Disposable Diapers

views updated May 29 2018

Disposable Diapers


NAICS: 32-2121 Paper (except Newsprint) Mills, 32-2291 Sanitary Paper Product Manufacturing

SIC: 2621 Pulp and Paper Mills and Manufacturers, 2676 Sanitary Paper Products

NAICS-Based Product Codes: 32-2121L through 32-2121L131 and 32-22913 through 32-22913131


Early diapers for infants were formed from animal skin and wool. For thousands of years people have dealt in various ways with baby urine and feces, some more successful than others. Swaddling clothes used to wrap young babies helped. Another solution was early toilet training.

Around 800 AD cotton was introduced in southern Europe. Its use spread slowly into Western Europe and North America. By the 1300s Mediterranean farmers cultivated cotton and shipped the fiber to the Netherlands for spinning and weaving into cloth. Textiles were valuable fibers that were re-used between generations of families. Cotton rags were used over and over again for baby urine and feces.

Innovations in the late 1700s such as the cotton gin and the water-powered spinning machine made manufactured cotton cloth more available. Even after its widespread use, cotton cloth for diapers had limitations. Problems included leaking, discomfort, and cleanup. Early diapers were fastened with pins that had no clasps to keep them from poking the delicate skin of infants. The modern pin with the safety clasp was invented in 1849. Cotton diapers held in place with diaper pins were de rigueur from the 1850s until the 1950s, when the consumer market began to grow after World War II.

Disposable diapers were developed simultaneously in Europe and the United States during the decades of the 1930s through the early 1950s. Entrepreneurs worked to overcome the limitations of the cotton diaper held in place with diaper pins. A Swedish firm developed a 2-piece diaper: a disposable wad of shredded paper pulp covered with gauze was inserted into reusable plastic pants. In the 1940s an American housewife and a British mother each developed 2-piece models. In 1949 Johnson & Johnson introduced CHUX disposable diaper. It was a 1-piece product with shredded paper wadding between a plastic back and a tissue lining. In 1950 the Swedes introduced rolls of shredded paper wadding covered with mesh that could be cut and fit into reusable plastic pants.

During the 1950s and the 1960s, disposable diapers were primarily 2-piece products that depended on reusable plastic pants. They were manufactured by various makers in France, Germany, Belgium, and Italy in Western Europe and, in North America, by Scott Paper and International Paper. Disposable diapers were a premium product intended for niche markets due to their expense relative to cotton diapers. Cotton continued to prevail.

Procter & Gamble developed its Pampers disposable diaper after it acquired Charmin Paper Company and began research into new products that used the tissue paper Charmin made at its Wisconsin paper mill.

Procter & Gamble test launched Pampers in Peoria, Illinois, in 1961. The test diaper was a rectangle. In be-tween its plastic backing and rayon lining were multiple layers of tissue paper. The diaper was held in place with diaper pins. It featured what was known as a Z fold; inner edges were pleated to provide better fit around upper legs. In 1968 Kimberly-Clark acquired Kimbies, a 1-piece disposable diaper with fluff pulp superior to both the paper wadding in CHUX and the tissue paper in Pampers. In 1969 Procter & Gamble rolled out Pampers nationwide with a heavy advertising campaign.

During the 1960s, two inventions emerged—super absorbent polymers and nonwoven fabric—that eventually contributed to the creation of the modern diaper. Superabsorbent polymers were developed simultaneously at Dow Chemical and Johnson & Johnson.

Superabsorbent polymers are pepper-like flakes that absorb up to 300 times their weight in liquid. When superabsorbent polymers became widely available in the 1980s, they replaced shredded paper wadding.

Nonwoven material was first used by a Swedish company in a rectangular diaper pad. When nonwovens became widely available in the 1990s, they were incorporated into the diaper manufacturing process. Together these two inventions reduced manufacturing costs and helped create an industry-wide dynamic of producing improved products over many decades with few price increases.

By the mid-1970s Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, and Procter & Gamble each had 1-piece disposable diapers in the national market. The 1-piece dislodged the 2-piece model and the private label market developed. In 1972 Procter & Gamble upgraded Pampers, adding adhesive tape to replace safety pins and switching from multiple layers of tissue paper to fluff pulp. Scott Paper test marketed gender-specific Raggedy Ann and Andy diapers, but quickly withdrew from the market to focus on private label diapers. In 1973 Procter & Gamble introduced Pampers to Western Europe.

In 1976 Procter & Gamble test marketed Luvs as an affordable brand. Its improvements included a fitted shape, elastic leg openings to help prevent leaks, and improved fastening tape. In 1978 Kimberly-Clark replaced Kimbies with its Huggies brand. Huggies also had a fitted shape and elastic leg cuffs. During the late 1970s to make more absorbent diapers, manufacturers began adding more fluff pulp to diapers. By the early 1980s disposable diapers were bulky, thick, and wide in the crotch.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Western European and North American consumers began to substitute disposable diapers for cotton diapers. Consumers switched because the advantage (ease of use) overwhelmed the disadvantage (higher cost).

Due in part to the freedoms associated with the late 1960s, disposable diapers were valued because they liberated parents from time consuming diaper chores of soaking, rinsing, washing, drying, and folding.

Disposable diapers are one of the six innovations that contributed to the liberation of women, according to the European Disposables and Nonwovens Association. Disposable diapers are listed along with voting, driving, equal pay, maternity leave, and the birth control pill as factors that contributed to female freedom.

In the 1980s advances in polymers made possible important improvements in disposable diaper design and performance. Johnson & Johnson stopped marketing disposable diapers under its own brand names in 1981 and refocused its manufacturing toward production of private label diapers, just as Scott Paper had earlier. In 1984 diaper makers exploited superabsorbent polymers. In 1985 resealable tape was used for the first time. Within one year, Kimberly-Clark's Huggies and Procter & Gamble's Pampers each reduced bulk by 50 percent by using superabsorbent polymers. The original bulky shredded paper diaper held 275 milliliters of liquid, or one cup. A diaper made with superabsorbent polymer held 500 milliliters, almost twice as much fluid. Another benefit of superabsorbent polymers is that they do not easily release the absorbed fluids under pressure of a toddler's bottom. Improved products were introduced to consumers without cost increases.

During the 1990s both of the top manufacturers of disposable diapers once again exploited the benefits of superabsorbent polymers to introduce ultra-thin models that were a further 30 percent thinner. Velcro fasteners replaced resealable tape. Nonwoven fabrics were exploited to create cloth-like backings that were better than plastic. New models featured waste dam leakage barriers and stretch breathable side panels. Private label brands grew as they incorporated many of these innovations. They helped hold prices down. Diapers got thinner yet better while costs stayed low. The once niche product was accessible even to low income consumers.


Disposable diapers are part of the larger sanitary paper products industry. According to data gathered and published by the U.S. Census Bureau in its Annual Survey of Manufactures, this industry as a whole had shipments of $8.5 billion in 2005, down from a level of $9.5 billion in 2002. During the period 1997 to 2002 industry shipments for the sanitary paper products manufacturing industry grew at an annual pace of 3.7 percent, from $7.8 to $9.5 billion. In the years since the 2002 Economic Census, shipments declined by $1 billion.

In order to analyze the disposable diaper portion of this larger industry, one is limited to data that are published in the U.S. Economic Census years because it is only in these years that data at the product level are gathered. In 2002 disposable diapers—a Census Bureau category which includes not only children's diapers but feminine hygiene and adult incontinence products as well—made up 53.4 percent of the sanitary paper product manufacturing industry in the United States. The slight increase in the number of children aged three years and under in the United States after 2002 gives reason to believe that shipments of disposable diaper likely grew in this period as well. Figure 80 shows the growth in population aged three years or younger for the period 2000 through 2005.

In 2005 an estimated $8 billion worth of children's disposable diapers were sold in the United States, at the retail level, according to a report from Freedonia Group, a Cleveland, Ohio, market research firm. Freedonia predicted that U.S. disposable diaper sales would increase at an annual pace of 1.4 percent through 2010 to become a $9.1 billion year retail market.

Freedonia's predictions may not pan out. Supermarket News reported that disposable diaper sales declined nearly 6 percent to $943 million in food stores for the 52 weeks ending February 19, 2006. Figures were based on data provided by Information Resources, Inc., that do not include Wal-Mart, club, or dollar stores. Supermarket News tallied the top disposable diaper brands to emphasize that private label brands hold the number three position in food stores. The top three disposable diaper brands were Huggies ($198 million), Pampers Baby-Dry ($167 million), and private label ($147 million).

The emergence of the national premium market controlled by Kimberly-Clark with Huggies and Procter & Gamble with Pampers created a private label market characterized by value-priced products. Competitive pressures between the two markets keep prices low. Between 1997 and 2004, according to European Disposable and Nonwovens Association (EDANA), real prices of disposable diapers in Europe declined by 20 percent. According to Nonwovens Industry, in 1990 the U.S. price of a standard disposable diaper was 22 cents. Almost 15 years later, even with countless improvements, a standard disposable diaper was approximately the same price.

Parents can save $200 per year in diaper costs if they switch to private label brands, according to Consumer Reports. The best private label brands cost approximatley 20 cents per diaper. The national premium brands cost approximately 30 cents per diaper. Of the 12 disposable diapers Consumer Reports ranked, the top five were premium products. The remaining seven were private label brands from stores like A&P, Albertson's, Kmart, Kroger, Target, and Wal-Mart. Private label brands cost approximately 30 percent less than premium brands. Consumer Reports' ranking of the top ten brands, with cost per diaper in 2004, reads as follows:

  1. Pampers Custom Fit Cruisers ($0.30 per diaper)
  2. Huggies Supreme ($0.32 per diaper)
  3. Pampers Baby-Dry ($0.28 per diaper)
  4. Huggies Ultratrim ($0.29 per diaper)
  5. Luvs Ultra Leakquards ($0.23 per diaper)
  6. Baby Basics Ultra Leakage Protection (Albertson's) (costs $0.21 per diaper)
  7. America's Choice Ultra Thin Stretch (A&P) (costs $0.22 per diaper)
  8. Ultra Comforts (Kroger) ($0.21 per diaper)
  9. White Cloud (Wal-Mart) ($0.21 per diaper)
  10. Simply Dry (Stop & Shop) ($0.19 per diaper)

Tension between the premium and value market segments was exhibited during the summer of 2005. Kimberly-Clark raised diaper prices 4.6 percent to match a Procter & Gamble price increase and to respond to a 7 percent increase taken in January 2005 by private label manufacturers. By December 2005 Procter & Gamble rolled back its price increase. The December 2005 price rollback was 2.8 percent on Pampers and 3.8 percent on Luvs. Procter & Gamble kept plans to raise prices within its super premium Pampers Baby Stages of Development line by 5.4 percent in April 2006. This move formalized the existence of a new three-tiered market consisting of premium and value market segments, complemented by a super premium segment where higher prices are more acceptable.

Nonwovens Industry remarked in December 2005 that low prices in the diaper market are due in part to the dominance of Wal-Mart and other big box mass retailers. They demand low prices and, considering Wal-Mart is responsible for approximately 60 percent of U.S. diaper sales, diaper manufacturers must meet demands. For instance, big box retailer Costco stopped carrying Procter & Gamble's Pampers Baby Stages of Development line at the majority of its stores during the summer of 2005. Rivals Kimberly-Clark and private label brands replaced the super premium line.

Disposable diapers are classic nondurable consumer goods. Nondurable goods are purchased for immediate or almost immediate consumption and have a life span ranging from minutes to three years. Nondurable goods are destroyed by their use so consumers need to repeatedly replenish their supply throughout the year. For instance, the average U.S. baby uses approximately 4,000 diapers prior to toilet training. Newborn babies may use 12 diapers per day or 84 per week for the first few months. Of course, toddlers use fewer diapers than newborns, perhaps six per day, or 42 per week. Babies in between the two extremes of newborn and toddler probably use 60 diapers per week. The average U.S. baby wears diapers until age three. Parents spend between $1,500 and $2,500 on diapers. Depending on baby's developmental stage, parents spend $50 to $70 per month.

The nondurable consumer goods market is characterized by a large variety of affordable products to tempt consumers. The best diapers prevent leaks, fit well, fasten securely, and are affordable. Brand loyalty for even the best disposable diaper is seen as generally low because consumers view them as an undifferentiated commodity and buy on price. After decades of tremendous product improvements and few price increases, consumers have come to expect low prices. Key producers of these ultra-thin, absorbent, and well-fitting disposable diapers are next.


The top two North American manufacturers of disposable diapers consistently controlled 85 percent of the market during the first years of the twenty-first century. According to Market Share Reporter 2007, the Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble split was 49 percent to 35 percent, in favor of Procter & Gamble, for the year ending June 2005.

Kimberly-Clark took the lead in 2006. The gap between the two key producers narrowed to one percent. Kimberly-Clark controlled 43 percent to Procter & Gamble's 42 percent. Whatever the split is from one week to another, the one thing which held firm during the early 2000s was the fact that between then, the two leaders controlled 85 percent of the market.

Irving Personal Care

This company is a relatively recent entrant into sanitary products manufacturing. It is a part of the J.D. Irving Ltd. family of companies based in Dieppe, Canada, which owns lumber and paper businesses and employs around 8,400 in North America.

Irving Personal Care began in 1988 with the purchase of a paper mill in New Brunswick, Canada. In 1990 it constructed a second plant there to produce private label products. Due to the intervention of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)—which required Kimberly-Clark to divest its Scotties brand when it acquired Scott Paper Company in 1996—Irving acquired a paper plant in Fort Edward, New York. The DOJ decision was based upon the recognition that entry into the sanitary products market is difficult, requiring a significant investment in plant equipment and brand building, and that a new entrant was necessary to restore the competition lost when Kimberly-Clark and Scott Paper merged.

In 2001 Irving acquired a fourth mill in Toronto, Canada. After spending $19 million in 2003 to add a production line to its New York plant, Irving announced the first major new brand entry into the disposable diaper market in 25 years. Irving's Little Tikes branded premium disposable diapers rolled out to 1,000 U.S. locations in late 2005 and to 1,900 Eckerd and Brooks drugstores in early 2006.

Procter & Gamble (P&G)

Established in 1837, Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble has been a leader in the disposable diaper market since it introduced Pampers in 1961. P&G is a behemoth in consumer goods. It markets its nearly 300 brands in more than 160 countries.

Procter & Gamble launched its super premium Baby Stages of Development line in 2002. In 2006 P&G improved the line's absorbency and told investors the line represents more than half of Pamper's U.S. sales. The line includes Pampers Swaddlers for newborns and Custom-Fit Cruisers for crawlers. Pampers Baby-Dry diapers have koala fit grips, Sesame Street designs, a breathable cloth-like cover, and a bigger waistband with wider grips to make fastening easier.

In 2005 Pampers Active Fit was voted Product of the Year for Baby Care and revolutionized the sector by increasing elasticity at the sides and making the waistband 20 percent wider at the front. Advertising Age reported that as of August 2006, Procter & Gamble's most recent innovation to its basic Pampers Baby-Dry line was Caterpillar Flex, offering better fit, fastening, and flexibility. Procter & Gamble also improved leakage protection for its value-priced Luvs brand, billed as more leak-proof than the higher-priced Huggies products.


Established in 1872 in Neenah, Wisconsin, and headquartered in Dallas, Texas, Kimberly-Clark employed more than 55,000 people in 37 countries in 2006. Kimberly-Clark markets its many products in more than 150 countries. The personal care giant entered the disposable diapers sector in 1968 through the acquisition of Kimbies. It launched Huggies in 1978 to replace Kimbies.

Huggies Supreme was launched in 1994, creating the super premium segment. Huggies Supreme was named America's favorite diaper by American Baby in 2005. Kimberly-Clark introduced Huggies Supreme Gentle Care and Huggies Supreme Natural Fit diapers to replace Huggies Supreme during the fall of 2006. Supreme Gentle Care diapers are for the youngest disposable diaper wearers. They feature a cottony nonwoven liner called Cuddleweave that is extra gentle for younger babies and features better umbilical-cord cutouts for newborns. Supreme Natural Fit diapers are for older disposable diaper wearers. They feature an even thinner (10%) and more flexible hourglass shape called Hugflex with flexible sides that stretch to increase baby's mobility. Improved printing technology gives the diapers contemporary graphics for a more underwear-like look. The 2006 rollout was Kimberly-Clark's biggest launch in 12 years, since its 1994 introduction of Huggies Supreme.

Private Label Brands

Top rated private label brands are Baby Basics Ultra Leakage Protection (Albertson's), America's Choice Ultra Thin Stretch (A&P), and Ultra Comforts (Kroger), according to Consumer Reports. Associated Hygienic Products manufactures private label disposable diapers including Ultra Comforts for Kroger.

In 2004 Kroger recognized Associated Hygienic Products as one of its outstanding corporate brand vendors of the year. In 2005 Associated Hygienic Products launched Accordion-Stretch on its private label diapers for more stretch and better fit. Associated Hygienic's private label products feature its patented dry-lock acquisition layer, uni-cuff leak barriers, and wide-stretch fastening system.

Tyco Healthcare manufacturers Wal-Mart's White Cloud private label brand of diapers. Baby Time diapers (Wegmans) feature a Baby Snoopy design and a flex-fit system touted as wider and more flexible to move with baby to prevent leakage. Cuddle Ups (Brookshire) features the usual superabsorbent polymers, enhanced elastic leg gathers, and stronger fasteners, but is priced 15 percent less than Huggies and Pampers.


Modern diapers are layered to redistribute urine from a soft nonwoven fiber liner to an absorbent core of fluff pulp and superabsorbent polymers protected by a plastic back. In many brands of diapers the leak-proof poly film plastic back has been replaced by a nonwoven and film composite.

According to EDANA, the average baby diaper is comprised of 43 percent fluff pulp, 27 percent superab-sorbent polymer, 22 percent polypropylene/ethylene, 3 percent adhesives, and 1 percent elastics.

Fluff pulp is essential. Its availability influences diaper manufacturing costs. Leading suppliers Rayonier, Koch Cellulose (Georgia-Pacific), and Buckeye Technologies rely on long-term relationships with makers in order to achieve economies of scale. Superabsorbent polymer is also essential. The bulk of global superabsorbent polymer production is swallowed up by the sanitary products manufacturing industry, ICIS Chemical Business Americas reported in February 2007. The use of elastics has increased as manufacturers honed fit. Once found only in the leg cuff, elasticized material is now found throughout the diaper in waistbands, on side panels, and in closure systems. For example, Pampers Baby Fresh was launched in July 2006 with highly elastic fasteners, known in the industry as ears.

Improving quality while keeping manufacturing costs low has been the paradoxical challenge of disposable diaper manufacturers for almost five decades. Intense competition, pricing pressures, and market maturity create an unwillingness among producers to increase prices. The Census Bureau reported that in 2002 the sanitary paper products manufacturing industry used $3.1 billion worth of materials to produce $8.6 billion worth of products. The value of materials used remained static between 1997 and 2002, hovering right around $3.1 billion. During the same period, product shipments grew 15 percent from $6.5 billion to $8.6 billion.

The main types of materials used to produce diapers and other sanitary paper products are paper, wood-pulp (also known as fluff pulp), and nonwoven fabrics. Industry-wide spending for paper decreased 12 percent between 1997 and 2002, from $779 million to $689 million. Industry-wide spending for woodpulp increased between 1997 and 2002, from $195 million to $503 million, an increase of 158 percent. Industry-wide spending for nonwoven fabrics decreased 43 percent between 1997 and 2002, from $472 million to $271 million.

In January 2007 Nonwovens Industry shed some light on the disposable diaper industry's unique ability to grow by 15 percent and continually introduce improved products, while keeping cost expenditures on the raw materials consumed in production at a static level. Because the absorbent core is the most expensive part of the disposable diaper, makers adjust the ratio of woodpulp to superabsor-bent polymers to improve absorbency while saving costs.

Other cost savings that emerged as part of the challenge to make diapers better yet cheaper has been to reduce the amount of materials. For example, fitted hourglass shaped diapers use less materials, especially less nonwoven fabrics. Cost savings related to nonwoven fabrics can be further explained by trends away from poly-laminated backings. Also, more companies buy poly films and nonwovens separately and put them together during diaper production. Kimberly-Clark in Neenah, Wisconsin, makes all the Huggies in the Midwest. It also makes its own nonwoven fabrics.

After using paper, woodpulp, and nonwoven fabrics to make diapers, manufacturers use packaging materials to prepare cartons of disposable diapers for shipment through the distribution channel. U.S. industry-wide spending for packing material was around $400 million in 2002. The types of packaging products used (in order of expenditures) were paperboard containers, boxes, and corrugated paperboard; packaging paper and plastics film; and glues and adhesives.


Disposable diapers are distributed in corrugated paper-board boxes that contain packages of diapers wrapped in plastics film. Disposable diapers are available at a throng of outlets including:

  • Drugs stores such as Brooks, CVS, Eckerd, Rite Aid, and Walgreens
  • Food stores including A&P, Albertsons, Brookshire, Kroger, and Wegmens
  • Health food stores including Whole Foods
  • Convenience stores like 7-11 and Tom Thumb
  • Gas stations such as Holiday and Super America
  • Mass merchandisers including Kmart, Target, and Wal-Mart
  • Nontraditional retailers and warehouse club stores like Costco and Sam's
  • E-commerce Web sites that offer online shopping for diapers

Within these various distribution channels, the national premium disposable diaper brands are sometimes sold as loss leaders. Retailers do so because of the financial importance of diaper buyers, who buy more on average than other shoppers. Diaper shoppers can be counted on to need lots of other items, so stores lure them with price reductions.

Within the category, private label brands are used to grow margins, which can be near zero. For instance, the Cuddle Ups line covers 13 stock keeping units including convenient, jumbo, and mega packs, and provides an example of why these private label brands are important to the channel. Cuddle Ups are profitable. Its margins are 15 to 20 percent. Cuddle Ups' margins reflect the critical role of private label brands in the distribution channel. Because national brand margins are low, retailers need the higher margins on private label brands to maintain gross-margin integrity within the disposable diaper category.

Within the distribution channel, disposable diapers are promoted in hospitals. The use of in-hospital promotions is an important tool in reaching moms early in their diaper decision making process. Procter & Gamble has long dominated the in-hospital sampling distribution channel.

The disposable diaper distribution channel involves advertising on an in-hospital network known as The Newborn Channel. It provides educational programming in 1,840 hospitals' maternity wards, reaching around 3.4 million new mothers in the United States each year. An estimated 82 percent of new mothers are exposed to the Newborn Channel. The network is jointly operated by NBC Universal, iVillage, and GE Healthcare. On the network, Kimberly-Clark had category exclusivity for its Huggies Supreme 2006 launch.

Within the distribution channel, size matters. The old disposable diapers filled with paper created a transportation problem. By trimming the size of a diaper by more than half, more diapers fit on a truck. Diaper manufacturers and distributors were able to cut transportation expenses that contributed to keeping costs low for consumers.

Size also effects the way diapers are sold. They take up a lot of space, comprising one of the largest product categories in food, drug, and discount stores. Store shelves are divided into increments of four feet, so diapers, for example, might be presented as a 20-foot set. Bulky diaper packages of the 1980s took up much of that length, contributing to high out-of-stock rates. For a fast-moving, bulky item like diapers, restocking problems prevailed. By making smaller diapers and by extension smaller packages, diaper makers insured their products would be on the shelves a greater percent of the time.

The first U.S. Web site that provided home delivery of brand name diapers at wholesale prices with free shipping opened in 2005. Known as 1-800-Diapers, it delivers Pampers, Huggies, and Luvs at prices below Target, Wal-Mart, and other discounters. Because it carries much bigger wholesale boxes, 1-800-Diapers' price per diaper is low.


The range of key users covers the single parent, the working parent, the cost conscious parent, and the parents of multiple children. Key users are parents of young children and child care providers. The key user of disposable diapers can be characterized as a shopper in a hurry. The harried consumer may value one-stop-shopping in a superstore where she can get everything she needs. Alternately, she may value a small local store where she can get in, get the diapers, and get out. The vast majority of parents choose disposable diapers over cloth diapers, although reliable figures as to what percentage that is are not available.

An estimated 10 percent of households experiment with cloth diapers. An active Internet community supports parents who choose cloth diapers. Useful Web sites are BorntoLove.com with information on laundering, costs, and suppliers and DiaperPin.com which sponsors a parent forum.


The most obvious product adjacent to disposable diapers is cloth diapers and diaper services which deliver the same to parents. This market is very small, only a fraction of the total U.S. linen laundering market. According to the Census Bureau, the linen laundering service industry had receipts of $3.5 billion in 2002. Most of these receipts were for services provided to restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and institutions that provide uniforms for their workforce.

Other products whose markets are adjacent to the market for disposable diapers include baby wipes, bibs, formula, food, and toys such as rattles. Diaper bags too can be considered adjacent to disposable diapers. They are needed to carry not only diapers, but wipes, bottles, snacks, and toys. One househusband was quoted in an Nonwoven Industries article saying, "I do not want to carry a girly diaper bag. I want something cool and funky."

Baby and toddler toiletries are a growing adjacent market. They are typically differentiated through ergonomically designed packaging. They are an important adjacent market for the top two key producers.

Kimberly-Clark forayed into baby toiletries in 2004 when it extended its Huggies brand into the baby bath and body market. Leading its array of toiletries is Huggies Liquid Powder. It goes on as a liquid and dries to a powder. The Huggies bath and body line comprises more than 20 stock keeping units including shampoo, baby lotion, diaper rash cream, disposable wash mitts, and variations of Kimberly-Clark's established baby wipes. New Huggies products include a proprietary shea butter moisturizing formula in baby lotion and baby wash and extra thick and soft disposable washcloths and toddler mitts using proprietary nonwoven fabric.

Procter & Gamble expanded into toddler toiletries in 2005 with its Pampers Kandoo Toddler Care line. Pampers Kandoo Flushable Wipes are sold in a colored, easy-to-open, pop-up tub that dispenses one wipe at a time. Lightly moistened for gentle, easy cleaning, they are made to fit small hands and come in two scents: fresh splash and jungle fruits. Pampers Kandoo Foaming Handsoap, also in fresh splash and jungle fruits, has a wide pump top easy for little hands to press. Procter & Gamble's established Pampers Baby Wipes in a pop-up tub are available in lavender, scented natural aloe, unscented natural aloe, and sensitive chamomile. Its Pampers Sensitive Wipes target newborns with sensitive skin.


Early research and development resulted in a changed disposable diaper. The form of the product changed through the incorporation of superabsorbents to make products thinner, and the use of nonwovens instead of plastic backings to make products softer. Later research and development decreased manufacturers' reliance on superabsorbent polymers, since supply is tight with the bulk of production swallowed up by the sanitary products industry.

Superabsorbent polymers producer Tredegar's makes products called AquiDry, AquiDry Lite, and AquiSoft that help makers reduce superabsorbent polymer use by as much as 25 percent without compromising performance. Superabsorbent producer Lysac Technologies introduced Actofil for baby diapers. It enhances the diffusion of superabsorbents in diapers so manufacturers can reduce superabsorbent polymer use by up to 20 percent.

Recent research and development decreased manufacturers' consumption of polyethylene plastic resin. Thinner-gauge nonwovens have reduced costs for manufacturers. Chemistry and Industry September 2006 reported that research at Kimberly-Clark resulted in biodegradable but breathable poly film. It is a mix of a biodegradable polyester with a calcium carbonate (clay) filler. The compound produces a film thinner than a human hair that is waterproof, breathable, and biodegradable when composted.

The latest research and development resulted in treated diaper liners, known as rash guards or skin wellness liners, that further protect baby's bottom from urine and feces. Typical treatments are a three part combination of emollients, viscosity enhancers, and botanical active ingre-dients. Emollients and viscosity enhancers can be mixtures of petrolatum, vegetable-based oils, mineral oils, lanolin, glycerol esters, alkoxylated carboxylic acids, alkoxylated alcohols, and fatty alcohols. Botanical active ingredients include aloe, echinacea, willow herb, and chamomile, green, black, oolong, and Chinese teas.


Successful innovations that started as trends include absorbent cores, elastic leg bands, superabsorbent polymers, resealable tape fasteners, elastic waistbands, Velcro fasteners, breathable backing from nonwoven fibers, graphic designs, and newborn diapers notched for the umbilical cord. Children may be less fussy because they are more comfortable with a diaper that does not sag, drip, or fits poorly with pins at the hips.

Disposable diaper innovations have been so successful, in fact, that parents keep children in disposable diapers until they are approximately three years old on average. In the past century, the average age of toilet training crept up from 1.5 years to sometimes even beyond the age of three. This change is attributed to the ease of using disposable diapers.

The current trend—common in a mature industry like disposable diapers—is to expand the range of product sizes and types. In the early days of the industry, disposable diapers were sold as either small, medium, or large sizes. Most of the innovations focused on technical and functional issues related to absorbency. The expanded range of sizes and types is a more consumer-relevant focus on baby development. Makers link new introductions to the disposable diaper wearers' developmental stages. The expanded range of shapes and features are focused for newborn babies, crawlers, toddlers, walkers, and toilet trainers. Different versions correspond not only to the wearers' size and weight, but to their developmental stage, frequency of urination or bowel movement, and where the child is with controlling those functions.

A secondary trend is disposable diapers that allege an ecologically sound alternative to the major national brands. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that yearly more than 3 million tons of disposable diapers arrive in landfills in America. Seventh Generation and gDiapers are part of the reason the disposable diaper category is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the natural products arena.

Seventh Generation, based in Burlington, Vermont, got into disposable diapers in 2004. Since then, its category involvement has grown over 300 percent. Seventh Generation's selling point is that its diapers are 100 percent chlorine-free. Seventh Generation's chlorine-free diapers have a brownish tint, different from the blindingly white premium national brands.

gDiapers, based in Portland, Oregon, sells a flushable and compostable 2-piece disposal diaper. gDiapers include a washable, reusable outer pant and a flushable liner made of biodegradable, all-natural fiber. The interior uses elemental, chlorine-free, tree-farmed fluff pulp, and tiny sodium polyacrylate crystals to absorb wetness.


Three disposable diaper segments emerged due in large part to the industry's tendency toward continuous product improvements. Coexisting segments are value, premium, and super premium.

The value segment incorporates many of the innovations that emerged first in the national premium brands. The value segment targets the price-conscious consumer. Value-priced private label disposable diapers cost 15 to 20 percent less than premium diapers.

The premium segment is controlled by the top two manufacturers. Prices are low in the premium segment, due to tension between it and the value segment. Makers target the super premium purchaser, and niche markets like disposable training pants and disposable swimming pants. Training pants are estimated to cost $0.80 each. Swimming pants are estimated at $0.85 each.

The main strategy for growth in a mature U.S. market where the population of babies is growing only approximately 1 percent annually and price increases are hard to come by has been to introduce super premium products. Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble one-up each other with a better diaper and try to persuade consumers to trade up from the base Huggies UltraTrim or Pampers.

Super premium products can be characterized by higher absorbency such as extra capacity for nighttime use, skin-care benefits such as rash guards and skin well-ness liners, and superior fit specially designed for crawlers or toddlers. Pampers, for example, markets Cruisers for walkers with super stretchy leg cuffs and sides to better prevent leaks as the child moves around. However, these improvements make a soiled diaper more comfortable for the infant or child, which may result in fewer diaper changes each day.

Known for offering solid performance and enhanced fit, super premium is the one segment where margins are still high. For instance, the Huggies Supreme Gentle Care and Huggies Supreme Natural Fit introduced in fall of 2006 cost 14 to 20 percent more than the premium Huggies brand, according to an August 2006 article on the battle for the bottom line in Advertising Age. Super premium—also known as top tier supreme—is where most of the category growth is, accounting for half of the $4 billion North American disposable diaper business.

The secondary strategy for growth in a mature U.S. market where consumption of disposable baby diapers is threatened by a decreasing birth rate is to target niche markets. Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble each have disposable training pants and swimming pants.

In 1989 Kimberly-Clark introduced Huggies Pull Ups training pants with gender-specific models, the first ever disposable training pant to facilitate toilet training. In 2003 Kimberly-Clark launched Huggies Convertibles, which could be either pulled up like training pants or put on like a diaper. This dual functionality solved one of the problems that parents had with Pull Ups, namely the need to remove a toddlers pants and shoes in order to change them.

Other diaper manufacturers offer disposable training pants, but Kimberly-Clark holds the market lead. For instance, in 2003, Procter & Gamble's introduction of Easy Ups training pants gave Pampers a 19.5 percent share of the training pants segment, where it had previously not competed.

In 2006 Nonwovens Industry reported that Procter & Gamble launched a new Pampers swim pant and incorporated specialized absorbency for boys and girls on its Easy Ups training pants. Irving Personal Care Little Tikes entered the training pants category in 2006 with the debut of Snug'n Snoozzz Overnight Training Pants.

Kimberly-Clark targets this segment that can be counted to spend almost $1,000 per year on PBS Kids Sprout, a 24-hour preschool network and Web site. A for-profit channel created by Comcast Corp. and PBS, Kids Sprout programming includes Sesame Street, Bob the Builder, Barney & Friends, and Teletubbies. The video-on-demand element allows Kimberly-Clark to use vignettes to drive moms and moms-to-be to its Huggies Baby Network, Pull-Ups.com, and two new Web sites called Huggies Happy, Healthy Pregnancy and Huggies Happy Baby.


Absorbent Hygiene Products Manufacturers Association (AHPMA), http://www.ahpma.co.uk

European Disposables and Nonwovens Association (EDANA), http://www.edana.org/index

Real Diaper Association, http://www.realdiaperassociation.org/clothdiapering_inthenews.php


"Absorbent Articles with Non-aqueous Compositions Containing Botanicals." Soap Perfumery & Cosmetics. March 2006, 55.

Angrisani, Carol. "Bottoms Up: When it Comes to Quality and Promotions, Private-Label Diapers Have Come a Long Way, Baby." Supermarket News. 17 April 2006, 43.

"Bath/Body Items Make Huggies Brand More Interesting." Chain Drug Review. 20 December 2004, 15.

Bitz McIntrye, Karen. "Hygiene Component Suppliers Provide Form, Fit and Function: Pricing Pressures, Demands for Innovation Continue to Define Industry." Nonwovens Industry. December 2005, 28.

Blanchfield, Lindsey. "Superabsorbent Polymers Soak up Potential." ICIS Chemical Business Americas. 26 February 2007.

"Branding News: Design Choice—Pampers Active Fit." Marketing. 16 March 2005, 9.

"Diaper Portal Offers Discounts." Nonwovens Industry. July 2005, 20.

"Diapers: Wegmans Food Markets Inc. is Providing Baby Time Diapers." Private Label Buyer. October 2005, 84.

"Disposable Diapers: Time to Change Brands?"Consumer Reports. March 2004, 34.

Dyer, Davis. "Seven Decades of Disposable Diapers: A Record of Continuous Innovation and Expanding Benefit." European Disposable and Nonwoven Association. August 2005 Available from 〈http://www.edana.org/index.cfm〉.

Ebenkamp, Becky. "Little Tikes Toying with 'Super' Diapers." Brandweek. 28 November 2005, 6.

Gladwell, Malcolm. "The Disposable Diaper and the Meaning of Progress." The New Yorker. 26 November 2001.

"Greener Nappies." Chemistry and Industry. 4 September 2006, 17.

"K-C Revamps Supreme Diaper Line." Nonwovens Industry. October 2006, 14.

"Kimberly-Clark Corp—Private Particulars." Private Label Buyer. May 2005, 14.

"Kimberly-Clark Puts $20 Million Toward Diaper Debut." Promo. 20 September 2006.

"Making Room for Baby—Diapers Private Label Category Review." Private Label Buyer. December 2006, 36.

Neff, Jack. "The Battle for the Bottom Line: P&G, K-C Push Innovations in $5B Diaper Category." Advertising Age. 28 August 2006, 3.

Odell, Patricia."Pampers Out, Huggies in at Some Costco's: Report." Promo. 16 June 2005.

"P&G Revamps Diaper Pricing." Nonwovens Industry. January 2006, 12.

"Product Lines: 2002." 2002 Economic Census. U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. November 2005.

Richer, Carlos. "Competition Afoot in the Diaper Market." Nonwovens Industry. January 2007, 32.

"Sanitary Paper Products Manufacturing: 2002." 2002 Economic Census. U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. Available from 〈http://www.census.gov/econ/census02/〉.

Thedinger, Bart. "Demographic Trends & Offshore Competition Moderate Growth of Hygiene Films." Plastics Technology. October 2003, 68.

"Two Huggies Supreme Gentle Care Diapers." MMR. 18 September 2006, 13.

"Uniqueness Plus Price Sells." MMR. 14 November 2005, 34.

Wilcox, Tyler. "Help Parents Clean Up with Eco-friendly Diapers." Natural Foods Merchandiser. October 2006, 48.

Williamson, Richard. "K-C First to Sponsor PBS Kids Sprout." ADWEEK Southwest. 28 September 2005.

Diapers and Toileting

views updated May 23 2018

Diapers and Toileting

For as long as there have been babies, there has been mess; but how parents have contended with that mess has changed over time and varied from culture to culture. Some Native American tribes packed grass under rabbit skins to contain their infants' waste. Inuits placed moss under sealskin. In Japan during the Edo era (16031868), farmers used an ejiko, a wooden bassinet layered with absorbent materials topped by a mattress with a hole cut out for the baby's buttocks. Urine was collected by the lower layers of ash, rags, and straw, and the baby stayed dry while the parents worked. In many warm places, even today, toddlers simply go naked below the waist or, as in China, have pants with a hole cut out of the bottom.

In Europe in the Middle Ages, babies were swaddled in long, narrow bands of linen, hemp, or wool. The groin was sometimes left unwrapped so that absorbent "buttock clothes" of flannel or linen could be tucked underneath. Often in warm weather swaddling bands were removed and children were left unclothed or swaddled only on top. After about a year, babies wore small dresses or blouses that fell to the ground with nothing underneath. A handful of ashes was thrown over the infant's excrement which allowed it to be easily swept away.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe, babies were infrequently bathed or changed. When swaddling clothes were removed to attend to babies' waste, the infants' bottoms were usually just wiped without soap or water and then powdered with absorbent worm-eaten wood dust. Urine-soaked swaddling clothes were dried in front of the fire without being washed and then used again. Urine was believed to have disinfecting properties and filth was often considered protective for infants. It was not until the end of the eighteenth century that doctors began to recommend that cloths used as diapers be changed promptly.

In the mid-eighteenth century, philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau criticized swaddling as unhealthful. These criticisms altered the behavior of European urbanites and the wealthy but had little effect on the practices of the rural poor. English children were not commonly swaddled but dressed in diapers, underpants, and long woolen dresses with swaddling bands only around their abdomens. Swaddling cloth of oiled silk was developed in the eighteenth century in an attempt to prevent leaks.

A great advance in diapering was the invention of the safety pin, patented by Walter Hunt in 1849, but not widely used in place of the straight pin for securing diapers until the 1880s. By the late 1800s, infants in Europe and North America were wearing garments similar to the modern cloth diaper. A square of linen or cotton flannel was folded into a triangular or rectangular shape and held in place by safety pins. The diaper was covered with an absorbent pant called a "soaker" or "pilch," made of tightly knitted wool. In the late 1890s, rubberized pants were sometimes used to cover diapers. Diaper rash in the nineteenth century was commonly remedied with burnt flour or powdered vegetable sulfur.

One of the most common responses to the difficulties of diapering has been to toilet train early. At the end of the seventeenth century John Locke recommended putting babies on a "pierced chair"a chair with a hole in the bottom under which a chamber pot could be placed. Some of these chairs had a space for a hot brick to help keep infants warm for the time, sometimes considerable, in which they were strapped to the chair while their mothers waited for them to "produce." Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, parenting manuals commonly recommended that toilet training begin almost immediately after birth. Some manuals promised mothers that diapers could be dispensed with altogether within three or four months. After the 1940s, the idea of insistent early toilet training began to give way to the notion that the child should be the guide in toilet training. The child-guided process recommended putting off toilet training until the child was considerably older, meaning at least an additional five thousand diaper changes per child, according to one scholar's estimate.

Changing and cleaning diapers could be very laborious. Beginning in the twentieth century, mothers were encouraged by doctors and other child-rearing experts to wash diapers with soap and water and, by the 1930s, diapers were washed and then sterilized with a hot iron or boiled. Commercial diaper laundering services appeared in the United States in the 1930s. Cloth diapers were overlaid with a highly absorbent muslin, oilcloth, or gauze, or, in Great Britain, underpants made of sterilized latex. The Maternity Center Association, a nonprofit organization devoted to improving maternity care, advised parents that they could use "stork pants" with tightly gathered legs when they went visiting, but they were discouraged from using these regularly since they could irritate the baby's skin. In 1946 Marion Donovan invented a waterproof diaper cover made of a nylon parachute cloth that was reusable, leak-proof, and closed with snaps. She called it the "Boater" and when it debuted at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1949 it was an immediate success.

Some form of one-use diapers appeared as early as the 1890s, but they were not widely available (and affordable) until the 1960s. The modern disposable diaper was developed by Victor Mills and launched in 1961 under the brand name Pampers. Pampers were an immediate success, even though they initially came in only two sizes, had no tapes, and were quite bulky. Competition for the disposable diaper market soon took off and remedied these flaws. Some doctors worried that disposable diapers would adversely affect infants' development because of the bulk between the legs, but this fear was assuaged by hourglass-shaped diapers and then by the development of super-absorbent polymers, first patented in 1966, which allowed for the introduction of super-absorbent diapers in 1984. In 2001, disposable diapers were, on average, three times less bulky than they were in the early 1980s, significantly decreasing transportation, workforce, and storage costs. Since the early 1980s, disposable diapers have faced a great deal of criticism for their environmental impact, a subject which continues to ignite research and debate. Because of their efficiency, some have also accused disposable diapers of delaying toilet-training for young children.

See also: Child-Rearing Advice Literature; Hygiene; Pediatrics.


Bel Geddes, Joan. 1964. Small World: A History of Baby Care from the Stone Age to the Spock Age. New York: Macmillan.

Fontanel, Béatrice, and Claire d'Harcourt. 1997. Babies: History, Art, and Folklore. Trans. Lory Frankel. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Gladwell, Malcolm. 2001. "Smaller; The Disposable Diaper and the Meaning of Progress." The New Yorker, Nov. 26: 74.

Kohno, Goro. 1987. "History of Diapering in Japan." Pediatrician 14 (suppl. 1): 25.

Thurer, Shari L. 1994. Myths of Motherhood: How Culture Reinvents the Good Mother. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

internet resources

Krafchik, Bernice. 2000. "Diapers: History and Development." Available from <http://cp.pdr.net/hostedfiles/docs/papc_diapers_site/history.htm>.

Richer, Carlos. 2000. "History of the Diaper." Available from <www.gpoabs.com.mx/cricher/history.htm>.

Caroline Hinkle Mcamant

Disposable Diapers

views updated May 08 2018

Disposable Diapers

During the past forty years, disposable diapers have become an important part of the economy. Since the average baby uses at least ten diapers per day for an average of two years, the convenience of the product has made it a very popular as well as controversial item. A recent survey by Texas A&M University reported that 81 percent of the participants exclusively used disposable diapers, 15 percent used cloth and disposables, while just 4 percent used only cloth diapers.

The disposable diaper of today is composed of an inner layer of polyester that allows liquids to pass through to a layer of absorbent material, and an outer waterproof plastic layer of polyethylene film. The design was developed by many researchers through trial and error.


It is not clear who should be credited as the inventor of the first disposable diaper. The need for disposable diapers arose during World War II because of a shortage of cotton, which was used in traditional diapers. One of the first effective disposable diapers was created by Marion Donovan during the postwar baby boom. She is also credited with inventing the first plastic covering for traditional cloth diapers. Using this plastic covering (made from a shower curtain) and layers of tissue paper as an absorbent inner material, Donovan devised the new diaper in 1950. These first diapers were rectangular in shape, resulting in a bulky fit. In the 1960s, pulp was substituted for the paper, improving the absorbency of the diaper. The top sheets of the diaper were modified by using rayon. These diapers still were quite thick and included no tape for closure. By the 1970s the demand for disposable diapers had increased, and more improvements were added. New tapes were added for ease of fastening, and the shape was changed from rectangular to "hourglass."

During the early 1980s, modifications were made to respond to the demand for a better-fitting and biodegradable product. Starch was added to the outer sheet to enhance its biodegradability. Elastic was added to the

waist and to the leg openings for a better fit. Unfortunately this added a nonbiodegradable component to the product. A new tape system was developed to allow for several tapings and retapings without tearing the diaper. In response to a greater demand for a more environmentally friendly product, a new filler, cellulose mixed with crystals of polyacrylate, was developed. The cellulose is processed from pine trees and milled into "fluff pulp." The pulp consists of long cellulose fibers that provide a strong capillary effect, which helps to draw in the liquid. The surface tension binds the water once it has been absorbed.

The polyacrylate (known as a "superabsorbent polymer" or SAP by the diaper industry) is distributed throughout the fluff pulp. Another name for these crystals is Waterlock. It is also used for plants to help retain water in the soil. The polyacrylate under pressure can hold an amount of liquid that is as much as thirty times its weight. This correlates to the compression (pressure) that occurs when a baby would sit or lie on the diaper. The polyacrylate allowed the manufacturers to reduce both the weight and thickness of the diaper by 50 percent and increase its absorbency.

Polymer Chemistry

The polyacrylate used in the diaper is a large-molecular-weight compound called a polymer. It consists of small repeating units called monomers. The length of the chain as well as the properties of the polymer may be changed by varying the reaction conditions. If two monomers are used in the synthesis of the polymer, the resultant polymer is referred to as a copolymer. The polymer used in disposable diapers is prepared by using acrylic acid as the monomer:

To obtain the properties needed for the diaper, sodium acrylate is used in the polymerization. The reaction is said to use "partially neutralized acrylic acid." The exact proportion of the two monomers (acrylic acid and sodium acrylate) present influences the character of the polymer formed. The length of the chains (represented by n ) also is modified by reaction conditions and can change the characteristics of the polymer.

In addition to forming the chains of polyacrylate, the chains are cross-linked. This is a process in which two or more chains are held together by other compounds in a network. Typical cross-linkers for this polymer include di- and tri-acrylate esters. The swelling and elasticity of the polyacrylate polymer depends on the structure of this network and the number of cross-links. The swelling capacity of the polymer decreases with increased cross-link density. After formation, the polyacrylate is dried and formed into microparticles of irregular shape that can be stored for a long time.

When these particles come in contact with water, urine, or other aqueous solutions , they quickly swell and absorb the liquid. Typically it takes no more than five to ten seconds for this to occur. The ability to swell and absorb the water is dependent upon the ionization of the acid groups on the polymer chain. The amount of water uptake increases with the increase in concentration of ionized groups. This is due to an increase in repulsion between the ionized groups in the polymer. This allows for a greater amount of swelling of the polymer. The amount of liquid that is absorbed depends partly on the nature of the liquid. The polymer absorbs more pure water than it does solutions. This means that more urine, an aqueous solution, would be absorbed than pure water.

New Advances

Diapers continue to become thinner and more absorbent. During the 1990s a modification of the SAP was developed. It uses a surface cross-linker to reduce the "gel block" problem: If the absorbent is saturated with a liquid, it prevents the liquid from moving.

Independent inventors also are continuing to modify the diaper. Marlene Sandberg of Stockholm has constructed a diaper that is 70 percent biodegradable. She uses cornstarch in the preparation of the outer layer of the diaper. This allows her to reduce the amount of polyacrylate used by designing channels in the fill material that help disperse the urine. Other workers in the field dispute that the diaper is 70 percent biodegradable: They say the diapers will not degrade that much in a landfilltheir ultimate destination.


As with all products, there are advantages and disadvantages to disposable diapers. The new polyacrylate gel has been linked to some side effects, including allergic reactions such as skin irritations, and to toxic shock syndrome. In addition, the dyes in the diapers have been linked to damage of the central nervous system, and disposable diapers may contain low concentrations of dioxin, a by-product of the bleaching process used in the production of the paper pulp found in the absorbent layer. Dioxin has been linked to liver damage and immune system suppression.

Disposables are also considered to be an environmental threat. Only some of the materials used in the diapers are biodegradable (the wood pulp and SAP). The polyethylene and polyester sheets are not biodegradable; neither is the elastic used for better fit, nor the polypropylene used for the tape that is employed as a fastener. Disposable diapers account for up to 2 percent of the total volume of landfills in the United States. The lifetime of the diaper in the landfill depends on several environmental factors: soil condition, groundwater flow, and the presence of other materials in the soil.

see also Materials Science; Polymers, Synthetic.

Catherine H. Banks


Buchholz, Fredric L., and Peppas, Nicholas A., eds. (1994). Superabsorbent Polymers, Science and Technology. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society.

Lewis, R. J., Sr., ed. (1987). Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, 14th edition. New York: Wiley.

Internet Resources

Campbell, Todd. "Soaking It In: To Wash or Not to Wash? You Decide." ABC News.com 1999. Available from <http://www.abcnews.go.com/sections/tech/Geek/geek991011.html>.

"Diapers and Wipes: Frequently Asked Questions." Huggies. Kimberly-Clark Corp. Available from <http://www.huggies.com/DiapersWipes/faqs/materials.stm>.

Richer, Carlos. History of the Disposable Diaper. Available from <http://www.gpoabs.com.mx/cricher/history.htm>.

Schiff, Sherry. "The Diaper Dilemma." Waterloo Centre for Groundwater Research. Available from <http://www.science.uwaterloo.ca/earth/waton/s891.html>.

"What Is the Crystalline Substance Found in Disposable Diapers?" How Stuff Works. Available from <http://www.howstuffworks.com/question207.html>.

Disposable Diapers

views updated May 23 2018

Disposable diapers

Disposable diapers were introduced by Procter & Gamble in 1961. First used as an occasional convenient substitute for cloth diapers, their popularity has since exploded. By 1990 they were the primary diapering method for 85% of American parents. As a result, 2.7 million tons of disposable diapers are discarded every year, a point decried by environmentalists.

Proponents of reusables argue that this accounts for only two to three% of America's solid waste . Although detailed studies have examined the influence of both kinds of diapers on such variables as water consumption, water pollution , energy consumption, air pollution , and waste generation, there are no indisputable conclusions about which choice is better for the environment . Each study was based on different assumptions and came to different conclusions. Most were commissioned by either the disposable-diaper or reusable-diaper industry, and each side put their respective diapers slightly ahead of the other's.

Disposable diapers and their packaging create more solid waste than reusables, and because they are used only once, consume more raw materialspetrochemicals and wood pulpin their manufacture. And although disposable diapers should be emptied into the toilet before the diapers are thrown away, many people skip this step, which puts feces (that may be contaminated with pathogens) into landfills and incinerators. There is no indication, however, that this practice has resulted in any increase in health problems. But cloth diapers affect the environment as well. They are made of cotton, which is watered with irrigation systems and treated with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. They are laundered and dried up to 78 (commercial) or 180 (home) times, consuming more water and energy than disposables. In fact, home laundering is less energy efficient than commercial because it is done on a smaller scale. Diaper services make deliveries in trucks, which expends another measure of energy and generates more pollution . Human waste from cotton diapers is treated in sewer systems. Some disposable diapers are advertised as biodegradable and claim to pose less of a solid-waste problem than regular disposables. Their waterproof cover contains a cornstarch derivative that decomposes into water and carbon dioxide when exposed to water and air. Unfortunately, modern landfills are airtight and little, if any, degradation occurs. Biodegradable diapers, therefore, are not significantly different from other disposables.

[Teresa C. Donkin ]



Poore, P. "Disposable Diapers Are OK." Garbage 4 (October-November 1992): 26-8+.

Raloff, J. "Reassessing Costs of Keeping Baby Dry [Cloth vs. Disposable]." Science News 138 (1 December 1990): 347.

Rathje, W., and C. Murphy. "Cotton vs. Disposables: What's the Damage." Garbage 4 (October-November 1992): 29-30.


Lehrburger, C., J. Mullen, and C. V. Jones. Diapers: Environmental Impacts and Lifecycle Analysis (Summary). Report to the National Association of Diaper Services, Philadelphia, PA. January 1991.