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What Is a Flushable Diaper?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2014
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For many new parents, the choice of diaper has traditionally been a toss-up between washable cloth and disposable plastic. Cloth diapers are said to be better for the environment because they can be washed and reused, while disposable plastic diapers are thought to be more convenient to use and less expensive. In reality, both cloth and disposable plastic diapers have their drawbacks where the environment is concerned. A new form of plastic-free diaper called a flushable diaper or green diaper has recently become a more environmentally friendly alternative to either cloth or plastic diapers.

A flushable diaper is disposable like a traditional plastic diaper, but does not contain the kind of plastic which does not biodegrade for 500 years. Instead, the rinsable liner of a flushable diaper is made of a nylon material coated in polyurethane plastic. Traditional diapers typically use polyvinyl chloride or PVC in their liners. These nylon liners have snaps built into them so they can be easily removed during changings. The solid waste can be dumped into a toilet, while the wet lining can be rinsed out and used again.

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The outer layer of a flushable diaper is made from a renewable form of material called viscose rayon, primarily harvested from trees. This layer is naturally waterproof and will degrade in a landfill within a few months. The viscose rayon can be dyed a number of colors, including a distinctive green. The outer layer of a flushable diaper looks more like a cloth diaper than a disposable plastic wrapper.

The absorbent layer of a flushable diaper is also environmentally responsible. An extremely absorbent chemical called sodium polyacrylate or SAP is combined with a natural wood product called fluff pulp to provide maximum absorbency for both types of human waste. The absorbent SAP crystals soak up urine while the fluff pulp absorbs and contains other waste. Both the SAP and fluff pulp are completely biodegradable.

Although promoted as a flushable diaper, a "green diaper" can also be thrown away with regular garbage after the solid waste has been flushed away. A wet but not soiled flushable diaper can also be added to a compost pile and eventually converted to a source of fertilizer. The inner lining and outer shell can both be flushed down a standard toilet, along with whatever materials they contain. The absorbent layer should not remain in the toilet for an extended period of time, however, because the SAP crystals will continue to absorb water and become unflushable.

Locating a steady supply of flushable or green diapers may be a challenge in some areas, but they can be ordered through certain environmental websites or directly from the manufacturer. Flushable diapers require no additional cleaning services, and they will not remain intact in landfills for hundreds of years. There may be a bit of a learning curve as parents learn how to remove the liners and wash them without incident, but overall the use of green diapers should definitely help reduce the amount of natural resources needed to produce, clean and dispose of traditional diapers.

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