Vanuatu Bans Disposable Diapers in Fight Against Plastic

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Public Domain. MaxPixel

Parents will have to embrace the old-fashioned cloth diapering method. That's not a bad thing.

The Pacific island nation of Vanuatu has announced that it will ban disposable diapers. The ban is part of a nationwide effort to curb plastic pollution, which has overwhelmed the tiny country in recent years. With such limited land mass, it has no "away" where it can toss its garbage and forget about it. Vanuatu's is believed to be the first such ban on disposable diapers anywhere in the world.

Disposable diapers are made from a blend of plastic and wood pulp. Each one is used for a few hours, then tossed into a landfill, often encased in additional plastic, where it will linger for an estimated 200 to 500 years. A baby uses between five and eight thousand diapers prior to potty-training, and the U.S. alone generates 18 billion a year. That's a whole lot of feces-infused plastic waste. Yuck.

Vanuatu's ban makes sense from a environmental management standpoint, but many citizens are unhappy. Parents and women's groups view it as a setback, a return to the time-consuming and old-fashioned diapering practices of the past, but the government argues it has no choice. In the words of Mike Masauvakalo, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

"Vanuatu is safeguarding its future. Eventually, plastics find their way into the water and the food chain and at the end of the day, the people of Vanuatu end up consuming [them]... It is a long road ahead. But knowing my country, we will work it out."

Bans can seem drastic at the time of implementation, but they are effective. Vanuatu cracked down on plastic bags, polystyrene containers, and straws in July 2018, and the Guardian reports that the percentage of household waste that is plastic dropped from 18 in 2014 to two, just one month after the ban was introduced.

stack of cloth diapers

MaxPixel – See? Cloth ones are cuter anyway./Public Domain

As a parent who raised three kids in cloth diapers, I don't think people should be so upset about this ban. In fact, I'd love to see something similar implemented here in Canada. Cloth diapering has evolved far beyond the boiling and pinning of previous generations; it's just as easy as using disposables, except you do an extra load of laundry instead of emptying out the Diaper Genie. Cloth diapers come in every imaginable style – prefolds, pockets, fitted – with covers attached or separate.

They are also safer and healthier for children. A recent French study found a number of hazardous chemicals in disposable diapers. They have also been "linked to allergic skin reactions; overheating baby boys' testicles during prolonged use, which is linked to low sperm count; and creating difficulties with potty-training because kids can't detect as easily when they're wet."

I think that if the government offered hefty subsidies for cloth diapers or provided a basic set at birth, it would help parents to feel more enthusiastic about it. Cloth diapers are expensive to buy up front, but over time save plenty compared to disposables, especially if a family has more than one child. It will be interesting to see how Vanuatu's ban plays out – and whether it will influence other countries, such as the UK, which apparently had an uproar when its own environment minister hinted at the possibility of a disposable diaper ban.