The members of the Center for Baby and Adult Hygiene Products routinely conduct a “cradle to grave” environmental analysis using life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology. This process tracks the environmental impact of a product beginning with the extraction and use of raw materials through manufacturing and transportation, and concludes with use and disposal. Such analysis is broadly accepted around the world as the best method of understanding a product’s environmental impact. The chart below shows a diaper’s LCA.
Life cycle analysis takes into account the following categories:
- Energy consumption
- Water consumption
- Air emissions (including carbon dioxide and other global warming gases)
- Water emissions
- Generation of solid waste
A life cycle-based approach checks if improvements in one category are not negated by shifting the impact to another stage in the life cycle. LCAs can also identify where major opportunities exist to improve environmental performance when changes to materials and diaper design are considered.
The most recent industry-wide LCA was conducted by the U.K. Environmental Agency in an independent, government-sponsored study. In order to compare trends, the diapering period for one child, estimated to be about 3,800 diapers, was used as a reference point. The analysis focused on:
- Energy usage
- Global warming potential (emissions of greenhouse gases)
- Smog or photochemical ozone formation potential
- Acidification of water potential
- Nutrification Potential (causes ecosystem imbalance)
The graph below shows the results for the years 1987, 1995, and 2005 and demonstrates how there has been a significant decrease in every category. In some categories the 1995 results were a bit higher than 1987 because weight reductions were offset by product composition changes that used slightly more energy.