In a move to combat the impacts of climate change, each country developed ways on how to contribute to what seems to be the world’s greatest war against pollution. Some nations start to build a campaign against plastic straws like “Strawless in Seattle'”in the U.S., while others take on the challenge of banning single-use plastics, which is believed to be one of the many contaminants that pollute the world’s oceans. It has plagued the seas of Hawaii, poisoning marine life and destroyed the ice in the fields of Antarctica.
Recently, the United Nations declared war on marine litter, and one out of the many countries that participated in the movement is Vanuatu. Vanuatu is one of several Pacific nations severely affected by climate change. It has a total population of over 275,000, and last year, it led the world in banning single-use plastic bags. According to global waste statistics; the country is responsible for less than one percent of marine litters and mismanaged plastic waste topped the list.
With its successful attempt to ban plastics, which initially began via aFacebook campaign, Vanuatu has once again leveled up its war against waste pollution. Recently, the country aims to be the first nation to propose a ban on disposable nappies, which will take effect on December 1st this year. The plan is part of the extensive changes that the country wanted to set, as disposable nappies are becoming an environmental problem.
Eliminating nappies alone will disproportionately reduce plastic waste, said Vanuatu Foreign Minister, Ralph Regenvanu. Globally, at least 450 billion of non-reusable diapers are being disposed into landfill annually, according to an environmental group Worldwatch Institute. In Australia, Boomerang Alliance, another environmental organization, has announced that families account to 3.75 million of nappies each day.
The problem with nappies is somehow linked to its non-biodegradable feature, as they are naturally challenging to break down in landfill. Disposable nappies are composed of substances that do not decompose such as plastic, and the use of chemical sodium polyacrylate as an absorbent is considered to be toxic. Moreover, nappies are associated with human waste that once untreated can percolate harmful chemicals and bacteria into the environment rather than going through the sewage system.
By getting away from the ease and accessibility of plastics, Vanuatu’s leaders aim to set a goal that the rest of the world, especially some countries that rely on plastics including the United States, can get inspiration from. However, solving one problem will only lead to another issue. And women, most especially mothers, have something to say about this matter.
Parents usually use disposable diapers — as they are far more convenient than old-fashioned cloth nappies. The latter makes parents do the difficult task of washing and drying, which is an intensive process of cleaning reusable diapers. The said ban, however, forced women to react, saying that the lift probably will give them a hard job.
The ban will take place in December, which gives the government six months before the actual lift. That short period cannot cover almost 20,000 babies and toddlers who will need reusable diapers.
What is alarming in the government’s plan to ban nappies is the fact that until now, no concrete alternatives were materialized or reusable options to consider in the remote areas of Vanuatu outside Port Vila. If leaders hope to minimalize the effect of nappies on its environment, then it should be wise to provide options that can replace disposable nappies.
Mike Masauvakalo, the Ministry of Foreign affairs, confessed that the task to find a replacement is becoming a challenge, but the government targets “cotton” as an alternative. But parents and women’s group started to protest, saying that the synthetic materials used in blankets could hurt babies. While reusable sanitary products have been successfully produced in the past, reusable nappies’ design may cause issues to baby’s sensitive skin.
Nappy bans have been planned in other parts of the world, including the UK. Michael Gove, UK’s Environmental Secretary, tried one, but later on, refuted his plan after receiving a community backlash.
Today, another country is set to prohibit the use of disposable nappies, but its major pitfall is not being ready for the said ban. Leaders are indecisive, which can be seen on their lack of alternatives or options intended for parents who rely mainly on disposable nappies.
The country is out of possible alternatives; if there is any, it should not jeopardize babies’ delicate skin and lead to other diseases. The ban is helpful to ease the war against waste pollution, especially now that environmental consequences due to single-use plastics are starting to kick in.
However, Vanuatu is out of option, and a signaling a ban is not always the solution. Leaders and lawmakers missed another possible opportunity; proper waste management, which is proven to be very useful in some countries.