Open defaecation by proxy : tackling the increase of disposable diapers in waste piles in informal settlements

White, Hannah L. and Mwapasa, Taonga and Mphasa, Madalitso and Kalonde, Patrick Ken and Feasey, Nicholas and Oliver, David M. and Ormsby, Michael J. and Morse, Tracy and Chidziwisano, Kondwani and Quilliam, Richard S. (2023) Open defaecation by proxy : tackling the increase of disposable diapers in waste piles in informal settlements. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 250. 114171. ISSN 1438-4639 (

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Disposable diapers are becoming increasingly popular and present an emerging challenge for global waste management, particularly within LMICs. They offer a cheap and convenient way for caregivers to manage child excreta; however, insufficient understanding of safe disposal methods, combined with limited access to waste management services results in hazardous disposal. Used diapers are being increasingly found dumped in the open environment, including in water bodies and in open fields, leading to faecal contamination of the environment and an enhanced risk of transmission of faecal-oral diseases such as cholera and typhoid. United Nations SDG 6 aims to end open defaecation globally by 2030; however, improper disposal of used diapers will hamper progress towards reaching this goal. In this review, we identify current trends in use and subsequent disposal of single use disposable diapers in LMICs, and critically discuss the environmental and public health impacts of current practices, and potential solutions to address these challenges. Contemporary methods for managing the disposal of single use diapers for communities in LMICs tend to be cost prohibitive with few alternative options other than dumping in the environment. Modern cloth diapers offer a low waste alternative to disposable diapers but often carry an unaffordable high upfront cost. Here, in addition to advocating improved efforts by governments to upgrade access and quality of waste management services, we recommend the design and implementation of intervention schemes aimed to increase awareness of safe and hygienic disposal practices for disposable diapers.