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Disposable-diaper study to test for decomposition

Published Oct. 16, 2005

WEST PALM BEACH - A landfill just outside this city is the site of a $200,000 experiment by Procter & Gamble to see whether competitors' disposable diapers really are biodegradable. The company believes the results will show that disposable diapers sold by other companies and advertised as biodegradable solve landfill problems no better than its diapers, which are not biodegradable.

Local officials, meanwhile, hope to learn more about how landfills work to break down garbage- especially the diapers, which account for 1 to 2 percent of the dump's space.

State Sen. Eleanor Weinstock, D-Palm Beach, said Friday that such research is needed to find better solutions to the growing garbage problem.

Running the study is Jeff Stinson, who has never changed a dirty diaper but is now dealing with more of them than most people could stand.

"A lot of people enjoy the fact that I get to play with a few diapers," said Stinson, a University of Wisconsin student whose doctoral dissertation will be based on soiled diapers.

The 1,200 soiled diapers ditched Friday at Dyer Landfill near here came from Jacksonville, where 120 mothers used four types of diapers on their babies over a recent eight-day period, said Nancy Eddy of Procter & Gamble.

"They're fresh," added Marc Bruner, chief of environmental programs for Palm Beach County's Solid Waste Authority. "They were brought down in a refrigerated truck yesterday."

The diapers, along with broccoli, peanuts, spaghetti, lima beans, tree bark, sunflower seeds and newspapers, were buried under 10 feet of 6-month-old trash.

Because outside factors can speed or slow decomposition, the other products will help researchers measure the rate of decomposition in the areas where the diapers are placed, said Robert Ham, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin.