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JournalistWe’re the reporters who spent months investigating the diaper industry to find out why diapers cost so much. Ask us anything!

Apr 3rd 2018 by KatMcGrory • 6 Questions • 128 Points

My short bio: I’m Kathleen McGrory, the Tampa Bay Times reporter who spent months investigating the diaper industry. I learned diapers are tiny miracles of industrial science, and the technology that keeps babies dry has improved dramatically over the last few decades. Today’s diapers are carefully engineered to absorb a large amount of urine and then instantly dry out. And they are soft. Really soft. To show how they work, my colleague Eli Zhang tore some open, filmed them absorbing squirts of water, and made this interactive graphic.

Our reporting found that manufacturers face pressure to make products that are fancier and longer lasting (i.e. more expensive). But we also discovered that one in three families in the United Stars struggle to afford diapers, and public assistance programs don’t give much help to parents who need these essential products.

Click here to read the story, then AUA!

Handles:

Proof

Q:

Are you aware of any efforts being made to make diapers more biodegradable?

A:

Oh yes, absolutely. This is an entire subject we weren't able to cover in the story. The industry is very much interested in making disposable diapers more environmentally friendly. Some diapers (including the ones made by the manufacturer Poof) claim to already be completely biodegradable. Others are making strides to make their products more biodegradable.


Q:

Be honest with me...

Is the diaper industry full of shit?

A:

Ha! We have also had fun with diaper puns!


Q:

What is the actual cost to make a diaper? What kind of mark up are we suffering through?

A:

Hey there! Thanks for starting us off! We had a hard time getting anyone in the industry to give us a precise answer to that question. But we have a sense from consultants that the markup is a few cents per diaper. That may not seem like a lot, but the industry relies on volume. And billions of diapers are sold annually.


Q:

So why do diapers cost so much? Is it because that fancy technology (love the cross-section photos, by the way) costs a lot to make? Or because companies can get away with it and there's little transparency around the industry?

A:

All of those things. Much of the cost is in the raw materials. There's the nonwoven top sheet (an engineered fabric that acts as a one-way valve to keep the urine inside the diaper), the superabsorbent polymer inside the diaper's core that traps the liquid. The production costs are also a major factor. Some factories can produce 1,000 diapers per minute!


Q:

What kind of resources are available to people suffering from this insane markup?

A:

Low-income parents can use cash assistance to help them buy diapers. But other programs for like the poor like food stamps and WIC (a supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children) don't help with diapers.


Q:

Should I wear a diaper instead of a traditional bathing suit?

A:

Probably not.