Representational image. Researchers have found a productive way of disposing baby diapers by using them instead of sand in concrete (Pic. Courtesy healthline.com)
Despite being a convenient and useful product for mothers and baby caregivers, the disposal of diapers has been a problematic issue as filling up landfills with them is definitely not the correct way. The reason being the soiled diapers have untreated faeces and urine which can percolate into ground and surface water. They also add to greenhouse gases like methane.
What is shocking is that every 60 seconds, 300,000 diapers are entering landfill as per a 2020 report from the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association.
Now a solution is available to provide this product with an environmentally friendly second life. Japan’s University of Kitakyushu researchers have published a study this month in Scientific Reports – an open-access peer-reviewed journal — that says that these diapers can be used as a substitute for sand in the concrete and mortar composites for construction. This will not compromise the integrity of the structures.
This has been proved as diapers have been used in constructing a building in Indonesia. Here diapers washed with sodium chloride were dried and then cut into pieces to be added to composite mixtures.
Scientists in their study said up to 8 per cent of the sand in concrete blocks could be substituted with diapers when building a single-story house without decreasing the strength.
Interestingly, Siswanti Zuraida, lead researcher and a native Indonesian, used her own children’s diapers and those collected locally as sand substitute.
Tapping materials that are locally available will help in low-cost housing and in this the non-degradable disposable diapers could provide inexpensive and accessible building material. At the same time the environmental impact of diapers will be reduced.
It is vital to bear in mind that sand, which is the second most consumed resource globally after water and critical for construction, is becoming short in supply. Every year 50 billion metric tonnes are used and substituting sand with diapers will go a long way to help.
While the desert offers unlimited sand, it is too smooth and considered useless for construction. It is sand from lakes, riverbeds and other water bodies that is used and their rampant mining has led to massive ecological damage. Indonesia has suffered due to sand mining as it has lost islands due to sand pirates.
Moreover, scientists at Leiden University in the Netherlands anticipate that demand for sand world over will go up by 45 per by 2060 causing prices to increase.
Researchers are looking for other alternative materials for construction including banana leaves, rice husks and even a part of fungus. For home insulation, denim is suggested while glass has tremendous potential as a building material substitute.