Health and Environmental Hazards of Disposable Diapers

  • Date: Jan 01 1989
  • Policy Number: 8910

Key Words: Education, Research

The American Public Health Association,

Realizing that disposable diapers account for over three million tons or about 2 percent of the solid waste stream annually in the United States;1 and

Recognizing that over 16 billion disposable diapers enter landfills in the US every year;2 and

Knowing that the sales of adult incontinence products are rising to meet the needs of the elderly in the community and institutions;2 and

Knowing that as landfill space decreases there is increasing emphasis placed on waste reduction and recycling;1,4 and

Acknowledging that the World Health Organization advocates adequate disposal of human excreta;5 and

Knowing that more than 100 different enteric viruses, including polio and hepatitis6 are known to be excreted in human feces and that these viruses can live for months after the stool has passed from the body; and

Realizing that the product labels instructing consumers to empty the feces into the toilet before disposing of the diaper are not commonly followed by consumers;1 and

Knowing that human excreta entering the waste stream via disposable diapers pose potential health risks to sanitation workers and threaten to contaminate groundwater if landfills are not properly constructed;7,8 therefore

  1. Supports public education to educate consumers about diapering choices and their potential environmental consequences so that they can make an informed choice;
  2. Supports consumer education so that if disposable diapers are used, the users dispose of them in a prudent manner so as to minimize the risk of disease transmission;
  3. Supports research on the health implications of disposal of disposable diapers in the solid waste stream;
  4. Encourages disposable diaper manufacturers to modify products to develop a recyclable product or one that generates less solid waste;
  5. Encourages disposable diaper manufacturers to provide better instructions on the packaging about the proper disposal method of human excreta;
  6. Urges manufacturers of disposable diapers to act responsibly in marketing their products; and
  7. Supports research on the health, safety, and handling of various types of diapers (home-laundered, cloth diaper services, and disposable diapers) in day care settings in order to guide the development of standards for these settings.


  1. Lehrburger C: Diapers in the Waste Stream: A Review of Waste Management and Public Policy Issues. Sheffield, MA: National Association of Diaper Services, 1988.
  2. Hinds M: Do disposable diapers ever go away? New York Times December 10, 1988;33.
  3. Williams M, Pannill F: Urinary incontinence in the elderly. Ann Intern Med 1982;97(6):895-907.
  4. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Public Law 94-580. October 1976.
  5. World Health Organization: Health for All. Geneva: WHO, 1987.
  6. Ware SA: A Survey of Pathogen Survival during Municipal Solid Waste and Manure Treatment Processes. EPA Report 600/8-80-034. Washington, DC: Ebon Research Systems, 1980.
  7. Peterson ML: Solid disposable diapers A potential source of viruses. Am J Public Health 1974;64:912-914.
  8. Turnberg N: Human Infection Risks Associated with Infectious Disease Agents in the Waste Stream: A Literature Review. Olympia, WA: Washington State Department of Ecology, 1989.

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