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Gwanda Women Revolutionise Diaper Disposal With Eco-Conscious Solution

To combat the indiscriminate dumping of disposable diapers, Gwanda women wash them, remove their inner material and dry them for re-use. Image by Lynnia Ngwenya

Local women in Gwanda are transforming the way diapers are disposed of by introducing an innovative and eco-conscious method. Through washing and repurposing used diapers, they tackle health risks and contribute to waste management.

BY LYNNIA NGWENYA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | JUL 3, 2023

GWANDA (The Citizen Bulletin) — Disposable diapers, known for their convenience, pose a significant challenge when it comes to disposal. The harmful chemicals they contain, detrimental to humans and animals, make them a concern for many councils. Additionally, their slow decomposition leads to the rapid filling of landfills, posing severe health hazards.

According to a comprehensive report by Stacker, disposable diapers contain a multitude of harmful chemicals, including volatile organic compounds and phthalates. These chemicals, present in adhesives, synthetic dyes, and perfumes used in diapers, can be released into the air when exposed to heat. Studies indicate that phthalates, specifically, are associated with reproductive health problems and early puberty in animal lab experiments. In humans, they may affect brain development in children.

Shockingly, diapers can take up to 500 years to decompose fully. This alarming statistic implies that diapers used in the early 21st century will persist until approximately 2500, exacerbating waste management challenges.

One of the prominent hurdles in managing disposable diapers is their non-recyclable nature. The Recycling Council of British Columbia (RCBC) highlights the difficulties in recycling diapers due to their complex composition and contamination with human waste. Consequently, recycling initiatives for diapers have seen limited success, and these items cannot be effectively processed through organic waste composting systems.

In Gwanda, Matabeleland South, local women have emerged as pioneers in addressing the health and environmental risks associated with reckless diaper disposal. Their innovative solution involves washing used diapers, removing the inner material, and allowing them to dry. In some cases, the inner cotton material finds a new purpose as stuffing for reusable sanitary pads.

Doris Ncube, a resident of Spitzkop North in Gwanda, says she learned this method from her rural-living mother and has since dedicated herself to educating other nursing women.

“My mother taught me this method, and I feel compelled to pass on the knowledge whenever I encounter a nursing mother. It significantly mitigates the problems associated with disposable diapers,” Ncube explains.

Susan Tshabalala, a tenant at Ncube's house, shares her sentiment.

“I had my second child while I was renting at Ncube's house. She doesn't want to see diapers thrown in the refuse bin without being washed. She taught me to wash them first so that they will not be scattered all over, especially in our area where refuse collection is not regular.”
Susan Tshabalala

The disposable diapers, constructed from synthetic plastics, have a high absorbency rate. However, they take longer to reach maximum absorbency compared to their cotton counterparts. Once used, they do not decompose and become an unsightly presence in uncollected rubbish dumps, quickly attracting fleas due to the strong stench of human waste.

The introduction of this innovative diaper disposal method has captured the attention of Gwanda residents, unveiling new skills to combat the issue of indiscriminate dumping of disposable diapers.

“We realized that the inner cotton material, when washed and left to dry, can also be used to stuff in the reusable sanitary pads,” says Suku Nkomo*, a Spitzkop resident.

Inner cotton material removed from the used diaper in preparation for use in reusable sanitary pads stuffing. Image by Lynnia Ngwenya

However, this method of separation faces resistance from some women who find the work disgusting.

“The reason why we no longer use traditional cloth diapers is that we don't want to be touching faeces and wet baby diapers,” says Nqobile Dube*.

Beliefs and myths surrounding the handling of used baby diapers also pose obstacles to the adoption of this solution. Some women hold the belief that touching a baby's diapers can bewitch the child.

Despite these challenges, Ncube and her team remain determined, using alternative means to convince and educate nursing women.

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“I sometimes offer to wash a nursing mother's baby diaper and then discuss the observations. This hands-on approach helps to persuade some women,” says Ncube.

Decent Ndlovu, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Matabeleland South Provincial Director, commends the work of these women and encourages every nursing woman to adopt the skills.

“Washing and separating the disposable diapers is good as it will prevent dogs from eating them. We are happy about these new methods as EMA. These skills should be adopted by the whole town; it will be a milestone in keeping a clean environment.”
Decent Ndlovu

EMA urges the importance of widespread adoption of the method of washing and separating disposable diapers, citing its positive impact on waste management and environmental preservation. Additionally, the repurposing of the inner cotton material, once dried, as stuffing for reusable sanitary pads enhances the sustainability of the process.

The innovative approach taken by Gwanda women in transforming diaper disposal has become a symbol of hope for a more environmentally conscious future. Their actions are gaining momentum, as more women recognize the significant impact this method can have on waste reduction and long-term sustainability.

Editor’s Note: Some names marked with * have been changed to protect the identity of sources.

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