I type here today to testify about the avalanche of diapers going into our landfills and the bizarre or ingenious solution to that plague. Based on research from Tel Aviv University on the super-absorbancy of jellyfish flesh, the Israeli nanotechnology company Cine’al Ltd. is developing a diaper that’s more absorbent and decomposes in just 30 days. And by the way, this new green product is made of jellyfish.
Back in my college days I worked my way through school as a janitor at a large child care center, scrubbing tiny toilets, sanitizing doorknobs several times a day, sweeping wet rice off the lunchroom floor, and yes, I was that guy who brought in the sawdust when some poor kid got sick after eating rainbow-colored cereal. But most of all, I remember the diapers. Mounds of them. Thousands. Every three hours I’d sweep through the baby and toddler rooms, play peek-a-boo for a couple of minutes, then take out the diaper-stuffed bags and replace them with new bags: Four 55-gallon Hefties every three hours, each filled with scores of compact little white plastic-lined balls of … you know … let’s just say diapers.
As a parent, I saw the same thing. Garbage overflowing with diapers.
Disposable diapers, as it turns out, are the third-largest category of landfill trash by volume accounting for 4 percent of the solid waste in U.S. landfills. And in households with a baby or toddler, disposable diapers make up about 50 percent of the family’s trash. At the child care center, I’d wager about 75 percent of our trash was Huggies/Luvs/generic Target brand based — all of which take hundreds of years to decompose.
We are overrun with diapers.
Enter the jellyfish.
Same problem: The oceans are becoming overrun with a jellyfish population explosion.
Waters are getting warmer, due to climate change, and opening new habitats for our gelatinous friends. Overfishing is taking out natural predators and creating new places for them to explode in numbers. Agricultural runoff is giving them an abundance of nutrients to spread their tentacled rubbery progeny far and wide. Offshore structures like oil rigs and wind turbines are creating perfect breeding grounds for them in new locations.
And this is a problem why?
Because they’re overflowing pristine touristy beaches making the waters squishy and stingy, washing up en-masse on the beaches and rotting into a stench. They’re clogging up water intakes for power plants and other industries … They’re causing potentially hazardous situations when they obstruct the cooling water intakes for nuclear plants. Ecosystems are getting disrupted as they compete with other species and suck up nutrients other aquatic critters need. And fishermen hate them because they can fill up a net with one of the most useless catches in the ocean.
So, here we are in a world with an overabundance of diapers that won’t rot for hundreds of years, and a jellypocalypse threatening our oceans and our way of life.
It takes a spark of genius to draw a line between the two and find a way to solve both problems while hopefully making a tidy profit. Cine’al Ltd. is using the newly discovered super-absorbant properties of jellyfish flesh to create biodegradable diapers that decompose in 30 days rather than the usual hundreds of years. This technology could turn jellyfish from a nuisance species to an honest, useful commodity for many nations enduring the jelly problem.
Cine’al is also envisioning using this technology for tampons, medical sponges and paper towels. Now all we need to do is get over the notion of swaddling our babies’ butts in jellyfish. Couldn’t possibly be worse than what we find down there anyway.
Image credit : Jason Pratt : Source