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A global diaper shortage? Japanese plant explosion triggers fears

Lia Grainger
Shine On
October 2, 2012

Think of the words "explosion" and "diaper." Chances are good the first thing that springs to mind is not a chemical plant in Japan.

Be that as it may, a Japanese chemical plant that manufactures a key diaper ingredient has been shut down due to an explosion, triggering widespread fears about a potential global diaper shortage -- and all manner of hilarious diaper explosion-related headlines.

Reuters Tokyo broke the story Sunday that a chemical tank explosion at Nippon Shokubai Company's plant in Himeji, Japan, has caused a complete plant shutdown. The plant is reportedly a main production base of acrylic acid, an ingredient in a resin called SAP that is used to make disposable diapers absorbent. Reuters reports that the plant makes a whopping 20 per cent of the world's SAP, and that plant operations are expected to be stalled for "a long time."

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Cue mass mommy hysteria — at least on Twitter. Panicky tweets like, "I just ordered two 276 count box of pampers on ebay for 93$" and "I don't care if it is all hype, we're buying diapers at Costco today" filled the Twittersphere.

But there were also those who proposed a different solution. The author of mommy blog BabyDash tweeted, "Stock up on diapers! There will be a MAJOR shortage due to an explosion at a plant. OR just buy cloth diapers :)."

Good old cloth diapers.

Andria Brusey -- an Ontario cloth diaper service owner and self-proclaimed "Mompreneur" -- is optimistic that the current fear of a diaper shortage might make parents consider a switch to cloth.

"When a mom is on maternity leave, she needs to be able to count on a reliable price," says Brusey. "The price of disposable diapers can change because of something like this, but that's not true of cloth diapers. Hopefully this will increase awareness."

International advocacy group The Real Diaper Association claims there has been a slow revival of the cloth diaper over the past two decades, as environmental awareness and the connective power of the internet have brought new parents into the fold.

The organization shares some pretty compelling statistics. For example, they estimate that about 27.4 billion disposable diapers are bought each year in the U.S. alone, that 94 per cent of diapers end up in a landfill, that they take 250-500 years to decompose, and that over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby each year.

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"The environmental benefits of cloth diapers are well known," adds Brusey. "That's why I always try to push the economic advantages of cloth.

Brusey's Peterborough business Changing Ways Diapers charges $23 for a week's worth of diapers for a one-year-old, and she says disposable diapers will cost at least that much. She says there's also the time saved.

"You don't have to look for the best price, or go to the store, or look for coupons," says Brusey. "The diapers just show up fresh and clean at your door, delivered for free."

One thing is for sure. The explosion at the Japanese plant has already increased the number of amazing headlines floating around the web, including these three doozies.

"Chaos: World Diaper Shortage Imminent?", "Well, poop: Diaper prices could jump", and of course, "Wee problem looms after fire wipes nappy supply". May we add, "Explosion brings return to faith in the cloth."

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