Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Bourne Research > Diapers + Nanotech = Green?
Like the Energizer Bunny®, the debate about disposable diapers and their environmental impact (landfills, public health, use of oil, destroying trees) keeps going and going. Can nanotechnology make a difference?
February 18th, 2008
Diapers + Nanotech = Green?
As part of my weekly podcast, I have on ongoing listener's challenge in which I've asked people to come up with random items from everyday life and challenge me to find the MEMS or nanotech connection. But for my radio show - The Bourne Report - the listener's challenge is just getting started; I'm officially kicking it off this week with the challenge topic of: diapers.
Those of you with kids know that you go through a lot of diapers in the first few years, and there's considerable debate regarding diapers and landfills. The numbers alone are staggering; something along the lines of 10,000 tons of diapers per day (or tens of billions of diapers per year), end up landfills. Beyond that, there are public health issues to take into account (considering what's in the diaper), as well as the enormous amount of oil (for the plastic) and trees (for the absorbent materials) that are used to produce diapers.
Disposable diapers clearly aren't green - even those that claim to be. Some "green" diapers use cornstarch in the plastic to make them more biodegradable; but apparently, that's really not the case. So they're not as environmentally friendly as touted.
The new thing now is avoid landfills altogether by using disposable diapers that can be flushed down the toilet. A company called gDiaper makes one that is indeed flushable (well, the disposable, absorbent liner is), because they don't use any plastic. The end result is a disposable diaper that has both re-useable and flushable components.
Several years ago a there was a lot of buzz about a company called Consolidated EcoProgress, who had teamed up with another firm, QuarTek, to create a disposable, flushable diaper based on nanotechnology. In this case, they claim to be using a plastic film made from nanomaterials of some kind, which breaks down in the presence of large amounts of water. As such, it would work along the same lines as the gDiaper, in that you flush the absorbent liner, but not the entire diaper.
Despite receiving considerable press, the "nano diaper" still isn't available, although a feminine hygiene product is.
While nanomaterials seem like a natural fit for various components of a diaper itself, they're being applied in other relevant ways as well - such as the creams used to soothe and/or prevent diaper rash. And someday, MEMS sensors might even play a role in diapers as well; while it's a little odd to think of electronics in diapers, based on the early work I've seen, it's certainly a possibility.
To get the details about these last two items, you're going to have to listen to this week's radio show. You'll not only learn more about the use of nanotechnology (and MEMS) and diapers, but I'll also provide an insider's look at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and highlight some fascinating research presented at this year's IEEE MEMS conference. Just visit www.bournereport.com to listen.
This article is a transcript of the Bourne Report Podcast #82.
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