MANA Blantyre, May 29, 2017: Jean Kachikho is mother to a 5-month-old baby and stays in Soche Township in Blantyre. Like most working mothers of the 21st century, Kachikho prefers the use of disposable baby diapers to cloth diapers.
Unlike cloth diapers, usually made of layers of fabric such as cotton and can be washed and reused multiple times, disposable diapers are made of synthetic materials and are thrown away after one use.
The use of disposable diapers is growing, especially among working class women who regard these products less involving in terms of labour, and less time-consuming.
“I dislike the washing part of the reusable nappies. Disposable diapers are better for me because they are convenient and cheaper hence ideal for a working mother like me,” Kachikho says.
Some women argue that the cost of reusable diapers is significantly lower than that of disposable diapers as it relieves the recurrent stress over budgeting on a regular basis.
But for women like Kachikho, the cost-effectiveness of diapering a baby is measured in time.
“Time spent on washing nappies is a silent expenditure that could be profitably utilized in doing other important things. Additionally, washing cloth nappies requires soap and warm water, which translate into additional expenditures,” she says.
According to Kachikho, disposable nappies are hygienic, cheap, and ideal for both the mother and baby.
Apparently, her view reflects the dominant practice in modern baby diapering as evidenced, by the boom of disposable diapers on the market.
Local figures are hard to come by but the global market for disposable baby diapers is growing.
A recent study by US based Global Industry Analysts Inc titled “Disposable Baby Diapers: A Global Strategic Business Report”, projected the market to reach US$55.7 billion by 2020.
It attributes this growth to a rise in literacy among women and changing lifestyles among other primary factors.
Despite being convenient and time saving, disposable baby diapers bring problems too. One such challenge is how to dispose them into the environment.
Environmental science categorizes disposable diapers as non-biodegradable products, meaning that they cannot decompose or break down naturally hence remaining in the environment for a long time.
Some studies state that when these diapers are dumped in places like rivers and landfills, they can be there for close to 500 years.
Their ability to clog or block flush toilets in urban areas leaves many people with no choice than letting them constantly fly in open air.
Here in Malawi, many mothers have difficulties in disposing the diapers hence mixing them with their regular garbage, which if not well disposed finds its way on the streets.
The Department of Environmental Affairs sees the reckless disposal as a big concern on the part of government and municipal councils.
The department’s spokesperson Sangwani Phiri says much as there is no specific method of disposal, people should be more responsible when disposing the diapers.
“People should always reflect on the dangers of such careless disposal. The waste products are always a nuisance to the public,” Phiri says.
He adds that local councils should intensify awareness activities on the threats disposable diapers pose to human health and the environment.
According to Phiri, government is well aware of the challenge and is in the process of developing long-term and sustainable solutions.
“One way is to have special places within residential areas or homes to incinerate the diapers after drying them,” he says.
While proper ways of disposing garbage remain a challenge in most areas, Blantyre City Council (BCC) feels that there is no excuse for dumping diapers on the streets and other undesignated places.
BCC’s publicist Anthony Kasunda says the Council has a schedule for refuse collection for every location in the city.
However, Kasunda admits the council faces challenges because of limited number of refuse collection vehicles and scarcity of spare parts to maintain them.
But he assures city residents that the council plans to increase the number of vehicles.
“In the 2017/18 financial year, the council has budgeted for new refuse collection vehicles. On top of that, we are also exploring public private partnership arrangements to start recycling of waste,” says Kasunda.
But Jane Mafuta, a Manja Township resident in Blantyre, still blames the current situation on the city councils for failing to collect garbage on time.
According to Mafuta, collection of garbage in Manja is scheduled for Friday but they are some days when the refuse collection vehicle is nowhere to be seen, making the piling garbage an eyesore.
“Sometimes stray dogs tamper with the garbage leading to waste products like diapers spilling all over the city’s streets,” bemoans Mafuta.
Sixty-two-year-old Regina Kaulawe, a resident of Ndirande Township in the same city of Blantyre, calls for speedy measures to address the disposal problem of garbage especially diapers.
She cites the approach in her residential town whereby community leaders impose a fine of K10, 000 to anyone disposing the diapers anyhow.
But she admits that catching the culprits is challenging too since some disposals are done at night.
Kaulawe further says the current disposal problem will hardly stifle use of trendy disposable diapers and with many women migrating into the working-class bracket, a worst scenario is looming.
“Women are taking up more challenging jobs which give them less time to spend at home. So, using disposable diapers at the expense of reusable nappies is the closest alternative to them,” says Kaulawe, a retired primary school teacher.
But the fact remains that the new diaper phenomenon is a dilemma as the world struggles in properly disposing of what is said to be disposable.