Policy needed to ensure they bear some responsibility for product’s environmental impact, says association chief.
THE manufacturers of disposable diapers need to bear the bulk of the responsibility and should contribute to reducing the environmental impact caused by their products.
The Waste Management Association of Malaysia chairman D.L. Ho said this in response to StarMetro’s report that about 3.5 billion disposable diapers went into landfills each year, and that it would take more than 200 years for them to decompose.
Based on findings by the National Solid Waste Management Department, 12% of the country’s landfill waste consisted of disposable diapers.
Ho said developed countries were aggressively promoting Extended Producer Responsibility or ERP as part of their waste management policies.
This was to ensure that producers or manufacturers bore some responsibility for the environmental impact caused by their products through various schemes.
“The schemes could range from imposing packaging tax, taking back schemes to recycle their products or treating before disposing them safely. They could also contribute to an environmental fund which will be used for the treatment of their waste,” he said.
Ho added that there were recycling efforts and models in developed countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
“Manufacturers undertake joint initiatives with local authorities to recycle diapers by mixing them with green waste to produce compost which can be used for gardening and landscaping,” he said.
However, the cost of composting diapers could prove to be rather costly and the sales of compost would probably not be sufficient to cover the cost of investment and operations.
Ho believes the best approach is to return to the basics of reduce, reuse and recycle.
Some of the factors contributing to the high volume of disposable diapers are higher disposable income, busy working parents especially in urban areas, and convenience.
Other factors such as low awareness and concern for environmental impact of the diapers as well as cheaper imported diapers could further drive the usage of disposable diapers.
However, the disposable diaper product packaging could carry environmental and health messages, he said.
“Young couples should be encouraged to use reusable nappies and be aware of the positive hygiene aspects versus the negative aspects of disposable diapers.
“Manufacturers and importers should be taxed to include disposal and environmental impact costs.
“Like the health awareness posters on smoking cigarettes, disposable diaper packaging should carry environmental and health messages to encourage the use of reusable nappies,” Ho said.
He added that the high volume of disposable diapers came to light some three years ago after the National Solid Waste Management Department commissioned a study on waste generation and composition.
The committee was shocked when it was reported that 12% of the waste generated and disposed of came from diapers.
Ho said the figure probably needed to be reviewed and rechecked as the average composition of diapers is generally less than 2% of the total municipal solid waste.
Australia disposes two billion diapers a year whereas the 12% quoted would represent about six billion diapers a year in Malaysia.
“Diapers are mainly made up of cellulose and super-absorbent polymer (SAP) and can take up to 500 years to decompose.
“Sanitary landfills are safe for disposal of diapers as they are protected with impermeable liners to prevent contamination of groundwater,” he said.
However, it is estimated that only 20% of our landfills are sanitary and the rest could potentially cause groundwater contamination.
“The Malaysian society has become a lot more affluent and want the convenience of using disposable diapers instead of reusable washable linen nappies as practised by their parents and grandparents.
“Disposable diapers were used only when babies were out of the house when their families travelled but today, we can hardly find families using washable linen nappies,” he said.