City of Harare (CoH) and disposable sanitary wear manufacturers Huggies diapers and Kotex sanitary pads, have embarked on a campaign to raise residents’ awareness on the environmental and health implications of dumping diapers and how to properly dispose of them. CoH spokesperson Michael Chideme said the move comes after government concern over corporate waste management policies. Disposables such as nappies and sanitary pads pose serious health and environmental dangers when not properly discarded.
“This partnership will assist in waste management and will mean the repairing and refurbishment of our incinerator. Refuse bins meant for diapers alone will be strategically set up across the city’s suburbs,” he said. He noted that after flushing the stool down the toilet, diapers should be discarded in stand-alone bins for collection and incineration.
Harare has been struggling to discard disposable diapers correctly. What usually happens is they are sent to the Pomona dumpsite together with other rubbish. Harare News spoke to many residents who confessed that they didn’t know the correct procedure for disposal.
Environmental Management Agency (EMA) spokesperson Steady Kangata said the authority was concerned about disposable diapers, describing them as an emerging challenge. But this new initiative by CoH and their partners resonates well with EMA’s recent push for manufacturers and distributors to follow the life cycle of their products up to disposal by engaging communities.
Diane Thornton of The Creative Marketing Company, a local firm that markets diapers made in Egypt, said that although some manufacturers rarely describe the proper way to dispose of diapers on their packages, it is vital that people refrain from simply dumping them.
The government recently called on manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers of diapers to submit an environmental-friendly action plan to deal with this challenge, failure of which will lead to a levy being introduced.
Diapers are made up of various chemical compounds that can react and cause serious ecological damage when dumped either openly or in landfills.
Doctor Anthony Phiri, Director of the Department of Technology Civil Engineering (Environmental) at the Harare Institute of Technology says; “Decomposing diapers release methane, a colourless, dangerous, and highly explosive gas into the air, which readily displaces oxygen in the natural environment. Diapers also release volatile organic and toxic chemicals such as toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylene and these substances have been linked to adverse health effects in humans after long-term exposure.”
He added that dumped diapers in landfills produce greenhouse gas emissions which can contribute to global warming. Worse still, disposable diapers take up to 500 years to completely decompose. He said another challenge is the rapid depletion of landfill airspace,which poses a high environmental threat as diapers do not degrade well under anaerobic conditions.
Some of the other harmful substances contained in diapers include dyes and dioxin, a highly toxic organic compound formed as a by-product of the chlorine bleaching process. Dr Phiri said dioxin is a carcinogen and when released into the environment, the contaminant accumulates in humans and animals.
Instead Phiri says people should focus on composting diapers (separately from main compost) which is easy, fast, and odourless when done correctly. After removing the stool, the filling materialof a diaper makes great compost. Diapers also contain water-retaining polyacrylate crystals (a number of chemical synthesis resins from the polymerisation of certain liquid organic acid compounds) that make excellent potting soil.
The remainder of a diaper consists of cellulose fibre, which is basically ground-up wood that decompose well into compost when exposed to oxygen and sunlight.