For a country with a reputation for cleanliness and hygiene, Japan has taken waste disposal in an unsavory direction with parents usually being asked to carry their children’s soiled diapers home from day care.
To lighten the load on concerned parents, some municipalities are now considering having used diapers collected from authorized nursery facilities. Although public day care centers cite the costs of disposal as a reason for asking parents to dispose of dirty diapers, the more accommodating locations are already proving successful.
“The smell was dreadful when I was shopping in the supermarket while carrying the diapers,” says a 34-year-old working mother whose 2-year-old daughter attends a day-care in Toshima Ward in northern Tokyo. “It really has made life easier now that they can be disposed of at the nursery,”
Previously at the nursery, soiled napkins were placed in labeled plastic bags, which were lined up in the hallway. They were sorted by staff, before being handed over to parents to carry home at the end of the day. Some children needed as many as seven changes a day, making sorting the diapers a time-consuming task, often taking more than an hour. In some cases, problems also occurred when parents received a package they believed contained more than their share of soiled diapers.
Since April, a sanitation company has been collecting used diapers from the Toshima day care center three times a week. And as a result, teachers are able to spend more time with the children.
This fiscal year, Toshima allocated about ¥13 million for disposable diaper collections at sanctioned day care centers, including some private nurseries.
“Parents, often tired from a day’s work, would have to carry 4 kilograms worth of diapers while also holding their child,” says Shizu Nagano, the day care’s principal. “It makes me happy to know they feel as if this has lightened their load, even if just a little.”
According to a Toshima Ward official, “By improving the quality of the nursery, the community is seen as a place where it is easy to raise children, and we can expect this to boost (the number of families with kids).”
Why do public nurseries in Japan require parents to deal with their child’s used diapers? Although diapers can be disposed of easily at home, businesses in Japan are charged a fee to have garbage collected, meaning for for day care centers it comes at a cost.
Private nurseries that are allowed to dispose of diapers are often willing to shoulder the extra cost, but many public nurseries are not. Some municipalities that operate public nurseries, though, admit that asking parents to dispose of diapers is a burden.
“There is a danger of communicable diseases spreading if (diapers) are stored for days at a time,” says an official from Chiba. “But we just don’t have the funds for frequent collections.”
Matsuyama, on the island of Shikoku in southern Japan cites an insufficient budget for diaper disposals, arguing that improving and expanding medical services for children takes priority.
Keeping an eye on children’s health is another reason that has been given for forcing parents to take soiled diapers home. When cloth diapers were in widespread use, parents were encouraged to monitor digestive health by checking their child’s stools before washing diapers. Now, however, many parents are reluctant to open diapers, leaving day care workers to verbally inform parents about their children’s health.
There are no uniform guidelines for diaper disposal. The health ministry simply requests that they are placed in sealed plastic bags and stored in a covered container, with no further requirements. The ministry also does not have a position on the nationwide situation regarding diaper disposal and allows municipalities and nurseries to use their own judgment.
Narumi Hori, an expert in infection control measures at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine, however, says that the immediate disposal of human-waste is the safest policy.
“For communal living to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, waste should be disposed of immediately, as a general rule,” she says. “We should reduce the people who come in contact with it as much as possible, and there is no benefit to taking it home.”