Many think the first disposable diaper was created to increase the mobility of parents or for the sake of convenience, but this is not the case. Disposable diapers were developed after World War II following a cotton shortage. The original diaper was a simple rectangular shower curtain covering layers of tissue paper.
Disposable diapers have since gone through several changes and a thousand patents. Their popularity increased in the mid-80s with the introduction of Super Absorbent Polymers (SAP) in the manufacturing of diapers.
Why are Disposable Diapers Popular?
Disposable diapers are some of the most popular baby products globally. Here is a list of advantages of disposable diapers:
- They are conveniently found in just about all online and physical retail stores in the world, with some offering disposable Diapers by Honest. Disposable diapers are also easy to use when travelling with a young child.
- Provide wetness protection by absorbing more than their cloth counterparts. This means the disposable diaper can hold 3 times more weight in terms of water compared to cloth diapers without leakage.
- Easy to use since the Velcro straps make it easy to secure the diaper and quicker compared to using a cloth diaper and safety pins.
- Easy to carry.
- Available in a variety of sizes that will fit a baby perfectly at any growth stage.
Construction of Disposable Diapers
The basic construction of a diaper consists of three layers:
- The top sheet or inner layer
- The absorbent core
- Waterproof outer shell
Raw materials used in making a diaper include an absorbent pad, which has the ability to absorb and retain moisture. Modern disposable diaper SAP absorbent pads absorb even 15 times more water weight than natural fibers can. The absorbent pad is found in the core of the diaper and contains a water-loving (hydrophilic) polymer and a fibrous material like wood pulp.
The absorbent pad at the center of the diaper is held in place by nonwoven fabric sheets that for the diaper’s body. The fabrics are different from the commonly known fabrics since they are made differently. While traditional fabrics are made by weaving fibers of wool, polyester, cotton, silk, etc. to create an interlocking network of fiber loops, nonwovens are made from plastic resins. These materials include polypropylene, polyethylene, polyester or nylon and are assembled to create an interlocking network of plastic fibers.
Once the absorbent pad and nonwoven are manufactured, they each form long strips that must be joined together before cutting into diaper-sizes. The absorbent material is first attached to the polyethylene bottom sheet and a polypropylene top sheet added on top. The sheets are then joined together through ultrasonic welding, heating or gluing to form a long roll diaper sheet. This sheet is then cut into individual diapers. Other attachments, like Velcro or tape strips that act as closures, are attached. The finished diapers are neatly folded and packaged for shipping to stores all over the world.
Like any other manufacturing process, making disposable diapers does produce waste, albeit not significant amounts. In fact, the diaper industry uses byproducts from other industries. The SAP used in diaper production is mostly from the leftovers of chemical industries production lines. Since the polymer particles are too small to be used in other applications, they are perfect for diaper production. However, diaper manufacture does produce significant nonwoven materials and polymer particle waste. To reduce this waste, the industry has to optimize of the total amount of diapers produced from every square meter of material. In addition, attempts are made to recover excess fiber and polymer material.
The Secret in Conventional Diapers is SAP
The secret to the wild popularity of diapers is SAP, sometimes referred to as sodium polyacrylate, hydrogel, Absorbent Gel Material (AGM) or polyacrylate absorbents. The tiny crystals that make up SAP are sprinkled inside the diaper absorbent core.
The Eco-Friendly Alternative Disposable Diapers
There are disposable diapers that do not contain harsh chemicals – are free from latex, chlorine, dioxins, heavy metals, lotions, fragrances, finishing treatments and PVC. These disposable diapers are manufactured from biodegradable, plant-based and sustainable materials that reduce the need for SAP gel used in conventional diapers.
Although no definitive research can indicate just how chemicals in conventional disposable diapers are likely to affect your baby, it is better to be safe than sorry. Based on various research studies, it is recommended that you choose a disposable diaper that is:
- Chlorine free
- Phthalate free
- Fragrance free
- Dye free (pigments should not have heavy metals)
The disposable diaper manufacture industry is a high-tech field that is consistently showing innovation over the last few decades. However, plenty of things require additional improvement. One area is the reduction of leakage and the possibility of developing improved elastic bands that will hold the baby’s waist more firmly without causing discomfort or chafing. With the growing debate on the role of disposable diapers and their contribution to landfill, there is a possibility positive impact formulation in the manufacturing of bio-degradable disposable diapers. These types of diapers are likely to be even less bulky and easier to use.