2004: A Diaper Odyssey

As Telemetry watchers have noticed, Trixie’s diaper count brought us into the 20th century this past weekend. This did not pass unnoticed here at TTU. Starting with Trixie’s 1,946th diaper, and the watershed year of 1946, we’ll be looking at each year up to 2004 as the invention of the disposable diaper changes infant waste management forever.

We’ll celebrate what was at first simply the liberation of housewives from the endless chore of diaper washing, then a stunning advance for chemical engineering technology and later one of the bitterest ecological battles of the 1980’s and 90’s. Today, whether we like it or not, approximately 95% of U.S. parents use disposable diapers. Find out how we got here.

Based on current estimates, diaper number 1,946 should be changed sometime early afternoon this coming Sunday, and this feature should run about nine days. But don’t worry if you miss a change, you’ll be able to look at the history up to the current diaper number.

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24 Responses to 2004: A Diaper Odyssey

  1. schaff says:

    In my role as the ultimate Trixie insider not actually inside the house, I’ve been looking forward to this since I first heard rumors about it on Matt Drudge’s Trixie site. In its conception it rivals, and perhaps surpasses, such MacNeill innovations as Milk Week and the ongoing diaper reportage, and shows what can be done when you collect copious data about your baby, as we will all do in the Trixie-enabled future.

    Bring it on!

  2. Me says:

    “Disposable diapers make up the third largest source of solid waste in landfills, after newspapers and food and beverage containers–a significant fact, considering they are a single product, used by a limited portion of the population.”

    Of course, parents don’t want to take any responsibility for their waste. In fact, most I see don’t seem to take responsibility for their kids most of the time. A fraction of a penny tax per diaper would just be a sin, wouldn’t it?

  3. hannah says:

    Oh yes, parents who use disposable diapers should be taken, along with the people who drive huge SUV’s around by themselves, and shot at sunrise for ruining the earth and acting irresponsibly. WHy not tax baby-owners for their poor choice to reproduce? Especially since poor parets are even more likely to be using disposable diapers, as cloth diapers are more expensive and labor intensive when laundry is counted in. And even cloth diapers waste a lot of resources – cotton fiber, not to mention a lot of hot water and electricity. If people must have children, which they should not, then they should potty train their babies at once or let them shit all over the place and take responsibility for their decision.

  4. benmac says:

    Hi Me:

    You are correct about diapers being the third largest source of waste in landfills, but what you don’t mention it that they only make up an estimated 2% of total landfill waste. So, I agree, sure it’s a recycling problem, but not relative to all the other crap that gets thrown away.

  5. benmac says:

    [Editor’s Note: Me’s additional comments have been removed for flame-baiting. Next time, why don’t you wait and read the story before you start shoving your views in other people’s faces. As you’ll see, we’re presenting an objective history of diapering in the US, from all perspectives.]

  6. Lennon's Mom says:

    Hmm, not to get involved in any flames, but when I read your post I thought back to the days up until my son was about 10 months old when we used a diaper service. (Then, we needed to economize & discovered it would cost somewhat less to use disposables.) Anyhow, I believe we had less leaks in those days, probably because the diaper cover did a better job around the leg openings. On the other hand, the diaper covers frequently would take on a little “leakage” and would need to be washed. And the combination of diaper cover and cloth liner gave him the “Baby Got Back” look, which I guess wouldn’t be a problem for Trixie. It’s something to consider anyway.

  7. FrumDad says:

    I remember reading once about a sort of “energy equalizer” unit, that would look at the various things that go into a product and then you could compare them for ecological fitness. This came up when paper/plastic was still a big deal, and it was on the lines of:
    “Well, paper’s recyclable.”
    “Yes, but the recycling processs make do-deca-hydro-whatchima-zone, which is worse than plastic.”
    “But the plastic never biodegrades and clogs up the landfills.”
    “And the paper does biodegrade, but it takes forty years and in the meantime takes up seventy-hundred-adillion times more space.”

    Etceterah, so that what was come up with was an actual apples-to-apples number that would go closer to settling the issue.

    In light of which, I’d be curious which is worse for Our Lovely Home — plastic and landfill and like that versus various fossil fuels and so on for heating water and spinning that oh-so-cool drum around and around and around etc.

    Second of all: BenMac, I don’t understand the landfill statistic. Is it because there’s so much of pre-diaper landfill garbage out there, or am I just not getting it?

    Third of all, to Me: Pthpthphththpthtpt! and Feh!


  8. benmac says:

    hi FrumDad:

    here’s the quote I had:

    “Throwaway [diapers] comprise 2 percent of the nation’s solid waste by weight, making them the third most common solid waste item after newspapers and beverage and food containers.”

    I interpret this to mean that either the first two categories are very large percentages or landfill waste as a whole is extremely fragmented.

  9. John says:

    Regarding diapers and the environment: one cannot evaluate a method based on a single effect. One must take the entire “ecological footprint” into account. With cloth diapers, there is the detergent (usually made with some petrochemicals, i.e., fossil fuels), water, and energy (also from fossil fuels) used up in the washing of 1931+ diapers, not to mention the phosphate byproducts from the detergent.
    I have, somewhere, a Sierra Club magazine in which the diaper options’ “footprints” are evaluated, and the Sierra Club found that it’s six of one, half dozen of the other, unless you want to break out the washtub and washing board and lye soap…

    SUVs aren’t so lucky… they do have huge ecological footprints, but thankfully, there’s the Toyota Higlander Hybrid: http://www.toyota.com/highlander/minisite/

  10. hannah says:

    Oh great historian of diapers, please tell us what inquiring minds really want to know – what did people do before 1932? I’m guessing the fashioned diapers out of other cloth, home-made, but it would be more exciting if they used nothing, paper, bark, hemp, or something like that. Please tell us. If you do not know, make up an answer please.

  11. benmac says:

    Actually, there’s nothing special about 1932. It just happens to be when I got the diaper history script up and running. The text that’s currently up is a placeholder as we approach 1946. As far as what people used to diaper with, I’m pretty sure that mass-produced cloth diapers have been available since the industrial revolution. But go back far enough, and people were using things like milkweed leaf wraps and animal skins.

  12. Bikenomad says:

    Having researched this several times – (at the onset of each kid) the data is clear. Depending what cost legos you want to snap together (laundry, mom/dad time, # of kids) you can make the data say whatever you want. Not only is the data clear – it is readily available (which seems to be ignored in a few posts).
    More fun than the sierra club evaluation is one by our government – the U.S. Navy’s official recommendation to naval families – don’t have the link here, should be findable by ez search.

    Cloth come in multiple options, amazing to me – its no longer a pin & plastic pants world.

    First kid was a diaper svc – cheaper than disposables AND no washing hassles (the service also has laundry economies of scale over the home laundry).

    Then we were moving so 6 mos of disposables for kid 1 & kid 2

    Now we’re resettled.
    Back to mostly cloth (hemp by the way)
    Monster cool wool & fuzzibunz diaper covers (no pins)
    and again, a much bigger upfront investment, but thanks to ebay, our upfront costs for 2 kids = 3 mos of disposables. Which btw saves me in trash can fees so that should make laundry costs a wash.

    One of my favorite pieces of web data is somebody who studied that cloth diapers cause quicker potty training – Who studies this?

  13. cat brutvan says:

    Have you ever tried cloth diapers on Trixie? It seems like you are completely the demographic for it. I feel better about the thousands of diapers I’ll be using on my baby knowing they are not going to a landfill. I don’t buy the argument that cloth diapers are a wash (sorry) in terms of resources vs. disposables going directly to landfills.

    Disposable diapers are just another sad facet of the throw away culture that Americans currently embrace. (a plastic bag for every other item at the grocery store anyone?) I will add though, that cloth diaper fans are strange bedfellows. Along with the Wellspring crowd you’ll find Christian homeschoolers. I can’t quite figure out the moral reason they are into cloth diapers, but the more the merrier.

  14. cat brutvan says:

    I forgot to mention that we have very few leaky diapers at 6 months with cloth. Maybe one every two weeks.

  15. benmac says:

    Hi Cat:

    We personally use disposables and have never tried cloth.

    All I’m doing with the timeline is presenting the disposable diaper and the conflict surrounding it in a historical context. I’m not arguing in favor of one method over the other.

    As far as leaks go, after the first month or so, we have had true diaper leaks only about once every 6 weeks, or maybe longer. As mentioned in this story, most of the leaks that show up on the “Leak Record” are actually changing table accidents. (I probably should change the name to Accident Record.)

  16. tripletdad says:

    Wow…a leak a week! I have 17 mon old triplets on disposable diapers and have had less than a dozen diaper failures….ever. Cloth diapers would require an industrial size washing machine with its own water meter and maybe a nuclear power plant attached to provide power for the non-stop use. Not to mention a dryer…. Sure, hang them out you say, not when three have allergies you don’t.

    “Me” could use some Ativan. Perfect example of why some should not breed.

    I’ve come to realize those with all the answers have no real world experience. This is especially true of parenting.

  17. Bikenomad says:

    From TripletDad
    “I’ve come to realize those with all the answers have no real world experience. This is especially true of parenting.”

    Amen – we just lived through a weekend of our younger siblings giving us all the parenting & birth pointers we’ve been missing. Best advice we’ve gotten was from our midwife. She suggested that if we hadn’t noticed during pregnancy, certainly we would after birth, that there will be a lot unsolicited advice. Her suggestion was to smile, nod, and take it like gardening advice. Check out the quality of the “expert’s” tomatoes before considering the advice.

  18. DavidNYC says:

    Can you explain why on earth there needs to be different diapers for girls and boys?

  19. Valda says:

    The reason for different diapers for boys and girls is easy! The girls diapers have more padding between the legs where the diaper would tend to leak and the boys diapers padding is mostly in the front. As a parent of both a boy and a girl, the difference is obvious. You definitely get a wet front if you put a girls diaper on a baby boy!

  20. Susan P. says:

    You may be right that it isn’t still a “pins and plastic pants” world nowadays, however i am still pleasantly surprised to see “all” the mothers particularly “new”, “younger” mothers nowadays using plastic pants and pins with their cloth diapers.

    It’s out there, and there are still plenty of mothers doing it! I did with all 4 of our kids, and the youngest is only a mere 8 years of age, so it wasn’t all that long ago.

  21. Valerie says:

    I went to CU Boulder which, as everyone knows, is a hippie liberal college with recycling bins on every corner and step. I helped create a club called Business Beyond Profits to help students become more aware of corporate social responsibility and the such and how businesses can become more cost efficient and better to the environment at the same time. One of our speakers was one of the authors of the book The Better World Handbook which gives ideas on how you can balance the things you do that hurt the environment by doing other things that don’t. For instance, recycle everything you can, buy gas from companies that invest in new fuel technologies (BP for instance) and try your best to do what you can. You can’t save the world by yourself but you can do your little bit and not feel guilty. I use disposables on my son but I recycle every scrap of paper, plastic, aluminum, tin, glass, and cardboard that comes into my household. That saves on my trash collection fee as well, and I make that little effort to take that stuff to the collection site. Then I don’t feel as bad about throwing away diapers. Now if only I can make up my mind about using paper plates vs. washing real plates…..

  22. Julia says:

    Is it true that disposable diapers slow down toilet training? Because I did #1 in the toilet by the time I was two, but I crapped in my pants until I was 3 1/2!

  23. marjorie says:

    i am the mom of two teen daughters ages 15 and 14 and both are bedwetters.i use only cloth diapers and rubber pants[plastic pants] on them at night.i dont mind washing the diapers and rubber pants and feel we are doing our part to save the earth.each daughter has 3 dozen cloth diapers and 2 dozen pairs of rubber pants in adult size.i some times diaper them for church and holidays also.