Of all the solid waste disposed of by Americans, the one product people seem most attached to is the disposable diaper.
Talk to them about collecting aluminum cans. Talk to them about refusing fast food that comes in Styrofoam containers. Talk to them about recycling newspapers. But if they have or ever expect to have children under the age of potty-training, don't talk to them about disposable diapers.
Mothers of the last generation are sometimes appalled. They washed cloth diapers and it never hurt them, they say. Those disposable diapers are an expensive, unnecessary convenience. But the last generation probably felt the same way about paper plates and no-deposit, no-return pop bottles.
To parents of today, many of whom contend with two jobs, a busy household and day care, disposable diapers have become a staple item. Even though they may feel some guilt over reports of how diapers are filling the nation's landfills, they just don't want to give them up.
Manufacturers of the diapers try to soothe their consciences. A recent advertisement put out by the makers of Luvs and Pampers, two leading diaper brands, noted that disposable diapers make up less than 2 percent of total solid waste in muncipal landfills. That seems like a small amount, but it is a rather large percentage to be attributed to a single consumer item. All plastics, including everything from shopping bags to pop bottles make up only 6.5 percent of the waste, according to the ad, and all types of glass make up just 8.2 percent. Many observers probably would feel that a 2 percent overall reduction in solid waste would be a major victory for the nation's landfills.
While almost everyone is sympathetic with the plight of parents of young children, there must be ways to make those parents consider alternatives. Many states and cities are considering charging deposits on plastic pop bottles and aluminum cans to encourage people to return them for recycling. Many cities are spending considerable money looking for ways to allow people to recycle trash. Why shouldn't some of the people who are contributing to the problem also help pay for measures to improve it?
It doesn't seem practical to charge a diaper tax to help pay for landfills in the same way that a gasoline tax helps pay for highways. But could the state offer some kind of tax credit for what parents spend on a diaper service that would provide clean, cloth diapers? Could tax credits or incentives be used to encourage other actions beneficial to the environment?
Americans have become too accustomed to the convenience of a throw-away lifestyle. The social conscience of Americans may improve the problem somewhat, but some monetary incentives may help push the effort along.