers. Compared with $15 for diaper covers and $2 for cloth, Mueller said she'll spend at most $300 over the course of her son's infancy.

According to Real Diaper Association, an organization that advocates for cloth diapers, 27.4 billion disposable diapers are used every year in the U.S. They make up the third largest consumer item in landfills, and take between 250 and 500 years to decompose. But there's one major advantage disposable diapers offer — convenience. Instead of rinsing and washing and drying and folding, disposable diapers are taped up and tossed into the trash. Jamie Littlefield Marchand of Milford is the mom of two girls, one 5, the other 16 months. And she has used disposable diapers the entire way. It just takes less time.

Waking up at 5:40 each morning to work a full day, return home and get her 5-year-old off the bus, make dinner, put the kids to bed, then try to sleep at 9, Marchand said she'd consider using cloth diapers but can't fathom adding another task to her day.

“It seems like a lot to have to do a little laundry every single day,” said Marchand, who does four people's laundry and doesn't have a washer and dryer in her apartment. Marchand said if she were a stay-at-home mom it's likely she would try the cloth.

Nicki Maynard is CEO and owner of Nicki's Diapers and creator of Best Bottom Diapers.

She said with the incident at the plant in Japan, it is likely that diaper prices will increase and more women will turn to cloth.

“Once a parent learns more about how cost-effective and easy modern cloth diapers are, they rarely go back to using disposables,” she said. “Parents will be surprised that cloth diapers have changed from the old fashion pins and plastic pants to easy-to-use styles that are as easy to use as a disposable diaper.”

Maynard acknowledged that having to wash dirty diapers is the main drawback of cloth diapers. But she said the newly designed reusable diapers make it easier for the diaper changer.

srios@newstote.com


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